I met Alice at this year’s Birdfair at Rutland Water, and she’s asked me to scribe a few words about gear recommendations for wildlife photographers, so here goes! My name is Maria Chilvers and I own a company called Country Innovation, which specialises in gear for the avid birdwatcher and wildlife photographer.
My whole working career has been in the outdoor industry as I used to run one of the UK’s largest buying offices for all outdoor products. Almost 20 years ago, when every outdoor company was producing bright red and blue rustly jackets for the hillwalkers, I decided to ‘go it alone’ and produce my own range of high quality clothing for the bird/wildlife market which, at that time, was virtually non-existent. I spent ages out on reserves talking to my target consumer and getting a real understanding of what they needed in their outdoor gear, and it really boiled down to the following attributes: green (or maybe stone if Summer gear), low rustle, big pockets and very protective (whether from the wind and rain or the sun). So, in December 1995 I said goodbye to my secure monthly salary, company car and pension scheme and set up Country Innovation, and I can honestly say that I have never looked back.
The first garment that I developed still remains our most popular one to this day, and that is our Rover Jacket.
It’s made from a fabric called Ventile®, which is a 100% cotton fabric developed during the war for fighter pilot suits. It truly is a fantastic fabric as it combines an extremely high level of wind and rain protection whilst also being highly breathable, tough and quiet. If you are out in some pretty fowl weather watching/photographing wildlife, the likelihood is that you will be there some time so you have to really trust that your jacket is going to keep you warm and dry. You also have to trust that the slightest of movements doesn’t create noise thus making the subject matter flee before you have got your vital shot. You are likely to be scrabbling around to get in the right position so need to trust that you gear will withstand some reasonably rough treatment. Ventile® is one of the best (if not the best) materials to provide all of this.
Having selected my fabric, I then went on to look at the features required in the garment. I can honestly say that I’m a bit of a saddo when it comes to features in my garments. I pore over the slightest things for hours to ensure they are going to ‘do the job’. The front zip for instance must have 2 protective plackets (that’s the pieces of fabric over the top of the zip), and on the Rover Jacket the underneath one even curls back on itself so that if driving rain does hit it, it is channeled down and out.
The hood took me ages to develop, so that it not only keeps wind and rain out and have a flexible wired peak, but also it can be drawn in tight to the face so that it turns with the head rather than you turning your head and seeing the inside of the hood and hey presto…..your bird has flown!
Of course there are as many large pockets as I can fit in (that sort of goes without saying), but another really important feature for any wildlife photographer is the lack of restriction. In particular, the ‘articulated underarm’ allows the arms to be raised without the bottom of the jacket moving, perfect if you are shooting up or outstretched when you don’t want the jacket to inhibit your shot.
So if you are looking for something to keep the elements out whilst photographing wildlife then take a look at the Rover (there’s also a Lady Rover with exactly the same fabric and features just in a female cut). Having received glowing feedback from customers over the years, I feel pretty confident that you will be as impressed with it as everyone else is!
I apologise that this post doesn’t contain any of Alice’s wonderful photography, but if you have found it of any interest whatsoever, or have any queries, then please just drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org. If she allows me to, I’ll do something next on our Raptor Waistcoat, a tough 15 pocket garment specifically designed for wildlife photographers.