National Geographic News
Photo of a Great Gray Owl.

The ethics behind photography of wildlife like this great gray owl have come into question after a marine biologist was fined for baiting whales to come closer in order to film them.


Jennifer S. Holland

National Geographic

Published January 16, 2014

Photography sure ain't what it used to be.

Not that that's a bad thing. Today's improved access to the world and ever-changing technology allows image-makers to reveal the invisible, to capture more intricate detail and more unanticipated moments than ever before. But access and technology also allow for a whole new level of manipulation.

Wildlife photographers, for example, have always had the choice, ethical or not, to set up a scene (e.g., using a captive animal or baiting a wild one) or heavily interfere with an animal's life to get the best shot.

Nancy Black, a U.S. marine biologist, made that choice when she fed killer whales on a video shoot in 2004—and will pay for it. This week, Black was fined $12,500 and put on three years probation for luring the marine mammals closer to a boat for filming in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Some of the most famous wild moments caught on film, in fact, were baited or staged. Now, with computers, photographers can manipulate on the back end, too—doing everything to a photo from removing a speck of dust to adding more zebras to the landscape. Today's wildlife photography is, well, a whole new animal. (See National Geographic's tips for photographing wildlife.)

And as Black knows, those who cheat often pay the price. José Luis Rodriguez was stripped of his Natural History Museum Photographer of the Year award for passing off a likely tame wolf as a wild one. Gilles Nicolet, working for National Geographic magazine, got in big trouble for staging a photo about ivory poaching using tusks borrowed from wildlife authorities.

Even the famed David Attenborough took flack for misleading narration suggesting that a polar bear den in a zoo was actually in the wild.

Meanwhile, digital fiddling goes on at all levels, some considered acceptable and others not so much. Likely some of the most egregious cases have gone unnoticed and unreported.

National Geographic talked to professional wildlife filmmaker and photographer Jeff Hogan about what he considers ethical when working with wildlife in the field and how he navigates this slippery slope between authenticity and manipulated moments. Jeff has been living in the woods and shooting wildlife around Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and in many other parts of the world, for over 30 years.

Other than, say, laws protecting endangered species from harassment, are there official rules that professional photographers have to follow with regard to wildlife?

Not really. Organizations may have their own guidelines [consider the BBC's, for example], but there is a lot of variation in what's considered acceptable. That's true among photographers, too—ethics vary widely. Plus, a lot of it depends on what you are trying to do with your work. Shooting a documentary means upholding certain standards that you might not have to follow if you are doing something that is "based on a true story" or just making a pretty picture to hang on your wall.

Do you have your own personal code of ethics when you are working around wildlife in the field?

Absolutely. I'm trying to document wildlife behavior, not to create situations. So what I try to do is to be that fly on the wall. You can't get these privileged views of animal behavior unless you are either unnoticed or ignored. If you've spent the time to make the animals completely at ease with you, that can work, but otherwise they shouldn't know you are there. I'm a witness, a spectator—not a participant. I try very hard to stay that way. It never occurs to me to touch an animal, to move it or try to get it to do a particular thing. I want authenticity.

Do you think it's wrong for other photographers to, say, put out food for their subjects or stay in an area where they are clearly affecting the animals' behavior?

I can't say it's wrong, just wrong for me. I think it's always important to ask yourself, is what I'm doing necessary? And how is it affecting the situation? There are a lot of great people out there who would fight tooth and nail for wildlife, but then they get caught up in the moment and will do anything to get the shot they want. Sure, it's a great picture if an animal is looking back over its shoulder right into the camera, but if in the moment before and after the animal is in a panic, I wouldn't be comfortable with that. A photographer has to be honest with him- or herself about what he or she is really doing and make decisions based on that.

So it isn't always wrong to feed or handle an animal to benefit a film or photo?

It's a messy thing; there are exceptions to every rule. I knew a filmmaker once who, after working with an animal for many days, would leave it some food to make up for any interference, in case it had been distracted from finding food or something. That seemed respectful to me. Someone else might put that food on a rock to draw the bird initially, and that I might question. (Related: "The Ethical Flap Over Birdsong Apps.")

Is moving an animal over a foot or two, for a prettier backdrop, a big deal?

It's never crossed my mind to do that, but I guess it depends on the animal, and on what you are trying to achieve. If you aren't calling something "authentic documentary," maybe it isn't a big problem—as long as you aren't putting the animal in harm's way or stressing it out. Or putting it somewhere it wouldn't naturally go. Also important is whether there are lots of other people around, learning from your actions. I live in the wild and I feel I have a right to be out there and to interact with wildlife, making good decisions with the animals' welfare in mind. But I don't want a bunch of people thinking, "hey, I want to do that," and suddenly the animal faces multiple distractions that cause a lot of stress.

What do you think about staging scenes or filming animals in captivity?

Both have their place, but you need to be honest about what you're doing. Where people get into trouble is pretending that, say, something is wild when it's not. Filmmakers, photographers—we all need to be absolutely up front about how we got the job done. Photo captions and film credits should be truthful about this so the audience isn't misled.

What have you been asked to do that made you uncomfortable?

Once my clients wanted me to throw live mice into a scene to draw an owl. I said no.

When have you been tempted to break your own rules?

I was filming beavers and had found a great lodge that had a hole in the top—very easy for me to put my camera inside where the babies were nursing. I'd been shooting the inside for while and the animals were accustomed to me. The clients didn't like the look of the lodge's exterior—it was ugly—and wanted to find a new one. My thought was, to avoid bothering another family of beavers, let's shoot two lodges, one inside and one out, and let viewers assume it was the same location. The clients disagreed. They were concerned about being ethical to the audience; I was more worried about the animals. (See National Geographic's best wildlife photos.)

What makes one photographer a purist and another a shortcut-taker, in your mind?

For me, the passion for wildlife came way before the camera. The camera came into it as a way to make a living doing what I love to do, which is to be out in the wilderness. I think if the only reason you are out in the wild is to get the shot, you will fail miserably, and you are more likely to compromise your ethics. If you truly love being out there, shot or no shot, everything will come to you. There's no reason to cheat.

How has technology helped and hurt people's ability to do this work ethically?

Certainly it has been beneficial in letting photographers truly get intimate views we couldn't have gotten before. But one problem is that now, with radios and cell phones, you might have a lot of people out there traveling in Yellowstone or Grand Teton waiting for the call about an animal's location. When someone finds a bear, suddenly 30 cars show up and surround the animal, everyone jumping out and working like the paparazzi. It used to just be you and the animal, not an unnatural situation, but now there might be a team blasting away with flashes, even barricading the animal in. This isn't tourists I'm talking about but professionals. It really catches me off guard.

What about in the edit room? How much fiddling with images is okay, and what goes too far?

Again, it depends on your audience and your goal, and what you are claiming to be doing. I think it's acceptable to clean photos up, adjust contrast and color, that sort of thing—but I've seen people do things like add more animals to a zebra herd to fill it out. That's misleading; it gives viewers a false sense of that environment, of how plentiful a species is. Now, if that's natural—to see bigger herds [like the one "created" in the image]—then the filmmaker should just wait and film the real thing rather than faking it.

Any advice on doing this work ethically?

Be honest with your client and yourself. If your work is "based on a true story," say so. Then try to just be part of the wild, and be comfortable with your position as a witness of animals. If you are content with that, and very patient, they will come.

Follow Jennifer S. Holland on Twitter.

Jacques C Pelletier
Jacques C Pelletier

To Jennifer:

When it comes to wildlife photography, I become very "activist" in the sense that I do not tolerate baiting under any circumstances.

Whatever others may think of my comment, there are limits as to how a wild animal "has to be attracted" by means other than a natural setting.

There have been observed and reported events in my own region where dozens of "wildlife photographers" gathered in a specific area where the Snowy Owl spends its winters and used run-of-the-mill mice, bought at a local pet store, to be released where the snowies were.

Of course, the resulting images were, to say the least, fantastic !

"Wow!" people would say. "Despicable" I would add.

That is cheating. Period ! And that is besides what it does to the birds becoming dependent on fast food services.

I am going to avoid discussing contests ... that could well open a can of worms.

At the end of the day, what you see is not necessarily what it really is.


Rengga Dumadi
Rengga Dumadi

sangat bagus....saya senang sekali memotret alam, lingkungan dan aktivitas penduduk. ketika melihat photo ini wah saya sangat tertarik. kalau saya punya photo seperti itu apakah bisa share sehingga saya juga bisa belajar untuk memotret lebih baik lagi.

tabatabaee ali
tabatabaee ali

Hello., your photo very nice.I'm in a bird photographer., I am providing pictures of the birds are singing. Whether you can help me Is it good?

Chunzi Wu
Chunzi Wu

The true beauty of nature is the nature itself. If the purpose of these photo assignments became a tool for money and fame, then not only we would lose our respect to nature, we would lose respect to ourselves too!!

robert brooke
robert brooke

I remember when wildlife programs would have the phrase all scenes in this program'whether actual or created depict authenricated facts in the closing credits.This was the case with the original Wild Kingdom.This may also have been the case with Animal World hosted by Bill Burrud.Anybody remember that series?

Thresa G.
Thresa G.

I became interested in photography when my daughter bought me a Canon Rebel.  While sitting on my back deck I realized there are so many opportunities to capture wild birds in their natural state.  That's when I came to the conclusion that I don't want to capture anything staged, posed or photoshopped and that was the beginning of a wonderful adventure in photography.  I will leave that to the "professionals" as I am enjoying capturing nature's beauty right in my own back yard.  I guess you can say I am baiting them to a degree by providing bird feeders and bird baths but that's something I was doing before I started photographing them.  I would never disturb their nests or cause harm to any wildlife.  I'm not judging the professionals, I just prefer to catch my subjects in their natural behavior. 

I have read articles in my photography magazines that capturing images while using auto focus is not the most optimal means but I've found that using AF affords me the chance to take multiple captures consecutively while the subject is in motion.  It's only when I download them that I find the perfect image to save to my collection of images.

D. Holder
D. Holder

I applaud and agree with much of what is stated here... now what about the ethics of taking pictures of people?  

Especially after a disaster, of the poor or of the sick.  Sometimes I wonder how I would feel if someone took a picture of me right after I lost my house or my family....

Gary Bridger
Gary Bridger

Love this, i keep saying most of what you see in competitions is staged, or set up/photoshopped in some way. I like to do pure, may be some crop and contrast and sharpen, Thats about it, unless I am creating fine art or black and whit. I like to capture when it happens, Ok If I have the chance I will take a risk to get up close to get a better angle, But never to obstruct, or mess with natural nature. Funny to say, As often more or not, I land up having nature investigating me. Be one with nature, Respect the environment, Its enough with the greed of man messing it all up with commercialism and over development!

We as photographers and observers should feel privaledged when nature excepts us in their circle. And respect that moment in time. So love to go to more places like Christmas island /Africa. Galapagos  islands and canada. 

Rose Wooster
Rose Wooster

Excellent article. I appreciate the photographers ethics from his stance of respect. 

Chris McNaught
Chris McNaught

The idea I take away from this, and try to use in all my photography, summarizes my goal as a photographer, an artist and as a person: Be honest with others and myself.

How I treat the environment, the subjects of my photos, and the subject matter is affected directly by my genuine concern for each. I want to be an honest photographer.

Thank you for the article Jenny.

Douglas Gimesy
Douglas Gimesy

A question for everyone, as I am not sure the baiting question is really as clear cut as some may believe.

LET'S SAY a 'development' or project was about to happen/be approved in a wilderness area and the best way to stop it (asuming you thought it should be stopped) was by raising awareness through publishing a story which included photos of unique and emotive animals that may be there. IF YOU ONLY HAD a week left to get the shots (after say a month of failure), who would condemn or condone the use bait in this instance and why?

Tord Eriksson
Tord Eriksson

Bird photography, is naturally easiest, if you have access to their nests, either by encourage them to start living close to you, or by you move yourself close to their nests. The other, common, way is feeding them, and getting them used to you feeding them.

The third way is visiting places known as bird habitats, and the fourth is just roaming the streets, paths, and waterways, hoping to bump into them.

Which of them is least intrusive  is really up to debate, and what is OK, or not, likewise.

I do a little of every variant, but have never disturbed any bird's nest. But of course, your interest and activities can attract predators, leading to tragedy, of one sort, or other! 

C. Dufour
C. Dufour

As someone in the field I can agree that the issue isnt black and white and certainly varies from person to person. I find smaller species to b very different in shoots than larger ones. In large animals, i prefer natural behavior for sure but with smaller ones, I am often stuck working a with a smaller depth of field as I operate a macro lens on a smaller pitch and yawn field. 

When Filmming field mice for example, a handfull of native wheat seeds is the only way to get really close such small, hyperactive species. 

Cary R Burke
Cary R Burke

It's your principles that matters.........

leo strebly
leo strebly

This my first visit to this site....I enjoyed it tremdously....

Stu McKay
Stu McKay

I'll keep my response short & simple, "BRILLIANT POST!!!!

Jennifer Holland
Jennifer Holland expert

I take all your comments seriously and appreciate them--I realize this is a contentious topic! To the first commenter, I didn't not mean to suggest that Black isn't a respected biologist (not to mention a National Geographic grantee and educator through the media); I was merely pointing to the latest example of someone feeding wild animals and getting in trouble for it. Regardless of her reasons, it's still a case worth discussing--and it is in the news, so I didn't want to ignore it. Indeed, a biologist's work is different from that of commercial photographers/filmmakers but some people are concerned about it nonetheless. I'm not personally wagging a finger at Dr. Black; I realize there are arguments both for and against what she and many others do in the field (including for National Geographic). That's what makes the subject so interesting, and such a great one for debate.

Jim Scarff
Jim Scarff

@Jenny Holland - Thank you for reply. The fact remains that Black is not a commercial wildlife photographer, was not working on a commercial wildlife project, and her case is not a useful intro to the legitimate issue of ethics in wildlife photography. Scientific research on wild killer whales, very often involves close approaches to the animals, and Nancy had been working for years as a co-investigator on a government long-term killer whale research project. Her work, including biopsy darting of killer whales, resulted in the identification of a new ecotype of killer whales - the "offshore types", seperate from "residents" (fish-eaters) and "transients" (mammal eaters).  

Black's life is devoted to the protection and study of animals, particularly killer whales. Her whale-watching company was voted one of the three most responsible whale-watching companies in the world at the World Whale Watch Conference the 2012. In the case against Nancy, virtually every major killer whale researcher in the western United States, including four very prominent government researchers wrote the judge commending Nancy for her research, her ethics, and questioning the government's legal reasoning.

 The criminal case against Black was based on a strained interpretation of a regulation designed to stop commercial dolphin-feeding tourist operations in Florida and Texas, not manipulation of floating blubber from the killer whale's dead prey to learn about social behavior -- as was done in the recent National Geographic show. 

If you feel Black's case "is worth discussing", please do so in the correct context, not as the lead in example of unethical conduct for an article about commercial and amateur wildlife photography. 

Jennifer Holland
Jennifer Holland expert

@Jim Scarff @Jenny Holland Sir, point taken. I will say, though, that there are many photographers out there whose work, it could be argued, is just as important to the understanding and survival of a species...getting people to know and love these animals through magazine articles and films (especially the wonderful old blue-chip kind, if I may throw in my own opinion) is a big part of conservation and helps those studying wildlife biology to get the funding they need. So there is at least in part a common goal here, and I would argue that "lumping" Black (or any other scientist) together with photographers isn't completely off base. Again, though, it was not my intention to turn this into an article about Dr. Black; her case got my editor and me thinking about ethics when working in the wild and that was the impetus for the piece. Given the chance to write the piece again, I would agree that more context for Dr. Black, or a more clear explanation of how her work differs from photographers', would be a better approach. I have only respect for wildlife biologists who dedicate their careers (and hearts) to these animals.

Jim Scarff
Jim Scarff

The author Jennifer Holland's introduction to her interview is remarkably ill-informed and self-righteous. Holland wrongly lumps Nancy Black with commercial wildlife photographers and suggests that she was acting for profit. In fact, Black was videoing the killer whales feeding on a gray whale calf they had killed as part of her decades-long research on killer whale predatory behavior. Holland did not bother to learn that Black is a well-respected killer whale expert, was awarded a National Geographic Explorer research grant for her research, and was the subject of the National Geographic TV special “Secret Killers of Monterey Bay”, a film which is still an educational product available from NG ( Black also worked with the BBC Natural History Unit in the award-winning The Blue Planet, and National Geographic's own 24/7 show last year showing humpback whales coming to an attack by killer whales on a gray mother and calf apparently to break up the attack (

Holland also seems unaware that National Geographic TV recently featured video in its “Secret Life of Predators - Wet” series where the videographers attached a videocam to a gray whale carcass to film the killer whales feeding. A relevant clip from this has appeared on YouTube. This is very similar to what Black was doing (

Many well-respected wildlife photographers do not share the purist position on baiting wildlife advocated here. Just looking at the photos honored in this year's BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards, many involve baited animals including bears, wolverines, owls.

Holland neglects entirely to mention Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society which filmed without the required permit and hauled up gray whale blubber and attached it to his boat film his show “Gray Whale Obstacle Course” for which PBS payed him over $1 million. The government seized Cousteau's boat, but never charged him or any member of his crew with any criminal or even civil offense.

Please remove the reference to Nancy Black in the introduction to this story since it is seriously misleading.

Raymond Barlow
Raymond Barlow

Very well done, and very well said.  I am in 100% agreement with all points made.  Yes, it comes down to opinion, and personal priorities.  We cannot force our concepts on others, but we can lead by example.

I personally would rather spend an entire day watching wildlife, and come home with nothing on my card, then enhance the scene with baiting a carnivorous animal or bird.  I do not mind bird feeders, so long as they are managed properly, clean, and proper food.

Comparing bird feeders to baiting an owl is somewhat far fetched.  A cardinal is not an animal who hunts other animals for a living.

For me, this is all about attitude.  Respect is what needs to be considered.  Sadly, people put their own craving for attention, the consummate "big chest" before the priority of the well being of our natural world.

Photographers in Alberta were feeding home cooked turkey to wild wolves along the highway., I cannot believe anyone could be so foolish.

I personally have seen several instances where photographers feed owls and hawks near roadsides, ending up with the bird in critical danger with passing vehicles.  A baited red-tailed flew directly across the front of my truck yesterday, forcing me to hit the brakes quickly.

Everyone has a choice.  Do it with respect, or treat these birds like some sort of garbage.  The rats they are being fed are plain junk, with no nutritional value.

In the end, I cannot expect everyone to think or act like me, I can only hope someone gets the message.  Nature and all it's beauty is a privilege to see, please do it with respect.


James Doyle
James Doyle

In many ways I'm glad National Geographic has published this story with the interview with Jeff Hogan.

Having been a Natural History Cinematographer during the 1980's & 1990's I have seen my own share of unethical practices during filming by different cinematographers. Other stick to their guns and just won't do something that endangers the subject.

Now being a professional nature photographer for nearly 30 years I have noticed since the digital age there seems to be more people who don't put the subjects welfare first and will do ANYTHING to get a shot. A business partner was recently telling me a story about some clients who chopped down trees in a national park to get a better shot of a nesting bird.

Jeff, is correct if you are patient, animals will accept or ignore you and you will get the photograph without stressing the animal. We have to remember we are visitors to their lives not the other way round.

I would also add that some species have been photographed so much why would we need to distress them again for a similar photo.

I hope everyone reads this article and learns to be more respectful to our natural world and put aside our egos that we will get a better photo than someone else.

David Furman
David Furman

There is the old saying about the picture never lies, which we all know to be incorrect.  So many factors which go into the process of photography are manipulation.  And in post production of either still or even more so video photography, lots of editing occurs.  Even in a so-called documentary, the producer is trying to tell a story and is not just providing the viewer with hours of uncut footage and blurred still shots.  So, is it deceptive to use a more photogenic exterior shot of a beaver lodge to accompany the photos of the inside of another location, when the goal is merely to tell a story, and there is not really an intention to deceive the viewer?  Producing a meaningful story, through either still or video photography should be the goal, and achieving that goal with minimal interference to nature itself the ethical basis. 

Sandy Wilt
Sandy Wilt

Thank you for the great article. I Think Jeff has the correct attitude and I am glad he shared we us.

Douglas Gimesy
Douglas Gimesy

As primarily a marketing ethicist and bioethicist (but secondarily a passionate wildlife photographer), I think Jeff Hogan has absolutely nailed this issue with his exceptional answers. I wish my university students thought like this, and with as much clarity.

To me there are probably two primary issues here – one around animal welfare, and one around photo manipulation. With regards to the latter point (and whether we are concerned about manipulating the scene before taking the shot, or doing something afterwards during processing) I’d like to explore the question of ‘When does post capture photo manipulation become unethical?’

A common answer normally is based on something like ‘when it creates a representation that does not truly reflect or represent what one might actually see if they had been there at the time’.

This simple answer clearly covers issues around photoshopping objects in or out, but what about distortions that occur because of the lenses used, the sensor used, or changes to colour saturation?

1) Lenses used

Wide-angle lenses, for example, change the perspective from what the human eye would normally see. Therefore, is using one of these for dramatic effect unethical, as what we get ‘...does not truly reflect or represent what one might actually see if they had been there at the time’. 
Most would say no, but why?

2) Sensors used

The new full frame sensors allow photographers to capture detail in low light situations that the human eye cannot, for example the deep glow of the Milky Way. Similarly, infrared photography of lions at night for example, can provide an image that ‘...does not truly reflect or represent what one might actually see if they had been there at the time’, as we don’t not have infred capability. So then is using this equipment unethical? Again, most would say no, but why?

3) Changes to saturation

Finally, if I take a photo and totally desaturate the image so it becomes a black and white image, is that unethical, as what I have produced ‘...does not truly reflect or represent what one might actually see if they had been there at the time’?

If we say ‘no, that’s ok’, what if I just desaturate a few colours? What’s the difference? Both aren’t really truly representative of what I might have seen at the time.

To me, it seems that at least when talking about image manipulation in wildlife photography, the commonly used concept that it is ‘ethical’ only if the end image truly reflects or represents what one might actually see if they had been there at the time, has some holes.

What better definition there is I am not sure at the moment, however maybe as a start, metadata availability must be mandatory with all pictures, in addition to the post-production details, so at least people know what they are getting.

Nevertheless, whether this suggestion provides a solid solution to at least one part of the issue or not, I think as Mr Hogan said, being honest with yourself and your clients, is a great place to start, and doing this, allows this to occur. 

Abdelhamid Cherragui
Abdelhamid Cherragui

@Douglas GimesyYour comment, sir, is as rich as the article itself, and it deserve a web page of its own. I'm a photographer and I've just started documentary film-making for a year now. Ethics in photography remain indefinite, and as you've mentioned, I believe that we can't use the human eye as a benchmark to define what is ethical in photography and what isn't. If we do so, then any lens beside a 50mm with a 35mm sensor should be rejected, since this focal length gives the closest perspective to the human eye.

If the use of lenses with different focal length is accepted, with light painting, panoramas, time-lapse, double exposure, long exposures, MD filters, and even tilt and shift lenses, why can't we accept heavy post processing?

I believe it has something to do with what is "digital".

During the era of film, dark room artist used to manipulate pictures  achieving most of the effects the digital world can offer today, but their manipulation didn't seem unethical tell they started using digital soft-wares. Is it because a software is virtual and dark room tools aren't, and virtual seems more "fake" since it can't be physically seen and touched ? I can't really give a reasonable answer, and that  if my question is reasonable from the beginning.  

To me as a photographer, ethics aren't within the tools we dispose (including post processing soft-wares) but within how we present our final product. In a very simple way, if something was added or taken out of the picture, the photographer should mention the nature of the manipulation in his commentary. No one can forbid the use of "photoshop", and we can't judge those add more elements to their pictures in post because people have always did this and it was called a collage and hang in museums. But today, this practice became almost a kind of fraud, but it is a fraud only if the photographer claimed the opposit.

Beside some color adjustments and quality improvements, I never do any other kind of post work, not in my pictures or my films, but what if I did, as long as I mention the nature of the manipulation I did, then where is the problem?

I don't like the expression "wild life photography ethics" because photography ethics are one thing, yet wild life ethics are a complete different issue, no one should feed wild animals rather he had a camera or not, no one should disturb animals in the wilderness photographers included. Technically we shouldn't even be in wilderness since we developed a lifestyle which isolates us from wilderness, but those who go there, they should be unseen and leave without a trace. A forest or a jungle isn't a zoo where photographers can take pictures and eat peanuts and leave some food and waist to the locals. 

Wilderness is larger than photography, and when it comes to wild life ethics, photographer are not an exception to have some ethics of their own. Yet photography ethics, to me at least, is being honest and transparent. 


Douglas Gimesy
Douglas Gimesy

@Abdelhamid Cherragui @Douglas Gimesy  

Dear Abdelhamid,

Thanks for your words - I think we agree with each other.

I'm sure given time i could have written a 20 page article on all of the issues,  however the challenge is, probably no would would read it:). 

Keeping it honest and transparent is a nice and easy approach that should do us all well most of the time. 

I do think however, that we need a special set of ethics for wildlife photography, as we do for all specialist activities in life (e.g. marketing ethics, business ethics, medical ethics etc).

The reason I suggest this is that whilst many of the basic guiding principles could be expected to be the same, each situation does have its own unique challenges which need to be considered. 

For example one might argue that it's OK to use food to entice a zoo animal into a certain place as this is a normal practice (zoo photography ethics),  however not so for an animal in the wild (wildlife photography ethics).

Indeed it might be nice one day to have a set of guidelines covering photography in general, and then specific subsets that exists (e.g. fashion, wildlife, pet, real estate (don't get me started:)), astro etc).



Abdelhamid Cherragui
Abdelhamid Cherragui

@Douglas Gimesy

Dear Douglas,

I will read it and use it as a reference : )

I completely agree with you that a different set of ethics should be proposed (or imposed) concerning wildlife photography. This set of ethics should be deducted from the possible impacts that a photographer may do to the wildlife. Yet I believe that this set of ethics shouldn't differ from the known ethics and rules regarding humans and wildlife.

If people cannot litter in wilderness, photographers are included. Most of national parks forbid visitors from feeding or leaving food to wild animals, photographers are also included in this rule.

My point is, wildlife photographer don't make an exception to those who visit wilderness, they can make the same impact so they should follow the same rules. To me, wildlife photography ethics shouldn't be distinguished from wildlife ethics. In fact, they should be the same.

In some countries street photography is legal and socially accepted, yet in other countries , such as Saudi Arabia, it is illegal and socially rejected. So, a photographer should be aware of the regulations and the "can and cannot do" of the time and space he's in.

The same logic apply to the example you've mentioned, offering food to a zoo animal, and to a wild animal. The first one is accepted, the second one isn't.

We all agree that there should be a set of ethics for wildlife photography. But what are these ethics?

I believe that this set can be distinguished in two branches: The first one relates to photography ethics, the second one relates to wildlife ethics.

When it comes to the first branch, wildlife photographers are after all photographers, they can't (or at least shouldn't) steel someone's work, add or delete elements to their photographs without mentioning it in the description, lie about the location or the time of the shot, respect the deadlines, etc. 

The second branch is about being in wilderness, and the rules here don't differ from the ones any visitor or tourist in wilderness should respect and follow. Such as: littering, causing damage to a nest, taking a "souvenir" from a nest, modifying parts of the natural landscape, offering or leaving food to wild animals, and the list goes on. And this set of rules can be easily found on the web page of every major national.  

There is a very important element which wasn't mentioned in this article, which is why feeding wild animals is wrong? not because the photographer lied, or he or she tricked somehow the scene to look better on a picture. But feeding wild animals  is extremely dangerous to the animals, and this has nothing to do with if the "feeder" is a photographer or not.

Feeding wild animals cause a change in the animals diet, which for in the long term may change the life style of these animals. If a group of animals are used to be given food, they loose their natural instinct of hunting or gathering food. Also the change in their diet, may cause some harm to the animals digestive system. And there are a lot of studies proving this (

At the end, and my apologies for writing this long, I strongly believe that, wildlife photography ethics, should be a mixture between wildlife ethics and photography ethics. So far, wildlife ethics and rules are well set and properly documented. The only thing remaining, is photography ethics. This should keep scholars and photographers busy for a while, because the landscape of photography is a one big mess. Everyone can by a camera, a photographer is a person with a camera, within this base, any discussion about ethics in photography will be very long and complicated.



Joy Saldanha
Joy Saldanha

This should be the '10 commandments' of any one shooting wildlife with a camera. Whether for oneself, or something else. 'I'm an animal lover" does'nt cut it by just saying so, there's more to it than that.  They are due their respect from humans, and need not have a camera too close into the lives, unless it is done with as little stress as possible. I enjoy seeing good animal shots.  j.e.s.

Lee A Freel
Lee A Freel

It seems to me that there should be requirements of submitted images for publication.  There could be many such as providing a RAW copy of the final image.  I'm unaware of any method of electronic transmission as a RAW file cannot be sent via e-mail therefor a physical copy must be sent for any publication.   Can anyone verify this as I've not located any information regarding RAW file transfers.  

Francine Brewin
Francine Brewin

I know years ago there was a lot of  contraversy about the program "Wild Kingdom" where it was found out that scenes were recreated in zoos and manipulation in the wild.  Richard Attenborough almost admitted that there had been photographic tricks in some of his programming.

m c.
m c.

Good on Nat Geo for publishing this article but their execs (employed by Rupert Murdoch & Fox) and Discovery/Animal Planet's should accept the primary responsibility for not only dumbing down America, but also damaging our image in the world where these programs are exported. They've facilitated this rapid decline of civilzation through tv series promoting guns, Harleys, tattoos, UFOs, bigfoot and redneck hillbillies -- cutting costs and forcing photographers and especially filmmakers and editors to manipulate their subjects to 'get the shot'.  If it bleeds it leads. They pay people to "document" the natural world and portray the environment as if it's nothing but a resource to be harvested, hunted, mined, logged, and yes--destroyed for blood lust and financial gain. Fox is widely known to be more concerned with divisive politics than the environment.  If you only feed people junk food that's what they'll eat. Give us a healthy diet of true reality tv -- something your networks purport to do --and the audience can learn about critically endangered species, ecology and threatened habitats. I can just see the network executives' and commissioning editors eyes glazing over when they read these words… The fact is, it costs more to pay genuinely talented researchers, writers and resourceful, experienced, ethical & intelligent wildlife filmmakers. If these networks invest in quality not quantity then, ultimately that's what will sell a series.  Arm viewers with REAL information and imagery and maybe they can learn about the sad state of our natural world and will likely step up to change things for the better. The audience has the power to change things: "vote with your remote" . Otherwise, keep watching crap tv airing on networks that bend over for advertisers and only exists to sell pick up trucks and pay shareholders. Oh and how many shows did Nancy Black, who has done so much to help orcas, film for Nat Geo? I guess she must've felt pressured to get the shots from the unethical execs who ultimately disown the filmmakers they've hired. Nat Geo was a stalwart institution but sadly, they chased Discovery in to dark world of tabloid tv.

James Doyle
James Doyle

@m c. I agree with you on this issue of the so called "reality" shows. I'm horrified to watch shows on Discovery or Nat Geo where someone kills a wild animal and tries to eat it for so call educational purposes.

Steve Irwin was the classical example of what not to show as a so call nature or environmental education show. It was all sensationalization to get the viewers to watch and most I am sure, watched to see what the guy would get bitten by next not to learn anything useful.

And since when is it acceptable to have a show about people breaking the law by running moonshine or weed and call it educational?

Once upon a time these production houses were honoured for their high quality of educational programing but now it seems they are just a dustbin of rubbish in the most part.

Jim Lurgio
Jim Lurgio

Fine is stupid...and probation?...enough of the government being involved in god I could see if she was poaching them and doing stuff like the Japanese do in Antarctica.....but for crying out loud shes a professional....and was just filming them. Who ratted her out anyway?


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