Wildlife Photography Ethics
I support the principles of compassionate conservation, promoting consideration of animal welfare in a conservation context. As such, the well-being of animals I photograph takes precedence over the photo. We all have an impact on wildlife, however unintentional at times. But as a general rule and to the best of my ability, I work to reduce how intrusive my presence might be.
• Member International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council
My Personal Guidelines
• I use the NANPA Ethics Guidelines and the Audubon Guide to Ethical Photography as models. I’m in permanent, continuing education on animal behavior and natural history, to better understand the wildlife I photograph.
• I photograph with long lenses, my primary wildlife lens being the Oly 300mm f/4 (which has an effective 600mm reach)
• I don’t bait or lure wild animals like owls or foxes, a practice common in some areas
• I don’t use calls or decoys, electronic or other
• I’m cautious about (and generally avoid) nesting/denning areas
• In macro photography of insects, all photos are taken as I find them, in their natural settings, no staging.
Young and Nesting Animals
I am especially cautious about photographing young animals and nesting areas. I don’t photograph nests often because I’m concerned about interrupting feeding behavior or alerting predators to the nest area. There are situations, however — like certain Cliff Swallow colonies, heron rookeries, or Osprey nests — where with adequate distance, the birds are generally not disturbed by human presence. Again, I use my best judgment and try to get the pulse of other photographers and birders who also know the area and the local animals.
My Field Craft
My preferred method, when possible, is to set up at a distance, either waiting for animals to come to me, or moving gradually toward them as they acclimate to my presence. There are obviously times when all of us gauge a situation incorrectly, or cause an animal to spook unintentionally. But I do my best to give animals space and respect in front of my lens.
Natural Light for Wildlife
With wildlife, I shoot in natural light, no flash or artificial illumination. It’s less intrusive to wild animals, and I enjoy the challenge of working with the nuances of available light. Because I appreciate photographs as emotive and story-telling devices, I see difficult light — darkness, fog, and high-contrast situations — as a call to adapt and find something new in the frame. If I use artificial light in any situation, I’ll note it in the description.
I think anthropomorphism, as it’s been applied throughout history, is a flawed construct. For one, we share some — sometimes many — traits with nonhuman animals, so there’s significant overlap. The term anthropomomorphism is often used to deny animals their rightful entitlement to complex emotional and social behaviors. I do not believe in stripping an animal of her individuality and personality because she belongs to a different species. I love biologist Marc Bekoff’s term deep ethology: “Respecting all animals, appreciating all animals, showing compassion for all animals, & feeling for all animals from one’s heart.” I believe that can only be done from a position of granting nonhumans the benefit of the doubt.
Why I Often Don’t Disclose Wildlife Locations
I encounter frustrating human-wildlife interactions often enough to feel protective of the wildlife and birds I photograph. With many of these birds, I have what could be construed as a loose relationship, owing to my repeated forays into the field to capture the same individuals on ‘film.’ So I feel an obligation to contribute to their well-being, and not detract from it. It has nothing to do with hoarding a choice photography spot. In fact, most places where I’ve photographed wildlife are quite open to the public and well-known by birders and photographers throughout the year.
The Feel-Free-to-Comment Policy
Feel free to comment, disagree, to challenge. I’m a believer in the First Amendment. I come at my subjects from the perspective of an observer and an artist, not a scientist, so there’s subjectivity inherent in my views.
“When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.” ~ John Muir