As we move into winter, pressure on wildlife becomes even greater. Finding food becomes harder just as the energy demands of cold nights intensify. At the same time, the urge to photograph spectacular flocks of birds or solitary animals set in stark but beautiful landscapes become harder to resist. The risk of course is that if we’re not careful we will disturb our ‘subjects’ at precisely the time they’re trying to take on enough food to survive the night.
It is possible to take great wildlife photographs without causing them disturbance, of course – if you know what you’re doing and understand how your actions could inadvertently harm wildlife! One of the wildlife photographers we’ve long admired for his ‘wildlife comes first’ approach is Craig Jones.
Craig works tirelessly to bring about a more ethical approach to wildlife photography. His skill lies in interpreting and presenting wildlife in a way that invokes beauty, mood and emotion, while also presenting a strong conservation message. His photographs covering the plight of Sumatran Orangutans have appeared on BBC News, and in both BBC Wildlife Magazine and National Geographic magazine. He’s also appeared for Nat Geo WILD discussing Sumatra as part of the “Paradise Islands & Photo Ark” National Geographic series, and spoken at the Green Party Conference about palm oil. Notably, as Craig says in his guest post below, he never allows his images to be used by shooting or hunting organisations.
As a former soldier, Craig also tries to help those injured by war or trauma. He believes passionately that the healing power of the natural world can add such a lot to a person’s life – both physically and mentally.
Craig Jones: Ethical Photography
Photography and Wildlife Ethics. Some might say what does that mean? Does it matter?
It matters to me to such an extent that I am always honest in declaring the circumstances under which a photograph has been taken. I never use digital manipulation to misrepresent a subject or mislead the viewer. And I will never sell any of my images to any publication or organisation that promotes any form of hunting or killing of wildlife.
But there is a bigger picture. For many nature lovers the ‘weapon of choice’ now is the camera. Use it wrongly and you can impact on the lives of creatures that have no voice, that won’t be able to report your actions.
In an age where we can get whatever we want twenty-four hours a day with little effort, in a time where there is great pressure on the natural world like never before, we need to step back, think twice about we’re doing, and try not to impact on the subjects we are photographing. It is down to us to work in a way that gives them peace rather than stress by our presence.
The Wildlife code of Conduct
The power of Wildlife Photography rests on the belief that it represents an event that occurred naturally in the wild; something witnessed and recorded by the photographer with his camera at that given time.
Always put the life of the subject you are photographing first, learn about them and then just sit and watch. If they trust you then you will get access to their world and this is done on trust. Your images and time thereafter will be so special and will show in your photographs.
As a responsible photographer of wildlife, I capture my images as seen on the ground. I always put the welfare of the subject’s life and care of the environment above any photograph I might take. I never use flash, props, live bait or any bait that will adversely affect the behaviour of an animal.
I am always honest in declaring the circumstances under which a photograph has been taken. I never use digital manipulation to misrepresent a subject or mislead the viewer.
I want the public that view my photography to be transported to that moment in time I was lucky enough to see. It’s important that I change very little in order for them to believe what they are witnessing is real and exactly how it was on the ground.
When I’m photographing wildlife I’m trying to document wild behaviour, something that occurred naturally. I’m not trying to create something that was fake and contrived.
If you visit places where they place out feed so wildlife comes to a specific spot, be honest in your description. But ask yourself was it necessary to do all of that in order to just get your images?
Clever use of friendly animals, hot spots, bait, pre-arranged perches or props, digital bird callers, along with digital technology has forced everyone to re-evaluate and question the validity of images they see now.
All forms of live baiting should be banned; diving Kingfishers etc. Those that facilitate such practices should be prosecuted under the current countryside act that is in place to protect all wildlife.
If you place out bait or feed wildlife in order to get your images then be honest with the public. If you’ve changed anything in order to get your photos then again just be open and honest with those that view and comment on your work.
The public are becoming aware of the fakery in so many of the images of the natural world that now saturate social media, all looking for likes, comments and praise. Integrity and transparency are so important in an industry that is losing its skill base while photographers are exhaustively chasing that “award winning” title at any cost.
Ethical Photographer Tips
For each action of yours, nature will have a reaction. This is something everyone that enters the natural world should adhere to and understand, long before you press the shutter button.
Recognise and learn the signs of stress within the animal so you know when to stop and leave it well alone. The last thing you ever want is to cause undue stress and disturbance through your actions just to get a “good” shot.
Your clothing, the wind direction, covering the ground, your shape, shine, and staying low can all help in capturing the right moment without disturbing an animal. Find out which way the wind is blowing to improve your approach – most animals have a great sense of smell and it’s the first thing that gives you away. The wind always wants to blow in your face, but this will carry your scent. Leave the aftershave, perfume and fragrant soaps at home as these will be picked up from great distances away.
It’s also very important to know that calories are burned off more quickly during the colder months, so fieldcraft and respect are more important than ever. If the subject has to repeatedly move to avoid you, there’s no way to tell whether the animal will be able to regain calories spent; your actions may result in the premature death of your subject should it struggle to find enough food.
The end results of all these simple things will be amazing, firstly for the creature you’re with and secondly your own knowledge and photography.
Above all else, though, remember that we are guests in their world and we should always keep this in mind when we work.
All photographs in this post copyright Craig Jones Photography
Keep up with Craig’s workshop dates and his thinking on wildlife and photography at Photography Blog