Why You Should Use Commercial Photography Hides

Why You Should Use Commercial Photography Hides

The use of commercial photography hides can be a controversial subject amongst wildlife photographers. In this article, I discuss the pros of such hides and how they can help you photograph those more elusive animals.

In order to take a deep dive into the pros of commercial photography hides, we should first take a look at why these hides can be controversial among wildlife photographers and nature lovers. Baiting is one of the main reasons why photography hides can be frowned upon. Baiting is when food is used to attract wildlife. Often, this can be various foods such as seeds, meat and fish, depending on the target subject. The even more controversial part of baiting is live food, as this could harm the animal that you are wishing to attract.

Leaving food out for wildlife can allow the animal to become over-reliant on the food source and lose their natural instincts across generations. In London, for example, urban foxes have become too accustomed to going through bins or being fed by people in their back gardens. Of course, they will still hunt rodents, etc., but this practice has helped shape the bold nature of urban foxes in London and other cities to date.

When food is provided for a species, it is my belief that it should only ever be supplementary to the animal's diet. This would be similar to having a bird feeder in your garden. The birds will enjoy the seeds and mealworms you leave out; however they should be actively seeking their usual food such as worms, insects, and berries.

So, after all that, what are the pros? 

It's Quicker (Usually)

Paid wildlife photography hides offer their clients an opportunity to see a particular subject quicker than what you may see if you went looking for yourself. If you work full-time or have kids or other duties, you may not always have the time available to spend days upon end using field craft to find a species, let alone set up an environment fit for a fantastic composition.

For years, I struggled to find and photograph a Kingfisher. I would only ever catch brief glimpses, and no matter what I did, I could never get the images I wanted. After searching online for helpful information, I found a hide which offered the opportunity of seeing and photographing Kingfishers, so I decided to check it out, and within 30 minutes, a Kingfisher landed on a perch set up in front of the hide, only 4 or 5 meters away from me. For the rest of the day, the Kingfisher kept coming back, and I had the chance to use different perches in between visits so I could have a variation of images from my day. 

Kingfisher at Scottish Photography Hides

Another species I wanted to photograph was the Sparrowhawk. These are elusive birds of prey, and like Kingfishers, you may only ever catch a fleeting glimpse of one. I used the same company as above, as this was also another animal they advertised. I arrived at the hide at 7:30 am in the morning, ready to go. As the day progressed, we had a variety of woodland birds visit the hide, which allowed me to work on my settings and composition while I waited patiently for the star of the show.

Hours went by and still no sign of the Sparrowhawk, would I get to see it? Then, at almost 5 pm, after many hours in the hide and just before I was thinking about calling it a day and other customers had left the hide, the Sparrowhawk landed on a perch and helped itself to the dead bird that had been left for it. I was giddy with excitement at seeing this amazing bird and captured as many photos as I could in the five minutes it stayed for. It was a very long day for that brief encounter, but for me, the experience was worth it just to see this magnificent bird close up.

Sparrowhawk at Scottish Photography Hides

It's Accessible

Not all photographers are fully fit and able to wander through harsh environments trying to track and photograph certain species, and not all locations are going to be wheelchair accessible, etc. Certain hides can be right next to a small parking area, allowing easy access for all customers. I have a condition known as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, which causes havoc on my joints, and I'm not always able to climb over slippery rocks looking for otters in fear of hurting myself. However, at one hide, I was able to park right outside the hide door, and within an hour, I had a family of otters right in front of me, helping themselves to fish that had been left for them to eat. The otters were so close, I was shooting at no more than 200mm.

Otters at Scottish Photography Hides

Practice Makes Perfect

Visiting hides isn't just about photographing elusive species or accessibility. Hides also act as a great way of practicing photography, having an opportunity to test out your camera or new lens in a semi-controlled environment, and potentially meet new people, learning tips and tricks. Photography hides are often set up in the animals' territory, e.g. for Kingfishers, the hide will be right next to a river. This means that not only should you see a Kingfisher, but you may see other species such as herons, egrets, and other creatures great and small. If you notice that your first images were soft or too underexposed, you may not have too long to wait before the next chance presents itself, and after a full day at a hide, you should have plenty of images to go through for your personal portfolio.


Paid hides certainly have significant benefits and also clearly have downsides in regards to baiting practices. These hides allow fantastic experiences for all levels of photographers and bring nature closer to you. They are an amazing day out for anyone interested in wildlife photography and you can use the hide as a tool, to practice, learn about new animals, and take that knowledge out into the field with you. I believe that an ethical and moral approach should be used by the owner of the hides, and often, those who run the hides are very passionate about the animals they are attracting. I will always recommend that should you wish to visit a hide, be sure to do your research. At the end of the day, the animals' welfare is paramount over any image. When done correctly, these hides are brilliant.

Greg Sheard's picture

Greg Sheard is a Scottish based photographer, focusing on wildlife, landscape and portrait work. Greg's mission in life is too help those who suffer with mental health issues and be a voice for the millions of people around the world who need that care, attention and awareness.

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I've never even heard of the concept of a commercial photography hide. I guess I'd more or less categorize it the same as doing wildlife photography at a zoo. It's an interesting notion for sure. Reminds me of a wolf refuge out in Golden, BC who rescues abused wolves and pays for their rescue by selling "hikes" with the wolves to photographers. You could argue it is cheating, but in this case, it is going to a good cause so I feel it is win/win and if a photographer takes a photo they are excited and proud of on one of those hikes all the power to them.

I feel there are two common types of wildlife photographers:

A) Those motivated by creating beautiful portraiture of animals and who's primary focus is on the end images. Its all about creating a spectacular shot of a majestic creature. It's less about exclusivity and rarity and more about composition, light, and the beauty of the subject.

B) Those motivated by "collecting" shots of a wide variety of animals, especially rare ones in their natural habitat. While these photographers often make beautiful shots, their metric for what makes a successful outing is not the quality of the images but rather the ability to observe something exclusive and document that observation. A mediocre shot of a spectacularly rare animal is superior to a spectacular shot of a common animal.

Both A and B are also motivated by a love of wildlife and nature, but the way they approach the craft is completely different. I feel like those in camp A would have no problem with something like a commercial hide while those in camp B would be horrified by it because it feels like "cheating"

My feelings on it are that these sorts of photography "ethics" are something that shouldn't be imposed on others. If you want to hold yourself to them, fine, but don't make someone else feel bad about a shot they were proud of because of your own arbitrary set of rules.

Hi Ryan, good points here and I would say you are right in terms of 2 types of photographers, although maybe there will be a couple more types we can throw in there.

I didn't mention it in this article but another important point (more of a negative of the hides) is that, images taken from these hides would not be accepted in most wildlife photography competitions, so similar to taking images at the zoo etc but the difference is, the animals who visit paid hides are still completely wild animals, they have just been lured using food on a regular basis and are not captive in any way.

Baiting is a very controversial subject with these hides for many reasons, but can be sustainable when done correctly. It can be beneficial to the conservation of these animals as well as research and photography.

I enjoy your insightful comments, Ryan.

Of the two types of wildlife photographers you describe, I know many who don't fit either type, but are a mixture of both. I would include myself as a mixture that doesn't fit either description completely.

As for commercial hides, they aren't the only means of using hides to photograph wildlife. I spend a lot of time in hides, but they are not set up over bait. Many of us take our own hides into the habitat and figure out where to set them up to give us the best chance at getting aesthetically pleasing close-ups of wild mammals and birds. This involves quite a bit of advance scouting and experience, to be able to know where the animals will be at different times during the day.

I say this to make sure that folks know that most of the photography that is done from hides is done independently, with the photographer taking his or her own hide onto public land. Maybe the commercially set up hides are a big thing in the U.K., but here in the U.S., while such operations do exist, they are not at all the norm.

Hi Tom, great comment. You are absolutely right that many wildlife photographers will do their own scouting and have a portable pop up hide they can use to minimise disturbance. This is something that will be brought up in another article that I am planning currently however the purpose of this article was about paid hides which are popular in the UK and also places such as Finland and Sweden for Bear photography.

As someone who does a LOT of photography from my own hides, I really look forward to the article that you are planning.

I do both portable blinds that I carry in to a location, set up, and shoot from, and I also do a lot with hides that I build in-place from natural materials found right there on-site. It is not difficult to find a few branches, weave them together to form a small wall, and then find dead grasses and leaves to weave through the branches to provide solid or semi-solid concealment. And because they are constructed of vegetation found right there at the site, these makeshift hides blend in quite well with their surroundings.

That's really great to hear Tom and I hope you enjoy the article once it's released in the coming weeks.

Yes, baiting in controversial, but in the right situations can be fine. It's very tough to know who is good and who isn't until you find someone with wildlife and photographic knowledge to help. I will say that one species that should never be baited is otters, so it worries me that a hide is baiting them with fish. It can have serious consequences for the otter and future offspring, so if I were to look at hides and found otters, that would be a massive red flag that told me that it was potentially a hide where the photograph was more important than the animal. My biggest bug bear is often pine martens. It's a species where the basal metabolic rate is only 360kj and you often see vast quantities of food used to bait them and so often completely inappropriate foods. It's also a species that naturally tends to move locations through the year, so year round baiting can have a negative effect on it that way too. Anyway, a lot to baited hides generally, but they can be an awesome tool if done right.