Gull at Nature's Raw Bar
Gull at Nature's Raw Bar 03As the breeze ruffle a gull's feathers, it dines on a cracked open quahog on East Matunuck State Beach, South Kingstown, Rhode Island
Early this morning, I was at the waterfront taking photos. As I finished up and was sauntering back to my van, I saw another photographer. But this person was chasing a gull across the lot and harassing the bird to obtain the shot that they wanted.
I cast a stern look in the other photographer's direction, and they received my unspoken message. I let it go there rather than say anything further. Instead, I came back home to my studio to write and compose.
Photographing wildlife can be a rewarding and inspiring experience, but it also comes with a responsibility to respect the animals and their habitats. As a wildlife photographer, you have the opportunity to capture the beauty and diversity of life on Earth, and to share it with others. But you also have the potential to cause harm or disturbance to the wildlife you encounter, either intentionally or unintentionally.
There are many guidelines and principles that can help you practice ethical wildlife photography, and I will summarize some of them here. You can also find more information and resources from the web search results I have provided.
Do no harm. This is the most fundamental rule of ethical wildlife photography. 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. If your approach causes a bird to flush (fly or run away) or change its behavior, you’re too close. Some birds may “freeze” in place rather than fly away, or may hunch into a protective, aggressive, or pre-flight stance. Watch for changes in posture indicating that a bird is stressed, and if you see these, back away. If focused on you, birds may miss a predator. Use flash sparingly (if at all), as a supplement to natural light. Avoid the use of flash on nocturnal birds (e.g., owls, nightjars) at night, as it may temporarily limit their ability to hunt for food or avoid obstacles.
Keep it wild. Be cautious about feeding wildlife. Feeding can alter natural behaviors, make animals dependent on humans, or cause health problems. It can also attract unwanted predators or competitors, or create conflicts with other people. Feeding can also be illegal in some places. If you want to attract birds to your backyard or garden, use natural or native plants, water sources, or bird feeders that are safe and appropriate for the species.
Follow the laws. Laws vary by location and species. Some animals are protected by federal or state laws, and some areas have specific regulations or permits for wildlife photography. Do your research before you go and respect the rules and authorities. Do not trespass on private property or restricted areas. Do not harass or harm endangered or threatened species. Do not interfere with scientific research or conservation efforts.
Consider the captive. Scrutinize opportunities to photograph wild animals in captivity. Some facilities may offer ethical and educational experiences, while others may exploit or mistreat animals for profit or entertainment. Do your homework and choose wisely. Do not misrepresent captive animals as wild in your captions or stories. Be transparent about how a photograph was made.
Caption with honesty. Be transparent about how a photograph was made. Do not deceive or mislead your viewers about the circumstances, location, or behavior of the animal. Do not manipulate or edit your images in ways that alter the reality or integrity of the scene. Do not use bait, lures, calls, or other artificial means to attract or provoke animals, unless it is for scientific or conservation purposes and with proper authorization. Do not use drones to photograph or record video footage of birds, especially at their nests. Although drones can be useful for researchers and biologists documenting bird populations, drones in general can be very disruptive to birds. They are also illegal in national parks and some state parks. Be cautious with remotely triggered cameras. Setting a trap around a fresh kill or cache is generally acceptable, but supplying bait or other lure in order to attract an animal is not. Never use direct flash, which may temporarily blind owls; a flash with a filter that lets only infrared light through is acceptable.
Be part of the solution. Use your photographs and stories to raise awareness and inspire action for wildlife conservation. Support and collaborate with organizations and individuals that work to protect wildlife and habitats. Educate yourself and others about the threats and challenges that wildlife face, and the solutions and opportunities that exist. Share your knowledge and passion with others and encourage them to respect and appreciate wildlife. Be a role model and a mentor for other wildlife photographers and enthusiasts. Be humble and open to feedback and criticism. Learn from your mistakes and improve your skills and ethics.
These are some of the main points that I think are relevant for ethical wildlife photography. Of course, there are more details and nuances that you can explore and apply to your own practice. I hope this summary has been helpful and informative for you. I also hope that you will continue to enjoy and respect the wildlife that you encounter, and that you will share your photographs and stories with others in a responsible and ethical way.
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