As we approach another spring wildlife breeding season, it is probably worth reminding ourselves that when it comes to nature photography, the end doesn’t necessarily justify the means. Most people who are drawn to such activities and possess a connection to wildlife recognize that clear boundaries need to be established and maintained when it comes to securing that “shot of a lifetime.”
The average photography hobbyist seldom represents a threat to wildlife or fisheries. However, the explosion in available digital technology and the growth in the number of nature and wildlife photo contests has, in some instances, brought out the worst in our competitive instincts. In 2010, the Natural History Museum’s wildlife photographer of the year was stripped of his £10,000 prize after it was discovered that he was likely to have staged the winning photo through the use of a tame Iberian wolf. Other examples of nesting disruption are becoming more frequent and go beyond computer editing or digital manipulation.
Even if our individual photographic pursuits are likely limited to an occasional Facebook post, it is probably worth keeping a few basic principles in mind. One organization, the North American Nature Photography Association, has advanced a recommended code of conduct which is largely intended for those who venture into the more serious end of the endeavor.
North American Nature Photography Association – PRINCIPLES OF ETHICAL FIELD PRACTICES
“NANPA believes that following these practices promotes the well-being of the location, subject and photographer. Every place, plant, and animal, whether above or below water, is unique, and cumulative impacts occur over time. Therefore, one must always exercise good individual judgment. It is NANPA’s belief that these principles will encourage all who participate in the enjoyment of nature to do so in a way that best promotes good stewardship of the resource.”
Environmental: knowledge of subject and place
- Learn patterns of animal behavior–know when not to interfere with animals’ life cycles.
- Respect the routine needs of animals–remember that others will attempt to photograph them, too.
- Use appropriate lenses to photograph wild animals–if an animal shows stress, move back and use a longer lens.
- Acquaint yourself with the fragility of the ecosystem–stay on trails that are intended to lessen impact.
Social: knowledge of rules and laws
- When appropriate, inform managers or other authorities of your presence and purpose–help minimize cumulative impacts and maintain safety.
- Learn the rules and laws of the location–if minimum distances exist for approaching wildlife, follow them.
- In the absence of management authority, use good judgement–treat the wildlife, plants and places as if you were their guest.
- Prepare yourself and your equipment for unexpected events–avoid exposing yourself and others to preventable mishaps.
Individual: expertise and responsibilities
- Treat others courteously–ask before joining others already shooting in an area.
- Tactfully inform others if you observe them engaging in inappropriate or harmful behavior–many people unknowingly endanger themselves and animals.
- Report inappropriate behavior to proper authorities–don’t argue with those who don’t care; report them.
- Be a good role model, both as a photographer and a citizen–educate others by your actions; enhance their understanding.