Wildlife Photography Ethics
A few weeks ago while out driving the back roads of Vermont, I came across a Bald Eagle, sitting on the ice about 40 yards off shore, eating the remains of an ice fisherman’s bounty. I pulled over to watch and snap a photo from my car. I had just shut the car off, when he noticed me, stopped eating, and flew away. No big deal, right? Well to some, disrupting the routine of a wild animal (an Eagle no less) in any way is a violation of wildlife ethics. A Google search of “wildlife photography ethics” delivered over 278,000 results, and after reading through some of the articles, the vast difference in opinions of what is and is not ethical behavior when photographing wildlife was simply overwhelming.
As an example, the following practices are considered by some to be unethical:
- Photographing birds attracted to a back yard feeder
- The use of camouflage or blinds
- Setting up in an area known to harbor wildlife
- Spishing or using vocalizations to draw song birds near
- Photographing around or near carcasses, road kill, etc.
Each photographer’s tolerance to what is right and what is wrong, is shaped by their past experiences and their own ethical standards. I have used all these practices during the course of photographing wildlife, and do not consider their use to be unethical.
All of us at one time or another have inadvertently spooked an animal, or misread a situation and moved too close to a subject, and what inevitably happens is you miss your opportunity because the subject either flies off or runs away. Human and wildlife interactions are bound to happen as our population increases and their habitat decreases.
Now That Spring Has Arrived…
I bring this subject up now, as spring has finally arrived in New England. Wildlife throughout the area such as loons, fox, and eagles, will be producing offspring which people love to photograph. Some of those photographers, professional or not, will cross the ethical line just to get the shot. And when that happens, we all suffer the consequences. When someone with a long lens (a “professional”) is seen acting unethically or irresponsibly, instantly everyone with a long lens is an unethical or irresponsible photographer in that person’s eye. Just try walking through the city parks in Montreal or Quebec during an owl irruption with a long lens on a tripod, and see what kind of reaction you get from the locals. You are instantly branded as a “baiter” because “all wildlife photographers bait owls.”
In recent weeks I have watched a woman chase a Snowy Owl from perch to perch through a field with a point and shoot camera, and watched a man with a large “professional size” lens jump up and down on an active fox den trying to scare the kits to come outside of the den so he could photograph them. If you are heading out to simply “get the shot,” and not to enjoy the experience and interaction that comes with experiencing the natural world, then you are more likely to compromise your own ethical standards to do so.
A Simple Reminder
Enjoy your time in the field, and savor the experience of spending time in their natural environment. In all of your interactions with wildlife, the primary concern must be the well-being of your subjects. Well known wildlife photographer Moose Peterson said it best, “No photograph is worth sacrificing the welfare of the subject.”
The North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) has an Ethics Resource page which I have found to be a very common sense approach to interacting with nature and fellow photographers. Follow these guidelines and you will never run afoul of the law or Mother Nature.
You can find the page at: http://www.naturephotographers.net/ethics.html
I hope to see you in the field!
~ John Vose