Camouflage Lens Cover for Super Telephotos
and a Camo Tripod Skirt

      My first camo lens cover project worked out pretty well, I think, but that cover was designed for a zoom lens with a front element that rotated as it focused and extended as it zoomed. When I started using Canon's fixed focal length "L" prime lenses, the dynamics were completely different. I also wanted a lens cover that was easier and simplier to make, but would still be just as effective at camouflage. It also needed to cover up the gimbal mount as well as the lens and camera, because I don't shoot from an actual "blind" very often.

My first lens cover project
      It seems most of the places I go these days for birds don't let you set up a blind and leave it. Since I have to work with more flexibility and mobility, I use a homemade camouflage suit and sit huddled behind the tripod. I'm effectively hiding pretty much out in the open, and the camera and tripod MUST blend in with me and the surroundings for effective camouflage. When camouflaged out in the open like that, I have to set up and stay put for awhile. I can't wiggle around much either, unlike being inside a blind where you have a little leeway. On the flip side of the situation, I do enjoy being able to blend right into nature and have the birds pretty much ignore me. I also have a better view of things going on around me than I do inside a blind. It does provide some advantage.

     I've found that for this type of photography I mostly use my EF 500mm f/4 IS lens. As with most of Canon's prime lenses, it is "white" and really needs some sort of cover for camouflage work. The "Lens Coat" brand neoprene covers you can purchase are good for knocking down the white glare, and for protection from scratches and paint chips if you are careless in handling your lenses. If the neoprene covers weren't so outrageously expensive, I'd probably use them myself. However, with or without them, achieving the kind of truly effective camouflage that I need requires something more than a camo neoprene cover.

Super telephoto lens cover

     The type of lens cover in this project is quite easy to make and use. It works for fixed focal length lens where the lens hood does NOT rotate when focusing. It also works for zoom lens where the zoom is completely internal (the barrel does not extend), and of course, does not rotate when focusing. If you have a zoom with a barrel that extends when zooming, you will need to allow for enough material on the cover so it will "accordion" when you zoom in and out.

      Since I discovered the die-cut Camo Leaf Blind material in the Advantage Max-4 HD pattern (made by Hunter's Specialties) I will not be without it. I keep one or more packs of the 56 inch x 30 foot size on hand at all times now. I've used it for many projects. It started with my duck boat camouflage cover, and from there it's become my default camo material for just about everything that doesn't require actual "cloth" material. It weighs almost nothing, does not soak up water (and therefore air dries quickly if it becomes wet), is easily sewn, and it's very tough and durable, given that it's so thin and light. And to top it all off, it does a great job of blending into the landscape in the very environments I work in for bird photography. In fact, you can see from this photo that it even works pretty darn well in the middle of my front yard.

[ Please read this notice about Camo Leaf Blind ]

     Another item I use frequently is the Camo Netting by the same company. It's extremely tough and lightweight, and also sews well. Mostly I've used it for a backing or lining on the die-cut camo material. Since the camo is "die cut", it has lots of holes. Backing it with the netting keeps the holes from catching on things, makes the material surface more slippery against equipment, and adds body to the camo material. I also use it for reinforcement in stress spots on other fabrics when making things for my photography work.

     My point to all this is that I used both these materials in making the camo lens cover for my super telephoto, as well as for making the tripod camouflage skirt project you will find farther down on this page.

     Here are the other items you will need for the lens cover project:
      - some 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch velcro (the sew-on type)
      - a couple of strips of cloth material (for straps)
      - some elastic (in 1/2 or 3/4 inch width, and in a 1/4 inch width - preferably in black)
      - and optionally, a bit of camo nylon cord.

     The photo on the right shows the finished lens cover lying upside down and open so you can see the placement of straps inside. The large white cup demonstrates how the front elastic goes over the lens hood. Note the two velcro tabs near the front. They hold the bottom edges together in front of the gimbal head. The rest of the cover flairs out to wrap around and cover the gimbal mount. The main barrel strap holds the cover in place so a gust of wind doesn't flip it up. The rear barrel strap is optional. The eyepiece elastic slips over the eyecup and flash head, and keeps the rear of the cover in place. The tie cord is also optional, but I found that it helps keep the rear of the cover from flapping about too much in a stiff breeze. Remember, some movement is natural, so it's perfectly okay for the cover to rustle in the wind. It's just not supposed to completely flip up in the air and uncover everything.

      Take a look at this diagram which explains some of the measurements used for the cover material and elastic. The material measurement of 29 inches is based on the need for 25 inches to reach from the front of the lens hood to the back of the camera body (including a teleconverter) plus four more inches for any edge hemming, and for some looseness so the cover is not pulled too tight and straight. A wrinkled appearance will add to the camouflage effect. The 35-inch dimension was what I needed to drape low enough on the sides to cover the gimbal head bracket down to the top of the tripod. That also allowed for pleating the cover around the lens hood for that wrinkled, natural appearance for better camouflage.

      Next I lined the back side (underside) of the camo material with a piece of the camo netting. I covered the whole piece of material except for the front 6 or 8 inches that goes over the lens hood (the hood is smooth and not likely to catch on any die-cut holes in the material anyway). I simply stitched around the edges to attach the netting, then tacked the two layers together in 5 or 6 random spots with a few stitches. It would end up getting some more incidental stitching later when I added the barrel straps, which altogether would be sufficient to tack the netting to the cover. Then I came back about 6-8 inches from the front edge and sewed on the velcro tabs that would hold the cover together in front of the gimbal head.

     The next step is to attach the 1/2-inch wide elastic to the front edge that will form the loop that goes over the lens hood. Refer to this diagram for an illustration of the "Z" pleating, which is also shown in the lower left photo. The circumference of my lens hood is 20.5 inches. Keep in mind that this is being made for my Canon 500mm lens. If yours is for a different lens, you will likely need to adjust all these dimensions to suit your situation. By emperical testing (stretching the elastic against a ruler) I figured out that a 12-inch piece of the particular half-inch wide elastic I was using would stretch up to about 22 inches. I decided this would work just about right when stretched to only 20.5 inches around the hood. That would leave me with a couple of inches leeway which I would need in order to slip it on over the lens hood easily, yet still remain tight enough to hold snuggly.

     Next I divided the 35-inch material edge into 6 equal segments. Subtracting 2 inches to allow for sewing overlap, I made a mark one inch from the corner, then marked with a dark pen every 5.5 inches along the material edge ( 6 x 5.5 inches + 1 inch on each end = 35 inches). These marks are the stitching attachment points for the elastic, and indicate the center of each "Z" pleat. Next I made the 1/2-inch wide "Z" pleating folds on either side of each mark (except for the two very end marks) as shown in this photo and I pinned each pleat in place. Then I stitched along the full edge of the material to hold all the pleats in place, and removed the pins. Then I marked the center of the 12-inch piece of elastic (6 inches from the end) and lined up this center elastic mark with the center mark of the middle pleat. I sewed the elastic to the central pleat, stitching perpendicular to the material edge (across the elastic band) as shown in this photo.

     At this point you have the center of the elastic band sewn to the center of the material front edge. Next sew one end of the elastic band to the last mark at the corner of the material, stitching across the elastic band as before (never stitch along the length of elastic as obviously this would keep it from stretching). The elastic is much shorter than the span of material, but that's necessary. Now sew the other elastic end to the other end mark at the corner of the material. Then pull the two ends of the material, stretching the elastic until the material is taught. The elastic band should stretch far enough for you to do this. If this is okay, all you need do is to stretch the elastic again so the material is again taught, and stitch across the elastic band in the center of each "Z" pleat while the elastic is stretched. When this is completed, test the stretch again. The material should accordion and pucker up as you stretch and relax the elastic.

     Now form the material and elastic band into a circle, bringing the ends of the elastic together so they butt. Then sew along the 1-inch border you left on the edge of the material as shown here. Assuming that your lens and camera are mounted on the gimbal head and tripod, you can now test fit the cover. Slip the elastic end of the cover over the lens hood and drape the rest of the material back along the lens and over the camera body. The rear edge of the cover will likely extend a couple of inches beyond the camera body. This is okay, as you want a little excess for looseness. The eyecup elastic will keep this from hanging off the back once you're done.

     At this point all the hard part is done. The next step is to make the main barrel strap. Hem up a simple band of material about an inch wide for a cloth strap that is about 4 inches longer than the circumference of the lens barrel at the point you will use the strap. If your lens barrel has a 10-inch circumference, make the strap 14 inches long. This allows you two inches on each end of the strap for the hook and loop velcro strips. The placement of this strap along the lens barrel depends on your lens. You want it in a spot that doesn't cover or interfere with buttons and controls. For my Canon lens, the ideal spot was just in front of the IS and focusing control switches as shown in the photos at left and right. As you can see, the strap happened to align right with the lens foot, and between the gimbal bracket and lens barrel. To avoid fumbling around trying to squeeze my fingers between the lens, the tripod foot and the bracket, I simply attached the strap with it spun around so that the velco overlaps near the top side of the lens, and not on the bottom. This makes it easier to reach. The only attachment point you need is to sew it right along the top center line of the lens barrel and cover. Do not sew this strap all the way around. You don't want it to wrap the cover tightly around the barrel, you just want the strap to hold the cover down onto the lens. It also keeps the cover from sliding forward or backward.

      Next is the rear barrel strap, which is really an optional item, depending upon your lens. I positioned mine just behind the tripod foot ring, which works well with or without the teleconverter, which is shown in the photo at left. Since there was plenty of room below the lens here, I oriented the strap ends at the bottom so the velcro tabs hang down. You can plainly see in the photo the stitching which attaches the rear strap to the top center line of the cover. This is all that's necessary to attach both the main and rear straps.

      The eyepiece elastic is next. A 1/4-inch wide elastic works well for this, and I recommend using black. This technique for attaching to the camera should work for most any DSLR camera body, as I should think they all have a gap around (and particularly below) the rubber eyepiece cup. The elastic fits quite nicely into this gap, and on both my Canon 10D and 50D it does not interfere with any of the controls, nor does it interfere with your vision in the viewfinder. In fact, you will very soon forget it's even there. If this technique doesn't happen to fit your particular camera body, you may still be able to find some other position where the elastic will slip on.

      The first photo at the right shows how the 1/4-inch wide elastic loop is attached. I first sewed the teardrop-shaped loop to a small patch of material, then sewed the patch onto the lens cover. You could sew directly to the cover, but I found handling the large cover material and the small loop a bit awkward. The patch of cloth allowed me to pin the loop onto the cover, test fit and adjust position before sewing it in place. Be sure you turn the elastic so it lays flat against the camera body and does not end up with a twist in it. It will be less obtrusive as long as it lays flat.

     The second photo at the right shows one position for hooking the elastic over the eyepiece, while the photo at left shows a second option for hooking the elastic over both the eyepiece and the flash head. The only real difference is that you will need to attach the elastic loop at a slightly different position for each choice so the rear edge of the cover comes back as far as you want. Both seem to work fine for me.

     The last detail is to add a nylon cord or a strap of some sort to the bottom edge of the cover about 6 inches from the rear edge (shown at right). This is optional, but after my first use on breezy days I realized that being able to connect the two sides together would minimize the rear corners flipping about in the wind. Be careful not to position the cord or strap
so far back toward you that it's in your way. You want to be able to easily get your arm up under the cover to lay your wrist across the top of the lens barrel for proper control and dampening when panning. I found that 6 inches in from the rear gives plenty of room to get my arm in and out while still providing the desired control against the corners flapping in the breeze. You also want to be able to disconnect this for ease of installing and removing the cover. My solution was to sew one end of a piece of 1/8-inch nylon cord to one edge of the cover. I then tied a loop in the other end of the cord and sewed a clip hook to the other edge of the cover which then clips into the cord loop. Thus I can disconnect it easily. A strap with velcro would work just as well. The length of the cord or strap should be about ten inches.

Two views of the completed lens camo cover
     Other than perhaps folding over some of the camo material edges and hemming them up for a neat edge, the camo cover is now finished. Here are two views of the finished camo lens cover. I've been extremely pleased with how well this cover works, and how easy it is to put on and take off. It takes about 30 seconds to install it on the lens, and just half that time to remove it. It folds up into a small bundle that I stuff into a pocket of the backpack I use to carry the 500mm lens. Combined with my camouflage tripod skirt and my homemade leafy camo suit, it provides me with excellent camouflage, even for wary ducks.

Camo Tripod Skirt

     This project came about when I needed something to truly hide the tripod legs while I was "hiding in the open", as I talked about above. It's a logical extension of the lens cover camouflage, and compliments it very well as you can see in the photo at left. It only needs to cover two sides of the tripod, by the way. It would be in the way if it wrapped around all three sides.

     This skirt consists of nothing more than two triangles of camo leaf blind material with the upper tip of each traingle snipped off a little. The two are then sewn together along one edge and backed with the same camo netting material just like I used with the lens cover above. The two outer edges and the bottom corner on the middle leg have pieces of nylon cord sewn to them so I can tie the cord around the tripod legs at those points to hold it in place. In other words, the two outside legs have a top, middle and bottom cord, and the middle leg only has a bottom cord. This skirt fits on right over the tripod shoulder pad I made, so I don't need to take the skirt off when moving the tripod. I just gather up the legs and throw the tripod and lens over my shoulder the same way I would without the skirt. It doesn't seem to interfere with the pad or handling at all.
  The leafy camo suit next to the tripod skirt and lens cover

Tripod skirt, lens cover and photographer merge together  
     The really cool thing about using this lens cover, tripod skirt and the leafy camo suit is that once I've assembled the lens and tripod, put the covers on and slipped into my leafy camo suit, I'm ready to go. I just lift the tripod onto my shoulder, grab my little Walkstool and head out. When I find a good spot I simply set the tripod down, then open the stool and have a seat. Voila, I'm instantly camouflaged and ready to take photos. No setting up a blind, or packing one away either. It's quick, versatile and ultimately portable camouflage.

     The main thing to consider when making the tripod skirt is to size the trangular pieces so they fit the legs while they're set at the lowest and widest stance you generally use. Obviously the legs spread farther apart the lower you spread them. Mine is made for the medium height/spread setting, which works for me when sitting on my Walkstool. If I spread the legs to the next lower click, the skirt rides up on the center leg. However, this ends up being okay, because the skirt doesn't have to hang down as far with that lower setting anyway. I do have to re-tie the middle leg's cord though so it will slide farther up on the leg in that instance.

     The photo at right shows the skirt after I added a little imbellishment with tufts of rafia and bundles of burlap threads. You could also use commercially made camo kits or even natural vegetation to add some realistic touches to it. This adds to its three-dimensionality and improves the camouflage effect. I didn't worry about covering the very bottom of the legs, since there is usually a ground cover of grass or weeds on location to hide that.

Completed lens camo covers and tripod
skirts for two seasonal colorations.
     If you want to go with a Ghillie style cover, check out this last page from my DIY article on "Ghillie Suit Camouflage - An Introduction to the Ghillie Suit for Wildlife Photography". The two tripod skirts and lens covers from this project are shown on the left. They each have a matching Ghillie suit so that the lens, tripod and myself blend together (far left photo) just like the leafy camo suit and covers above.

     I will warn you that the Ghillie style covers and suits are much more time consuming to make than the leafy camo version, and will cost as much or more, but they are very effective. The leafy camo material is cooler and a little lighter, and has less tendency to snag on bushes than the threads of the Ghillie type suits and covers. On the down side, the leafy camo material will deteriorate sooner than the Ghillie versions made with synthetic threads.