Sunday, 25 April 2010
This is a blog I have wanted to write for a while, and I finally found the time to do so whilst stranded in Portugal thanks to the Icelandic Volcano.
Wildlife Photography - There are many reasons wildlife photography is so addictive and fulfilling. We all love the challenge of locating and successfully photographing the wildlife, and we love nature and the wildlife in it.
Wildlife photography can be the most rewarding medium one minute, and then the most frustrating and disappointing the next. Some days yield no useable photographs, while some yield plenty. Wildlife photography takes studying locations and the species within them, and little to no sleep if you are a professional.
Your Responsibility - Giving yourself the opportunity to photograph creatures normally not seen by many people, comes with an important responsibility, a responsibility to have little to no impact on the wildlife while photographing them. We are out there to enjoy these animals in their natural settings, not to interrupt their lives or manipulate their surroundings. Negative practices, although they may yield impressive looking results, could physically harm the animals, cause them to abandon feeding locations and young, or become dangerously habituated to humans. There is definitely a right and wrong way to go about wildlife photography.
The Right Way - Observe wildlife from a distance. Don’t attempt to interact with, feed, distract, taunt, or spook the animals. Keeping to these rules is much more fulfilling in the long run. You know your photographs aren’t contrived in any way, and the animals in them are going about their business undisturbed. Because distressed animals or animals in retreat look different from undisturbed animals, a keen observer can usually spot an unethical wildlife photograph. In the end, an undisturbed animal in a natural setting will look much better than a captive wild animal or a frightened animal in retreat. The goal of a wildlife photographer is to photograph animals in their nature habitat, capturing their natural behavior. The unethical practices listed below may yield the exact opposite.
The Wrong Way - There are many types of unethical things some photographers do in order to get the shot they want. I will list some of the most common unethical behavior I have seen and heard about.
Intentional Spooking - By far the most common unethical behavior I have seen in the field is intentional spooking. This is when a photographer intentionally scares an animal out of a location in order to get an action shot, or make the animal move to a more photogenic location. Every time I see this, it infuriates me. Examples I have witnessed are photographers throwing rocks in the direction of hunting herons to make them fly, honking a car horn under a Red Kites nest for a flight shot, and running through a tern colony on the beach. Spooking a mammal or bird away from a location can cause it to abandon young or give up on a feeding location, abandoned young don't last very long in nature!
Cornering - Cornering an animal is all too common, and one of the worst things a photographer can possibly do to stress out a wild animal. This is when a photographer gets way too close to an animal and either is so close that the animal is afraid to move, or has cut off all the animal's possible escape routes. Different species of animals have different responses to fear and being cornered. Don’t get too close, and don’t corner an animal.
Capturing - Reptiles, amphibians and insects, are small, skittish and difficult to photograph. Some photographers think it is okay to literally capture them, and pose them how they like. This is disrespectful and unethical, as the strain and distress it puts on these creatures is not worth the photograph. Would you trap a wild fox or bird and pose it for some photos? It's the same thing.
Dens and Nests - This is a simple one. If you know the location of something like an owl nest or fox den. Enjoy it from a considerable distance and keep the location of it to yourself. The absolute last thing you want is hordes of photographers stressing out the animals.
Exaggeration - Don’t exaggerate your settings or methods. If an animal was very cooperative and didn’t make you work for the shot, don’t say you stalked it for 3 hours and climbed eleven thorny trees barefoot to get the shot. Finally, don’t exaggerate the elusiveness or skittishness of an animal. Don’t say a common and easily approachable animal is seldom seen, and that it was a once in a lifetime chance that you managed to find it. An animal’s rarity does not determine its beauty. As another photographer once told me, although a specific species may be common in your area, it may not be common in others. Appreciate the time you have with any animal, not just the rare ones.
Local Laws and Regulations - Most locations have rules and boundaries that dictate where you can and can’t go. Follow them! Also, some locations have rules as to how close you can get to wildlife. These are important also, as the people who made these rules, made them for a reason. Just because no one is looking, doesn’t mean you’re allowed to do whatever you’d like. I know sometimes the, “area beyond this sign is closed” signs throughout our national parks can be frustrating; but remember, they are there for your safety, as well as to protect the wildlife. Remember, the more people that break the rules, the more strict the rules get in following years.
Exceptions to the rule.
Feeding - Feeding wildlife or luring them with food in order to get them close enough to photograph is a dangerous but accepted practice. Some of the most famous photos in the world are taken this way but you would not know it! Just think about the long term impact on the animal when using these methods, an animal that has been habituated to humans is much more likely to strike at a human rather than flee.
Zoos and Specialist breeding Centres
Many of us will never get the chance to photograph animals in the wild and this is where a trip to your local safari park, Zoo or specialist breeding programmes like the WHF in Kent come into play. I am proud to be associated with ALTA the Amur Leopard conservation group but with only 35 of these magnificent animals in the wild a captive Amur Leopard will probably be the only chance I get to photograph these beautiful creatures.
Don’t bang on cages or viewing glass this will only frighten the animals and make them more afraid and stressed than they already are.
Many photographs now use companies to get them closer to rare animals and capture that perfect shot. The company I have worked with always makes sure that the animals welfare comes first before the photographers picture. Respect the animals and you will get far better photos.