As all things in life, there is a right and a wrong way to do something, and of course that applies also in Nature and Wildlife Photography.
Nature and Wildlife Photography have seen a significant increase in popularity in the last decade, mostly because we now have a lot of choices in relative affordable photographic equipment for shooting these kinds of photos.
Especially in Wildlife Photography, nowadays, we have affordable cameras, capable of shooting in high speed for capturing the decisive moment and affordable telephoto lenses that give the extra reach we need to shoot wildlife from a distance.
But the increase of popularity for this kind of photography can have some downsides.
As nature and wildlife photos are very popular, a lot of photographers want to gain attention, ignoring the ethics that all of us must have in our interaction with nature and its creatures, as well as publishing our images on the internet. The haunt for likes and congrats is leading photographers to forget that nature is fragile and must be approached with care.
Firstly, let’s accept that a nature and wildlife photographer loves nature and its animals and plants. Although our purpose is to capture the incredible landscapes and creatures and drive society to preserve them, most of us are driven from our need to be outdoor and feel our planet. That’s why when we are out there, the no1 thing we should do is to preserve what we find and leave no trace behind. You cannot call yourself a nature or wildlife photographer If you litter where ever you go.
Just remember that nature and wildlife are more important than any image (photo or video) you can create.
Let’s take a look at what we are expected to do when we are out there:
- Respect nature. Don’t do anything that can harm plants or animals.
- When you are walking off trails or driving off road, make sure you know that you are not putting in danger any living creature. For example, most of animals and a lot of birds nest on the ground and that’s why you should check really well your route, so you won’t destroy nests and run over small animals or their eggs or offsprings.
- Don’t talk loud or make loud noises, you can never be sure what is near you and how it will react. A lot of animals choose to abandon nests and their small ones, if they think there is a danger nearby. Some of them won’t return, leaving their young ones to survive on their own, something that is almost impossible.
- Before you visit an ecosystem, research where you can go and where you can’t. Some areas are out of reach for humans, by law, and that means that you can potentially get into a lot of problems, get fined or even jailed.
- During the breeding season, don’t approach nests, especially with eggs or little ones. It’s a big no, no for wildlife photographers. Images or videos you see from nests are shot with the instructions of officials and wildlife experts and done so that there will be no disturbance to the animals. There is always the risk that the “parents” will desert the nest and offsprings, resulting in their death.
- Learn to recognize signs of stress in your subject and back off when it begins to show. For example, birds will make specific noises or even charge at you, especially if you get too close to a nest. At the first sign, get away and leave the area or find a different route.
- When you encounter an animal with their young, back off and leave space for them to escape. Most animals are very protective of their offsprings and can become very dangerous. A bear can charge at you if it feels that its cubs are in danger and there is no way to get them away from you.
- If you find a young animal in your path, don’t rush to pick it up and help it, especially if you can’t be sure that the animal is in trouble. Many animals will desert their young if they notice human scent around them. Try to contact officials and wildlife experts in the area and inform them about what you have encounter and get advice on how to act.
- A wildlife photographer will never force an animal to a specific behaviour by yelling or doing irrational things like throwing rocks. This is another big no, no in wildlife photography. Our purpose is to capture normal behaviour of animals and not to provoke them to do something that are not used to do.
- If an animal decides to approach you, stay still and don’t make sudden moves or noises, expect if you think that staying still will result in a dangerous situation for you or the animal. For example, you could see a bear, that hasn’t spot you, coming your way. It is better to make a sound so that the bear spot you and run away.
- A nature photographer will not cut off plants or trees to make a better shot. And when you decide to walk in a forest, beach or mountain, you must be very careful not to step on plants.
- A wildlife photographer will not use live bait or play in his/hers smartphone sounds of animals, in an effort to attract animals. Using live bait is highly unethical. Using sounds of animals to attract animal of the same species, although seems harmless, in fact can cause stress to the animal or force it to a behavior that would be harmful for itself or its eggs/young ones.
- Don’t feed animals that you encounter in nature, animals eat food depending on their kind. You think you are helping, but you can do more harm than good.
- Don’t chase animals around, animals try to survive and are not your models. Many animals and birds travel thousands of kilometres during the year and need to rest and eat. Give space to animals to do their thing and don’t behave like a paparazzi.
- Avoid using drones or other RC vehicles to approach animals or nests. Most animals will consider these devices a threat.
Of course, the ethics of a nature and wildlife photography doesn’t stop when we are out there, but it follows us in editing and posting the final images we have created.
- If you decide to digitally remove or add animals, plants, skies etc in your image, for artistic reasons, you have to mention it. It is ok to add an animal or tree in a photo if you want to create a fictional scene, as along as the viewer is informed clearly about your intention. It’s not ok if you create an image and you try to pass it as a photo of a real scene.
- When you post an image or video on the web, be sincere about where and when is the shot taken and what the viewer is seeing.
- Have in mind that there are people out there that want to hurt animals and plants, so be careful where and why you unveil the exact location of an encounter you had.
See you out there!
* The photo of the article in the blog post grid is taken by Grigoris Vasileiadis, whom I thank for the shot.