Country Innovation’s Raptor Waistcoat

Well I guess I must’ve done something right as Alice has asked me to pen another wee post for her blog, and this time I am going to let you know all about our Raptor Waistcoat.

For those who didn’t catch my last post (back in December 2015), my name is Maria Chilvers and I own Country Innovation, which I set up some 20 years ago to specialise in gear for the bird and wildlife market. It was a classic case of starting with one product (which was our Rover Ventile® Jacket which I wrote about in my previous post) and the company has just grown from there to provide a whole range of garments specifically for anyone interested in watching and photographing wildlife.




The Raptor Waistcoat (Gilet, Vest or whatever you want to call it) was a really big challenge. We have always had our Venture Waistcoat, which has sort of become part of the birdwatchers uniform, but I wanted to create something that was tougher and more suited to be able to carry hefty camera lenses and photographic equipment. I looked at many fabrics but the tear tests just weren’t good enough. I finally hunted out an extremely tough, military grade fabric with a ripstop (quite literally stops rips) weave called Rip-Tec. The strength of this fabric is incredible, perfect for what I was looking for.

raptor waistcoat

Now to turn to the design and features. I’ve managed to get 15 pockets into this garment, all of which have been very carefully thought out in terms of size and position, and all highly reinforced where the pocket joins the garment, as there’s no point in having a tough fabric if the stitching then just tears away under the strain of the contents (and let’s face it I’ve seen some customers putting things the weight of house bricks into some of the pockets!).

The 2 upper bellows pockets have press-studded flaps and incorporate 2 pen slots. Then there are the 2 really big vertical zippered pockets which are the size of the whole of the upper part of the garment….easily large enough for fieldguides, notebooks etc.


But of particular note however are the lower pockets….6 in all! Each of the lower bellows pockets has an inner zippered security pocket and side entry pockets to put your hands in, but the really clever bit is that the top opening of these pockets has been elasticated to not only be able to create a bigger opening for camera lens’ (opens to approx. 15cm) but also to again take the strain off of where the pocket joins the garment.


There is a large external rear pocket with flap (40cm x 22cm) and a large internal rear pocket (37cm x 20cm). 3 inner pockets, one of which is ideal for phone or pager, makes up the total tally of 15.

raptor waistcoat

I’ve added in some extra padding in the shoulder area for a bit of comfort when carrying hefty loads, and shoulder epaulettes to secure camera straps. A two-way main zip means that the Raptor can be undone from the bottom for ease of movement and additional ventilation, and the side adjusters can be pulled in for a neater fit. A rear pleat gives that little bit of extra room across the back and the slightly longer scalloped back is of a good length for comfort.

All in all, this garment is highly suitable to carry some of the equipment that you need readily accessible when photographing wildlife. CLICK HERE to take a further look at it and read some of the reviews, and if you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me at:



Demystifying Macro kit

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is what kit I use for my macro images, so this week I thought I’d explain and share a few tips along the way.



The main piece of equipment that will impact your macro photography is what lens you use. I have a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM which is fantastic and has a close focus distance of 30cm  making it particularly good for flowers and smaller, less active invertebrates.

Of course there are a great number of lenses available on the market which are brilliant for macro subjects. If your budget won’t stretch as far as a new lens though, there are other options too.

Extension tubes are the simplest in my view. These are basically hollow tubes which fit between your lens and camera body, that move the lens further from the sensor to enable closer focusing and therefore greater magnification. You can get a range of sizes and they usually come in a set which you can either use individually or stacked as necessary.

I’ve also tried a close-up filter which works in a similar way to you or I wearing glasses by altering the focusing distance of a normal lens. Some are available with a thread to fit directly to your existing lens, but I use a Cokin filter system which enables me to use my filters across all my lenses by attaching them to the lens with an adapter.

Many people will argue that a tripod is essential for macro photography. While there are instances in which I will use mine, I prefer hand-holding for my images. I find that it gives me greater flexibility and this is particularly true if you’re chasing around after a butterfly for example! I tend to use a tripod for lower light situations where I can’t get away with a higher shutter speed.

Many will also state that a flash is essential and it’s true that I do use my Speedlite 430EXII the most for macro work but even so I don’t use it that often. When I do, I make sure that I have a diffuser for it though, as I don’t like harsh lighting on natural subjects if I can help it.  What I don’t have is a fancy ring-flash or any elaborate lighting rigs – they simply aren’t necessary for what I’m trying to achieve.

The same can be said for sunlight too; on a bright day many macro subjects can lose colour and clarity in your images if under direct sunlight. To counteract this, I use a pop-up white diffuser or translucent reflector which softens the light and allows for a more vibrant shot.

I also use a reflector to help direct more light onto my subject, particularly flowers. I have a double sided gold/silver pop-up reflector which fits in a pocket so even if I’m just out for a walk with my camera and don’t want to take the full kit, I have a tool to give my images a little extra oomph! The images below show the effect of the reflector on a houseplant. The left-hand shot is without any reflector, the centre image shows the silver side of the reflector and the right-hand panel shows the effect of the gold side.




Finally, I’ll share with you a trick that I learnt from a lady in her eighties who also loves macro photography: carry a couple of clothes pegs! This is a slightly more unusual one but it really can pay off. Think of moments when you want to hold a piece of grass or other foliage out of the way to get a clear view of your subject; when you want to move a flower into a slightly different position to create a cleaner background; to enable you to get a better view of an invertebrate on the other side of it or to take advantage of the light. Clothes pegs offer an opportunity to do this without damaging the plant in question. They can also be used to hold a reflector in position and leave your hands free to take the photo. I tend to stick to bright colours so I don’t lose them and have one which is a soft grip peg for delicate subjects.

That’s the lot, I don’t use any other equipment but I’m pretty happy with the results I achieve. Here’s a recent macro image to remind you of the sort of photograph I end up with. If you have any further questions about this post or any of my other gear feel free to get in touch!