Camouflage is the art of blending yourself or an object into the surrounding environment. Animals and armies around the world have been using these techniques for centuries, but now photographers, paint ballers, hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts are using camouflage techniques as well.
Camouflage is the main defense of many sea and land animals. Skin and fur colours allow animals to hide from, and seek their prey with ease by either blending into their surroundings, or by distracting other animals as to their location and speed.
Humans have known about camouflage since ancient times, but with the invention of highly accurate rifles and canons during the 19th century it became more and more necessary, not just for soldiers but for buildings and vehicles as well. Camouflage came into it’s own during World War 1 and is still being perfected today. The word “camouflage” comes from the French phrase “camoufler” which means “to disguise”. France was the first country to hire people to paint disguises for their military to make look out towers and canon covers appear to be trees.
Camouflage clothing was originally made by wearing fur pelts and animal hides as well as by dying uniforms in the colours of the area where fighting would occur. Sharp shooting soldiers would wear green jackets to blend into the woods until it was proven that the colour gray was actually less visible than green at ranges of 150 yards or more. British soldiers wore khaki uniforms in desert countries and by 1900 because of that colours effectiveness became the standard colour for uniforms outside Europe at the time.
Modern camouflage clothing works by using a disruptive colour pattern. A disruptive pattern is most effective at breaking up the human form. Animals are instinctively aware of the upright walking human form and can see it from a great distance. Disruptive patterns cause motion from arms and legs to disappear and torsos to blend in with the surroundings.
A disruptive pattern is also effective if a person is standing or sitting still. Both effects cause animals to perceive the threat to be small or not really there at all. Jaguar and giraffe fur patterns are a good example of disruptive camouflage that are found in nature. Disruptive patterns to blend into the environment are known as crypsis camouflage. Disruptive patterns are most effective when combined with countershading.
Countershading is colouring the top of a person or vehicle with a darker colour than the under side. This causes light falling on a mostly round or curved object to obscure it practically making the object disappear, and it is very effective. Sharks and birds (such as the chickadee) are often countershaded in colour with darker backs and wing tops and lighter bellies which helps to obscure their shadow as well.
Animals see shadows so hiding them is also very important if you are waiting with your camera or for your quarry to come along. Clothing that has loose strips of fabric hanging on them causes lots of thin little shadows to fall rather than one big solid one. This is very effective for hunters or photographers who must remain in one place for lengths of time as their shadow appears much more natural, like those cast by tree branches.
Mimesis camouflaging is clothing or fur patterns that look exactly like the background terrain of where the animal or person is waiting. Mimetic camouflage is most often seen on animals that remain in one place without moving for great lengths of time. Insects that look like sticks or caterpillars that look like leaves use mimesis. Mimesis camouflage is not meant to distract other animals but instead it gives them the ability to hide in plain sight while blending in perfectly with their surroundings.
For humans trying to hide from the birds or animals they wish to photograph, paint ballers sniping at their enemy, or hunters sneaking through the woods, the type of camouflage they choose depends on many factors. If they are in a ground blind, then ideally the blind should be darker on top than the bottom gradually fading in colour to countershade and disrupt the appearance of light falling on it light. If the blind is made of smooth fabric then using an established cryptic pattern such as Real Tree or Mossy Oak would be best. Covering the blind with branches will disrupt shadows and make it appear more natural to the environment.
Hunters or photographers should wear a combination of cryptic and mimetic clothing. A 3D covering such as a guile suit, or a specifically designed 3D break up will hide shadows and disrupt human form very effectively. This is important because humans can not lie in one position for hours on end like a chameleon can, so the ability to hide movement while shifting position in a tree stand or while walking to a ground blind is just as important as when lying in wait when a more mimetic pattern may be appropriate.
Which ever camouflage you choose, try it out before your big adventure starts. Set up a couple blinds for hiding your cameras or bows, and practice moving between them in different light at different times of the day. Have a friend make a video and take photos of you and your set up from different distances to see what needs adjusting so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb.
Copyright 2016 Mike Wilson