The ethics of photography are, in my humble opinion, the same as the ethics of life, and all revolve around respect. It was drilled into me by numerous well respected photographers that no photograph is worth sacrificing the welfare of the subject. Perhaps you have heard this as well but recently it seems that people seeking the money shot do not heed this when out in wild heritage. I have personally seen this happen. These people have no idea what harm they are causing the critter and habitat. I wish they would take the time to just listen, do their research and realize the harm they are doing. My recommendations:
1. Do no harm
- Do not destroy or alter habitat for a better view or scene.
- Let animals go about their business. Do not seek their attention or interaction.
- Take special care at breeding season.
- Know the signs of stress of your subject species.
2. Keep it wild
- Be cautious about feeding wildlife.
- Avoid habituating wild animals to humans’ presence.
The kindest thing we can do for wild animals is to honor their wildness. The quickest way to compromise that wildness is to offer food so we can get a photo. Literally you will see signs in places like Yellowstone that say “A fed animal is a dead animal—good or bad, the Park Service will destroy animals that are habituated to human contact and food.” This is tragic and can be avoided if people just follow the rules and ethics of nature.
3. Follow the laws
- Laws vary by location and species.
- Laws vary depending on the purpose and method of photography.
It’s crucial to learn and heed laws and regulations in local, state, and national parks, such as how much distance to keep between us and particular species.
4. Consider the captive
- Scrutinize opportunities to photograph wild animals in captivity.
- Know what makes a legitimate sanctuary or zoo, and avoid places where wild animals are exploited for profit.
5. Caption with honesty
- Be transparent about how a photograph was made.
Ethical practice in wildlife photography doesn’t end when we return to the comforts of home. How we represent the truth of an animal’s life when we share our photos matters.
Take the time to partner with scientists and researchers to make sure that what you’re posting is accurate. Bridge the gap between science and photography to add authenticity to what you’re doing. These basic principles provide a starting point. It’s up to each of us to build common sense and compassion into our practice. We may not have all the answers, and we may make mistakes, but we can continuously strive to be empathic and aware. It’s up to each of us to use the power we have as wildlife photographers to act with great care for the animals that gift us with their presence. These are just about photos to us; but to a wild animal, every single moment is about survival.
I leave you with this. Here is a passionate plea from a well known photographer’s podcast.
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