Wildlife Photography + Field 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.
• Ethics Committee Member: North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA)
• 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. I’m always learning more about 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, and don’t photograph nests often out of concern for interrupting feeding behavior or alerting predators 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.
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.
The term anthropomomorphism 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, and prefer to grant nonhumans the benefit of the doubt.
• Related: The Benefits of Anthropomorphism
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. 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 obvious 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