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  • Writer's pictureKaren-Jane Dudley

The principles of ethical wildlife photography

Updated: Jul 11, 2020

The documenting of wildlife and habitats through photography has served to demonstrate just how important imagery has become in todays modern world, along with its ability to act as a major influence in global conservation efforts.

Top quality images are essential in assisting with conservation and wildlife campaign efforts, adding valuable visual impact, with the ability to convey and transmit the message more effectively than just the written word…

Despite the importance of visual imagery, the photographic techniques used in order to gain wildlife images can also have a serious detrimental effect, causing stress and harm to both wildlife and vital ecosystems..

With each encounter with nature and wildlife in order to produce a photograph, the art of observation not disturbance should be paramount.

Our own behaviour will have a strong influence on the final result of the image.

if you are looking to photograph natural behaviour, our own actions will determine how wildlife will respond to our close presence …

Never use any means to entice or bait wildlife for the sake of an image:

Patience is the key to wildlife photography.

The use of manipulation may bring about quick results, but can effectively reduce aspects of natural behaviour.

Much food designed for human consumption can also be high in salt, sugar content etc , much of this can potentially carry the risk of causing long term health damage for the majority of wildlife.

Never assume just because food is safe for humans to consume that wildlife will also find it irresistible, it would simply offer an unfamiliar aroma and not typical to their natural diet…

Baiting or enticing for the sake of an image ,will only serve to lessen the satisfaction of an authentic photographic opportunity with each image produced…

Never pursue wildlife:

Crowding, surrounding or the pursuit of wildlife is never acceptable under any circumstance. These irresponsible actions will result in causing both stress and anxiety to wildlife. I have sadly witnessed on far too many occasions, vehicles and people on foot, in pursuit of wildlife for the sake on an image. If an animal chooses to distance itself from you by moving away, it clearly demonstrates close proximity is making the animal anxious and nervous.

It is at this point, that respect for not only the wildlife, but habitat and the fragile eco system that supports the existence of countless insects and flora that needs to be addressed.

Each step, or the damage and destruction caused by tyres over these fragile systems has the potential to cause irreparable damage. The use of flashlight or artificial light to illuminate a subject in the dark should not be used in any circumstance. With many species hunting under the cover of darkness, artificial light will cause interference and disturbance for both predator and prey…

The simple rule, if you are too close, you are interfering…

Our own actions will determine the level of success:

A calm, respectful and patient approach is vital when in close proximity to wildlife that is naturally nervous in its disposition.

It is also important to remember these ethical principles,when attempting to produce images of wildlife that is typically viewed as being “ bigger and bolder”

Regardless of the specie, our own actions will bear huge significance upon the final result.

Fast, excitable, exaggerated movements including raised voices, will be of no benefit other than to cause many animals to take flight…

Ensure to create a “ comfort zone “ for the wildlife to feel safe within, our own body language can either produce an unforgettable encounter or instigate a missed opportunity...

Never try to influence wildlife behaviour :

Calling, clicking or clapping your hands to attract an animals attention is not only disrespectful, but in most cases will cause an animal to take flight, this may be a tempting opportunity to gain that image of a bird in flight or an animal in full stride, but will come at the expense of wildlife feeling under threat, either way this practice is unacceptable and disrespectful…

Understanding an animals natural behaviour:

Research is a valuable tool for any successful ethical wildlife photography.

The portrayal of natural behaviour through imagery can add to its overall visual impact.

Most species will be associated with a particular behavioural trait, but posing for a photograph does not come naturally for wildlife, so never expect or attempt to enforce it …

Research of behavioural patterns may determine the difference between an image with strong impact, capable of delivering its message, to an image that holds little or no attention.

Causing damage to habitat for the sake of photography :

It is never acceptable to create a “ false “ scene to produce an image.

Long grasses or heavy foliage may not be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but removal of natural thicket or branches to create an “ open space “ is not an ethical practice under any circumstance.

It may produce a “clear “ area for the subject, but serves to do no more than reduce an image to a "set up pose ” of unnatural appearance, demonstrating no more than a commercial opportunity and a result that is possible to achieve with very little wildlife photography skills...

With the easy use of photographic editing software, the removal of the odd stray piece of foliage becomes a simple task with no damage or stress caused to nature itself…

Respect, trust and understanding:

The most vital tools in the application of ethical photography principles are undoubtedly RESPECT, TRUST and UNDERSTANDING…

Respect for nature, a divine respect for your subject, coupled with a level of trust and understanding, has the capacity to create a harmonious setting on all levels for both wildlife and the photographer that can be defined by the ability of the images to evoke emotion…giving the viewer an opportunity to truly connect with nature ….

"Remember...never take photographs …take nothing from nature … simply choose to preserve its beauty in a vision " K J Dudley

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