Wildlife Photography - some ethical considerations

I'll be publishing more photography FAQ's soon.. but for the moment I thought I'd start a series of mini tutorials on wildlife photography.. with further series to come on Landscapes, Photo-Reportage, and Street photography..

Where to start..? I think in terms of wildlife photography, before we get into the technical and artistic aspects of the subject it would be useful to outline some ethical considerations first...

The nature of wildlife photography will in many instances put you in quite close proximity to wild animals and that in itself carries certain responsibilities which all photographers of wildlife should observe.. no matter how common or how rare... all animals deserve the same amount of respect and consideration in your approach to them.

Firstly, photographers should fully research their intended subject to gain better knowledge of behaviour and habits; this will not only aid in the photographic process and approach but will also ensure that disturbance is kept to a minimum;

Following on from the first point is that your photographic approach to your subject should in no way disturb or distress the animal in question.. especially if that approach is likely to increase the chances of the subject falling victim to predation or for it to fail in it's reproductive efforts.. this is especially true for photographing nesting birds where your presence could either lead to the parent birds abandoning their nest or for unwanted attention to be drawn to the nest by your presence leading to predation; Photography of nesting birds should only ever be undertaken if you have the necessary and specific knowledge of that bird's nesting behaviour or from such a distance so as not to worry the birds unduly.. at Lake Kerkini for example we are lucky enough to be able to photograph nesting cormorants and herons from boats and canoes from quite a close distance without worrying them unnecessarily as the birds have become accustomed to the fishermen's boats on the lake and do not become distressed as long as they keep a decent distance... the same may not be true at a different location so local knowledge should always be sought out and regardless... care should always be taken.

Syrian Woodpecker photographed at its nest bringing a luscious grub to feed its baby; Image made during our summer wildlife and bird photography workshop at Lake Kerkini.

Syrian Woodpecker photographed at its nest bringing a luscious grub to feed its baby; Image made during our summer wildlife and bird photography workshop at Lake Kerkini.

 The same is true for the erection of hides... it is not that because it is made of camouflage material the animal will not notice it.. it is more a case of the animal becoming so used to its presence to the extent that it is not bothered by it... so it follows that the location you choose to erect a hide should not distress the animal in the first place and again should not draw unwanted attention either by predators or even in some instances by tourists. Your route to and from the hide should also be such that disturbance is absolutely minimal.

Baiting of wildlife for the purpose of photography is a controversial subject... being a little bit of a purist when it comes to photography, my own opinion is that I don't like it or approve of it and my feeling is that it goes against the principle of wildlife photography... supposedly we're out there trying to capture amazing images of animals in the wild behaving naturally.. baiting them.. for me.. goes against the grain. Having said that.. setting up a bird table in your garden to attract a few birds on which to practice your technique.. as long as you don't make them more vulnerable to the local cats.. is harmless enough.

As I mentioned above, seeking out local advice is always a good thing. Locals will not only know where local wildlife frequents, but will also be able to best advise you on your approach, on any hazards to avoid and on any local sensitive places which may not always be marked but may have a raised level of protection/conservation... in highly organized countries like the UK, sensitive and protected areas are usually well marked both on the ground and on maps... in other countries, such as in Greece where we operate, this is not always the case and so asking locals is usually the most advisable thing to do.. or even better.. take a local guide with you..! some basic advice is that without advice to the contrary... always stick to existing well trodden paths, don't pick any flowers, don't cut any trees and definitely don't start any camp fires.

...and that leads on to my final point... which is more a piece of advice rather than an ethical consideration... when visiting other countries with the purpose of photographing wildlife (or anything else for that matter).. you must acquaint yourself with local laws and customs if you are to keep yourself safe... as in the UK, in most countries around the world, ignorance of the law does not excuse you. A good example of this is actually in Greece where many amazing wildlife spots are in militarily sensitive border areas... for example... Prespes Lakes in the Northwest of Greece... staying in Mikri Prespa (Small Prespa Lake) you are quite safe... however.. venture into Megali Prespa (large Prespa Lake) and you could literally find yourself in deep water as the borders of 3 countries... Greece, Albania and FYROM, all meet in the the lake and without knowing it you could easily pass from one country into another and find yourself arrested for illegal entry by Albanian or FYROM authorities... registering your identity, presence and intentions at the local police station is well advised.. as is using a local boatman to guide you.!

Keep safe.. respect your subjects.. and happy shooting!