Wildlife Photography + Field Ethics

I am self-taught as a photographer, and it took me time to shape my current set of standards and practices. I’m grateful to the people along my trajectory who helped me become a more thoughtful photographer with respect to all of these considerations, especially my mentors at the wildlife hospital where it all began.

Our presence as humans can be a disruption in itself, but I go into the field with the intent to observe and not disturb.  

Member NANPA Ethics Committee (2016 – 2020)

Related Content: Blog posts on the subject of ETHICS

MY PERSONAL GUIDELINES

• I use the NANPA Ethics Guidelines and the Audubon Guide to Ethical Photography as models, always learning more about animal behavior and natural history.

• I photograph with long lenses, my primary wildlife lenses being the m.zuiko 100-400mm (which has an effective 800mm reach) and the m.zuiko 300mm f/4 (effective 600mm w/2x crop factor)

• I don’t bait or lure wild animals like owls or foxes (Note: these practices are not legal in many areas)

• I don’t use calls or decoys, electronic or other

• I’m extra cautious about disturbing or drawing attention to nesting/denning areas

• In macro photography of insects, I do not stage or move animals for images, nor use any artificial elements (spray bottles, etc)

 I align with the principles of compassionate conservation, as they challenge some of the longstanding and damaging norms about our interactions with other species. 

Nests + Dens

Generally speaking, I avoid drawing attention to nesting areas. Human presence and attention to nests or dens presents various dangers. It can interrupt feeding, nurturing, and protective behaviors. In worst-case scenarios, it can lead to the endangerment and death of nestlings or baby animals. Humans can also create scent trails for predators, or alert predators to the location of babies. There are settings like urban heron or seabird rookeries or particular situations where photography can be done safely.

Protecting Sensitive Wildlife Locations

Community is important to me, and I love bringing new people into the world of wildlife observation. I also cherish my connections with fellow wildlife photographers and birders, and the passions we all share.

At the same time, I encounter harmful human-wildlife interactions so often, I feel protective of the wildlife and birds I photograph. I frequently post just a general location, unless it’s safe to be more specific. I don’t reveal locations of uncommon animals or charismatic birds like owls which tend to be relentlessly pursued once their location is known.

The adage that we protect what we care about tends to be true. It’s such a thrill for me to see more people engaging wildlife in thoughtful, enthusiastic, and non-violent ways. I do my best to promote that, while also finding a comfortable, safe balance for the animals..

• Related: Wildlife Locations – When Sharing Endangers the Animals

Natural Light

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.

On Anthropomorphism

The term “anthropomorphism” is often used to deny animals their rightful entitlement to complex emotional and social behaviors. I don’t believe in stripping an animal of his or her individuality because she belongs to a different species. I prefer to grant nonhumans the benefit of the doubt. It’s caused so much harm to other species historically, to deny them these qualities — the ones we deem exclusively human but which, over time, we discover are not unique to us.

• Related: The Benefits of Anthropomorphism

Comment Policy

Feel free to comment, or disagree and challenge. I’m a believer in animated discussion and learning from other perspectives. 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

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