One of the biggest challenges in wildlife photography is getting close to wildlife – especially in locations outside of parks and refuges where wildlife is often habituated to people. Photography blinds allow you to get into camera range in places that would otherwise be impossible and allow you to shoot where no one else is shooting – a local woodlot, marsh, or your own backyard bird feeders.
For years I relied on cheap pop-up hunting blinds for my work and pretty much thought of them as disposable items. I was always cutting shooting holes in them that would inevitably rip into bigger and bigger holes over time, the blinds would colllapse in wind, weren’t waterproof, and were generally made of cheap materials that would fail (zippers!). Economy hunting blinds just aren’t made for photographers or for consistent field use.
In 2014 I became aware of Tragopan Photography Blinds while photographing Spoon-billed Sandpipers in South China. Tragopan was in an early phase of making blinds specifically for photographers and I became an immediate convert. I have been using them ever since and have been helping them refine and improve their products for wildlife photographers.
Tragopan has recently released updated versions of the Tragopan V6, Monal V2 and Grouse V+ Photography Blinds. Incorporating feedback from photographers like myself around the world, these blinds are the best Tragopan has ever produced – I don’t know how they could be any better! They come at a premium price, but are a value when you look at the functionality of the blinds, the number of useful features that have been built into them for photographers, and the quality of materials and production. These are not disposable blinds!
Here are some of the improvements I love on the new generation of Tragopan blinds:
1. Customizable Windows: First and foremast is the customizable window system which has been a staple of Tragopan blinds but has been greatly improved. The new window system no longer uses noisy Velcro to attach the different window options and lens sleeves to the blind. Instead it uses a series of small silent clips.
2. The new camouflage pattern: At first the new camouflage design took some getting used to but after taking the blinds into a variety of field settings I am a big fan. We are so used to seeing the typical designer camo patterns optimized for fall and winter when most hunting occurs, that seeing something with more greens in it felt odd. But now that I have set it up in a variety of settings I am really impressed. It tends to pick up the colors around it by having a mix of both brown/straw colored elements and green foliage elements. It works in fall, in sagebrush, in marshes, and in forest settings. Since a lot of photography tends to be focused in spring and summer rather than fall it is optimized for the seasons that I tend to use blinds the most.
3. Waterproofing: The old Tragopan blinds did well in rain but the new ones do even better. The big improvement was incorporating a built-in rain flap over each window which can be opened and closed silently from within the blind. The materials are also more waterproof than precious versions with the new interior coatings (See 4 below!).
4. Fabric Quality and Coatings: The Tragopan V5, Monal V2, and Grouse V+ have all been improved in the fabric department. In addition to being a bit heavier and more waterproof, both the Tragopan V5 and Monal V2 have an interior isotherm coating. The coating has a metallic appearance and reflects heat. In theory the blinds reflect solar radiation from outside (keeping the blind cooler in direct sun) and reflects body heat (keeping the blind warmer in winter). The coating also makes the blinds completely opaque so no movements can be detected inside the blind whatsoever. The Grouse V+ which is designed to be a more economical choice lacks the isotherm coating, but a blackout coating has been added to the interior that also hides interior movements.
5. Accessories: As someone who spends a lot of time in blinds in a variety of settings one of things I am most excited about are the new accessories for the Tragopan V6. Having a variety of accessories means I can quickly convert my V6 into a blind that I can sleep in or shoot more comfortably at ground level, I can add a place for storage, add additional rain protection, and even connect two of them together if I am working with another photographer.
6. Quality: With each iteration Tragopan has come out with the quality of materials, components like zippers, and craftsmanship has gotten better and better. Not much to improve on now!
7. The Old Stuff is Still Included: The last thing I’ll say about these blinds is that there were a lot of things to love about the old models that still apply. They are still easy and quick to setup and are built to last, they still have options for shooting at ground level and for extending a tripod leg outside of the blind, and they still have strategically placed peep holes and great ventilation options.
A good photography blind is one of the most important tools in a wildlife photographers’ arsenal for getting close. Finally, we have a number of different options from Tragopan that make blind work easier and more comfortable.
Tags: photography blinds