How to Use a Floating Blind for Nature Photography

photography blind

In wildlife photography, capturing stunning images often requires getting up close and personal with your subjects. However, approaching certain species, especially waterfowl, can be challenging without disturbing them in their natural habitat, which is where a floating blind comes into play.

floating blind photography

This wonderful piece of equipment allows the wildlife photographer to blend seamlessly into an environment such as a lake or a waterway while capturing breathtaking photographs.

It provides the concealment of a stationary blind (also referred to as a blind), but since it is on the water, it is moveable and dynamic; essential qualities when your subject is as unpredictable as wildlife.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to the wonderful world of floating blinds; what they are, when to use them, which scenarios they work especially well for, and give tips for maximising your photography experience within a floating blind.

What are floating blinds?

A floating blind is essentially a camouflaged floating tent that you can bring onto the water while you photograph wildlife.

In the floating blind, you are not yourself floating in the water but standing firmly on the bottom using a drysuit or a pair of waders, while the blind is floating around you using floats. Your camera is attached to the blind and is secure from the water.

floating hide

When you are standing firmly on the bottom of the waterway or lake, you have the huge advantage that you will not drift in the current and can slowly move about. These blinds feature waterproof materials and are buoyant enough to float on water bodies such as lakes, ponds, and marshes.

Floating blinds can either be made as a DIY project or can be bought commercially. They come in various sizes and designs, ranging from simple DIY rafts to more elaborate inflatable structures, also with a tent.

I built my first floating blind as a DIY project in 2019, and it worked perfectly for photography but it had the big downside that it was quite heavy. That is why I have since invested in a number of inflatable floating blinds that I use for my work as well as for my own workshops.

Read more: How to Build a Photography Hide

Commercially designed floating blinds

Commercially, there are two popular designs:

The rigid design

The rigid design consists of a dense shell with a soft tent above it.

photography blind

This form of floating blind is extremely stable in the water, even in stronger winds but the downside of this design is that it will not fold down as much as the inflatable design will and therefore it can be cumbersome while transporting.

Examples of this design are the: ‘Tragopan Floating Hide With Tent’ by Tragopan and ‘Floating Hide’ by Floating Hide.

The inflatable design

The inflatable design features an inflatable float that supports a tent above it. The upside to an inflatable floating blind is that it folds down to a very small and lightweight package, and can be easily transported around.

I have even brought one of these as hand luggage on a plane, without anyone questioning it! The downside to these inflatable floating blinds is that it takes a little more time to prepare it ahead of getting in the water.

Examples of the inflatable designs are: ‘Floating Hide II Combo’ by Mr. Jan Gear and ‘Grebe’ floating hide by Buteo Photo Gear.

Read more: What’s the Best Portable Wildlife Photography Hide?

When to use a floating blind

Floating blinds are particularly useful in situations when getting close to wildlife without causing disturbance is crucial. They offer photographers a unique vantage point that allows for intimate shots without alarming the subject.

floating hide bird photography

Since the floating blind is moveable, you can ever so slowly move towards the subject without disturbing it. This way you can photograph waterfowl such as grebes, while they are dancing, fighting, and even while they are breeding.

Photographing birds from up close during the breeding season can be really difficult, without causing disturbance, but a floating blind provides a unique opportunity for doing just that.

When photographing from a floating blind, as long as you move cautiously and slowly, the birds will think that you are a big stone sticking out of the water.

floating hide bird photography

A lot of wildlife are fooled by the floating blind and I have even had a kingfisher sitting on top of my blind, using it as an observational point for its fishing. The floating blind is truly ideal for photographing shy species that are afraid of people or the human silhouette.

Read more: Bird Photography Tips – Shooting Bird Portraits

Wind and weather

One thing that you should factor in when choosing when to deploy your floating blind is the wind. When working on calm days you blend much easier into your surroundings and the wildlife will easier be fooled by your presence.

I seldom use my floating blind when the wind speeds exceed five meters per second. This way I ensure that I have a calm water surface, providing almost a mirror below my subject and that I have maximum camouflage.

bird photography from a hide

Other crucial factors while choosing when to deploy a floating blind are the season and the temperature. Depending on where you live in the world seasons could factor in regarding when to use a floating blind.

Here in northern Europe where I am from, spring and summer are the best time of year to use a floating blind. During autumn and winter, the water is often too cold, it can even freeze, and it is often too windy to be using a floating blind.

While it is possible to deploy the floating blind during winter with great results, it is much more comfortable to be working with a floating blind during spring and summer. Activity will also be much higher during the breeding season, and you will often have more subjects to work with.

Read more: Wildlife Photography – Understanding Animal Behaviour for Better Images

Safety first

Before going into details on some tips for getting good photos from a floating blind, I want to touch upon safety.

Safety while working from a floating blind is your number one priority, and since working in the water you should plan ahead, know your route, and know the water depth of where you will be working.

floating blind

I have a rule for my floating blind photography that I will not be working with my floating blind if I can’t reach the bottom, and this keeps me from working in areas where I can potentially drift off, which could be a huge safety concern and very dangerous.

Don’t risk anything just because of a photo.

What wildlife subjects are floating blind good for?

The floating blind can be used for any species of bird or mammal that frequently goes down to a pond or a lake, but I would say that these three groups of birds are the prime subjects for photographing from a floating blind:


Ducks, geese and swans, are perfect subjects for photography from floating blinds. Being able to be within the water with these birds makes a huge difference in the results.

Read more: How to Photograph Ducks, Geese and Other Wildfowl

Wading birds

Herons and egrets are commonly found in wetland habitats and can be beautifully photographed from floating blinds as they search for food along the water’s edge.

Read more: 5 Tips for Photographing Wading Birds


Shorebirds are beautiful birds that frequent shorelines, making them excellent subjects for photographers using floating blinds to capture their wonderful behaviours.

Read more: 7 Ways to Capture Character in Bird Photography

Recommended equipment and clothing

Equipment and clothing can make or break your experience in a floating blind scenario. Choosing the right pair of waders or the right drysuit for your floating blind trip is also really important.

floating hide

I use neoprene waders, which are good for a cold climate, but if you live in warmer places I would recommend going for waders in a thinner material. A dry suit could also be a good option for you.

Underneath the waders or drysuit, you should think about what you are wearing too. If you don’t bring enough clothing, you will freeze quickly, being submerged in the water. A cold photographer is a bad photographer, and this can ruin your trip.

Likewise, you can also bring too much clothing and you will feel too hot.

bird hide

In terms of photography gear, a floating blind only really requires two things: a stable gimbal and a telephoto lens for your DSLR or Mirrorless camera.

The gimbal can be attached to your floating blind and is key in keeping your equipment safe from falling into the water. I recommend going with a cheap gimbal due to it being in contact with the water below the floating blind and however much you take care of it, it will eventually rust.

In terms of the telephoto lens and focal length to use for floating blind work, most of the time I use my prime 800mm. I am aware that this can seem excessive, but using such a long focal length serves a purpose because I am most often working with shy and small waterfowl.

bird photography blind

For a general-use scenario, I would recommend a focal length of 300-600mm. A zoom lens is often perfect because you can zoom in and out and adapt to the distance to the bird and the size of the bird.

Knowing your target species upfront and how it reacts to your presence is key. If you know this information before going then you will be able to plan ahead and to choose what focal length is perfect for your scenario.

Top tips for getting good photos from a floating blind

Now that you know when and how to use a floating blind, here are some top tips to help you get the best out of your photography.

Plan in advance

My most important tip for getting good photos from a floating blind is to scout out the location beforehand.

photography blind

With a pair of binoculars, you can see where the wildlife congregates and can find places within the location with more activity than other places. This is where you want to be located, and if you know these places you can later position yourself optimally.

Stick to the edges

My second tip for getting good photos using a floating blind is to move along the edges of the water instead of in the middle of it.

If you have reeds or trees behind you, the wildlife is less likely to be suspicious of your presence than if you are just out in the open.

Read more: 6 Tips for Better Fieldcraft in Wildlife Photography

Have patience

My last tip would be to be patient. Use the agility of your floating blind to find a good position, and then just stay there, letting the ducks and waterfowl come close to you and not the other way around.

photography blind

Most of the time, you will be able to get closer to the wildlife if you let it come to you instead of the other way around.

In conclusion

Floating blinds offer a unique opportunity to photograph wildlife from a completely new perspective.

By understanding how to use a floating blind effectively and implementing the tips outlined in this article, you can elevate your photography and create images that showcase the beauty of wetland habitats and the wildlife within them.

So, grab your gear and head out into your floating blind to photograph waterfowl from this unique angle.

Visit Mads's website

Mads Hagen is a wildlife photographer who focuses on the portraiture of animals. He is inspired by the exciting moment when an animal is right in front of him and the intimacy that such a moment offers. He is based in Denmark but works throughout Europe and Africa, always with the goal of showing nature in all its beauty.

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