The Ethics of Nature Photography

DSC_0043At some point last year I became disillusioned with the words “Wildlife Photographer.” I didn’t want to be associated with the words in that order, I didn’t want to be associated with the people that those words represented.  I began calling myself a “Conservation Photographer.”  Somewhere along the line I got tired of explaining myself, and reverted back to “Nature Photographer.” Now, after three years of real work in outdoor photography I think I am ready to take the leap back to include the word conservation.

I’m sure, by now, you are wondering what the difference is, and why does it matter to me so much; so I figured I’d lay it all out for you.  Here goes:

I’m tired of seeing people disrespect or neglect to follow natural and ethical guidelines when photographing animals and sensitive areas.  I have a 300 mm lens, and I get shots that show it.  Purposely photographing a baby bird in a nest is not an option for me, nor should it be for anyone else with 300mm or less.  There are limits to which a photographer should push things, and if you don’t have the lens power to not affect that nest, or the animals by getting too close, you shouldn’t.  If you can get that close, it doesn’t mean you should.

I’m tired of seeing people call birds in for the sake of photos.  It’s not so bad with songbirds, but I think that the birds even get bored with it.  It is plain wrong to use calls during nesting season, in high traffic areas, and for sensitive species.  The results are birds that get confused and get hurt; or worse, lose their nest because of distraction.

Quit feeding the animals.  Why does it appeal to people to go out to get pictures of wildlife and bring food for them to make make them tame.  It’s bad for the animals, it creates issues, and it ruins the challenge.  How can you call it wildlife photography, if the animal isn’t really wild anymore, if you can walk up to it, say hi, and feed it a sandwich… what is that really?  It’s bad behavior, that’s what it is.

People need to leave baby animals alone.  Baby birds included.  The less contact with the humans the better.  Especially in larger birds that often fall victim to vehicle collisions and intentional killings by humans.  The more skittish they are the better for their survival.

Notice a theme here… Survival.  I’m worried about the well being of our environment.  I go out to document nature and share it with others so that they might be inspired to take interest in preserving it as well.  I am not out there to control animal behaviors. If I want to do that, I have a dog at home. I am also not out there to win awards for my photography.  I just want to make nice, inspiring. photos, that inspire others to conserve what’s left of our natural world.  That’s the difference.  And while I’m not saying that every wildlife photographer is bad, I know enough bad examples to ruin my opinion of the title “Wildlife Photographer.”

Finally, I think it’s much more rewarding to see something naturally happen than to just try and make it happen. In comparison to those looking to get the lifetime shot, I enjoy nature.  I have a passion for it.  I’m happy to see one really cool thing and never take photos of it.  Can they say the same?

So, call me what you want, but in my heart, I’m a “Conservation Photographer” and I’m really enjoying explaining why.

International League of Conservation Photographers

North American Nature Photography Association


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