People Who Wear Camouflage for Work Explain the Feeling of Being Invisible

Private detectives, soldiers, and wildlife photographers explain what it’s like to disappear.
camouflage – left: blond elegant woman taking pictures inside a train station. Right: man in a camo suit lying on dead leaves.
Left: Patrick Lewis. Right: courtesy of Arne Moons. Collage: VICE

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

Whether it’s a butterfly blending indistinguishably into an oak leaf or a person transforming into a meadow, there’s something mesmerising about hiding in plain sight and becoming one with your surroundings.


Some people do that by simply wearing a camo suit with a full face of make-up and sitting perfectly still. Others blend into the crowds, becoming so unremarkable they are almost faceless.

I decided to speak to three camouflage enthusiasts about the art of disappearing, how they remain unseen and what it feels like to “stop existing”.

Arne Moons, wildlife photographer: ‘It’s breathtaking to see how close animals get to me when I’m in disguise.’

Arne Moons, photographer – man in a camo suit lying down among dried leaves next to a tripod with a camera mounted on it and some biloculars.

Arne Moons, 24, wildlife photographer in his camo set up. Photo courtesy of the interviewee.

VICE: Hi Arne. What do you do for a living?
Arne Moons: I put on my camouflage outfit and go out into the woods to spot birds, deer and other animals. I pick a place between the branches and make sure I sit completely still. I become a part of the natural environment in a special way. I’m a human being, but I can transform into a tree. It’s breathtaking to see how close animals get to me when I’m in disguise.

Scent is also very important. Animals have a great sense of smell, so I don’t wear perfume, and after I’ve washed my camo clothing, I air it out for a few days. This way, the smell of laundry detergent disappears. When there is a fair amount of wind, animals can smell me from far away. I walk against the wind so they won’t notice me.


Last year, I built a pair of bird watching-glasses with an attached feeding tray. My heart is always pounding when a titmouse or sparrow lands on my glasses. I see them moving around at a distance of less than 10 cm. In those moments, I’m no longer a human.

When you’re not at work, do you still enjoy being invisible?
I wouldn’t describe myself as a social person. I do make conversation when I’m around people, but I never know what someone else thinks of me. That can make me feel pretty insecure. I use the way I observe animals to screen people, too, to get a sense of their trustworthiness. But then again: who can you still trust these days?

I don’t think people care enough about nature. They throw their trash in the forest and they complain too much. I’d rather spend my time with animals. 

Herma Kluin, private detective: ‘Looking like a regular person is the best way to stay undetected.’

Herma Kluin – blond elegant woman wearing a blue coat and white blouse, taking pictures of someone while inside a train station

Herma Kluin, 59, private detective. Photo: Patrick Lewis

VICE: Hello Herma, do you spend a lot of time hiding in the bushes?
Herma Kluin: No [laughs]. My work consists of a lot of observation. Wearing a camo suit in an urban environment actually makes you stand out. Looking like a regular person is the best way to stay undetected.

I do have a few high-quality wigs, though. Each scenario requires a different approach. Last week, I was in a coffee shop in Rotterdam, wearing a headscarf and my own colleagues didn’t recognise me. Sometimes, when I follow around a subject, I use different outfits. I layer coats on top of each other. One moment I’m walking by in a long winter coat, the next I’m a runner in a tracksuit. 


People are very bad at paying attention. When I started this job seven years ago, I would almost never follow people. I often give interviews and my face has been on newspapers. So I thought, “I’ve chosen to be visible, I can’t spy on someone”. By now, I know you can do it perfectly well with the right kind of disguise.

Were you good at hide and seek when you were a kid?
I loved playing hide and seek more than anything. And it was even more exciting when friends of my parents stayed the night. I’d hide under the guest bed at night, so I could listen in on what they were saying and doing. I know, it’s totally wrong, but it was also very thrilling. 

The act of disappearing is in my blood. When I was only 8, I would watch poachers in the woods and then call the police on them [illegal hunting of animals like deers, fasants, wild boars is widespread in the Netherlands]. Now I go on stake outs inside a car with tinted windows, sometimes for days at a time.

Don’t you have to go to the bathroom?
I do my business in the car. A male colleague gave me a funnel to use while I pee, but they don’t make sense for a woman. Another co-worker brought a bucket. How are you going to sit on a bucket behind the wheel? It was hilarious. Now I just use a 30x30 cm Tupperware. I put the lid on, because I’ve had times when it spilled. Then you spend all day sitting in the stench of your own pee.


The world of private detectives is very male-dominated. Lots of alpha egos, with a few women sprinkled here and there. It was difficult to hold my own for the first few years. I wasn’t fully seen or accepted. By now, they’re jealous of my success. Anyway, to be honest with you, the only thing I can do is show that I’m capable. And to believe I am.

Josse, soldier: ‘It takes discipline to be quiet as a mouse for days at a time.’

Josse, reconnaissance – man in camo suit buried in pine branches in the forest.

Josse (preferred not to share his last name for privacy reasons), 28, soldier. Photo courtesy of Josse.

VICE: Hey Josse, we know camouflage from army fatigues. How important is camouflage in your line of work?
Josse: In the army, I’m responsible for training reconnaissance soldiers. They will ultimately be out on patrol, but also charting enemy territory. Camouflage is very important in those cases, because you have to stay undetected.

Everyone knows the camo suit, but camouflage is much more than that. It’s seeing without being seen. Each environment warrants a different approach. I use make-up and natural elements like leaves and branches, but the way I move also matters. How do you tread through the forest without making a sound?

I first understood the power of camouflage when I was in training. We buried in the woods, looking out through a small hole. One of our instructors passed us by without noticing, even though he knew we were hiding somewhere.

Buried? You mean in the ground?
Yes, that’s what I call gardening. I completely wipe myself off the face of the earth. We do this training to prepare for when enemy troops are near. 

We sometimes spend multiple days underground. We keep radio traffic to a minimum, because it can be detected. We try to talk as little as we can. Everything happens underground during these missions. Eating, but also using the bathroom. It’s truly a matter of improvising. We use PET bottles or plastic food storage bags. Leaving no trace is also a part of camouflage. This includes excrement.

That sounds a lot more involved than I thought. This is not for everyone, right?
A lot of it can be taught. Still, some character traits can be useful. You need to be patient and precise. Neglecting to camouflage just one hand can make a difference. It takes discipline to be quiet as a mouse for days at a time. If you have an itch, you can’t always scratch it.

I’d be lying if I said that I’m never bored, but that’s also what makes it challenging. If your attention drops for just a moment, it doesn’t only negatively affect you, but also your unit or your commanding officer.