Ethics in Wildlife Photography

Ethics in Wildlife Photography

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry 12 Comments

Wildlife photography should be about wildlife.

This might sound like a pretty simple and straight forward statement but if you look at what is happening out there it seems that this might not be the case.

More and more people are relying on sensationalism to get their work, and themselves, noticed but by doing so they are blurring the lines of what real and ethical wildlife photography should be about.

Last week, in one of our Q&A video sessions Marlon and I shared some thoughts on this.

Let’s make sure we all keep it real.

Wildlife photography should be about wildlife.

About Me

Gerry van der Walt

I am a private and specialist photographic safari guide, public speaker, co founder of Wild Eye and wildlife photographer. Visit my website at www.gerryvanderwalt.com or follow my journey on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Periscope.  I look forward to changing the way you see the world! Have you checked out The Wildlife Photography Podcast?

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Comments 12

  1. Tim Healy

    LOL! This was awesome. You guys make me laugh. Love your passion. Love your heart. And so love your values. “Make it about the wildlife and not about you” – G.O.L.D.

  2. Lloyd

    I agree with what you are saying, but you gave me the shivers when Gerry said he was going to get a cup of coffee. The dude is already bouncing off the walls. I’d say he should rather try a little Ritalin. Enough coffee already Gerry. #youvehadenough

  3. Jens

    So true and something that more people such think about that we are guests when we experience wildlife. And that we should intrude or disturb when we are photographing or just viewing animals on a safari or orherwise.
    I had a really anoying moment while on a snow leopard sighting some weeks ago when me and fellow photographer stayed out of the way so that we could view a snow leopard for along time. We were rather close but not disturbing the cat when some locals and guides from another group walked closer and closer until the snow leopard got scared and took off like a flash. We missed a lot of good shots but more importantly the cats space were deeply intruded into. Some of us had a talk to the people about what they done and we hope this was the last time they did something this stupid.

  4. Hallobay Wilderness Camp, Alaska

    A group of concerned guides operating in Katmai National Park and Lake Clark Nation Park are dealing with the very thing addressed in your video. You expressed our sentiment perfectly. Keep up the good effort because once these wild places and the wildlife they contain disappear…there are no more.

    Clint

  5. Trish Boyum

    SO refreshing to hear from the two of you! Thank you so much for addressing the ethics of wildlife viewing and photography! We offer multi day boat based tours on the west coast of Canada in an area known as the Great Bear Rainforest. We are constantly grappling with this issue with guests because some have unrealistic expectations. We applaud you and thank you for sharing what should be the norm!

  6. James Hayden

    Ha Ha I cant believe you guys posted this video about ethics and yet you show pictures of yourselves and your guests in situations where you are affecting the animals behaviour, have a look on your own private guiding page that shows Marlon lying on the ground with his guest with a herd of Elephants close by, in Mana Pools Marlon and Elephant together, there are many such examples.

    I do not have an issue with things like getting out the vehicle or photographing on foot but then you cant claim the moral high ground on Ethics when clearly you yourselves influence the animals behaviour by your actions.

    In my opinion remove the log from your own eye before the splinter from someone elses.

    1. Marlon duToit

      Hey James,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on this blog, and for making your point, really appreciate it.

      Let’s get down to business then…

      I know all too well that my actions will be closely watched by many out there. I will never proclaim to be one thing, and live another. Every images I post to social I make available for all to see, and with intent.

      The images of me and my guest on our backs was taken in Hwange National Park on a private concession. We had spent every afternoon waiting for the elephants to come by, and had incredible encounters. Thanks to our great guide we were able to position ourselves effectively. We spent many hours flat on our backs & bellies photographing elephants coming down for a drink. Our Land Rover was never more than 3 or 4 meters away, and the elephants paid little attention to us. Every now and again a young bull would walk up for a closer inspection, but by no means was he affected by our presence. They would curiously walk over, have a look at us and continue about more important matters such as drinking and mud bathing.

      It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to do it again.

      As for me and the elephants in Mana Pools…
      Have you ever been to Mana Pools? Have you ever walked with the elephants, lions, buffalo & wild dogs in Mana Pools? If you have you will have a complete understanding. If not, let me explain…

      In Mana you are allowed to approach game on foot. Thanks to decades of dedicated work the resident wildlife have grown accustomed to people on foot and will often continue about their day as if you were not there. To sit under the same tree as an elephant feeds from it is mind blowing. To feel the rush of blood through your veins as he takes notice of you, lifts his head high and points his menacing tusks straight at your nugget is something you will remember forever. But that’s all he does. He’ll soon go about feeding and your heart rate can come down to a normal pace.
      The images of me on foot with elephants have often been taken as we leave the sighting. I will stay behind with out local pro Zim guide until all my guests are safe and out of the way. Guests will often whip out their cameras and snap away, and I end up with some great shots.

      Yes, the elephants did take notice of me. I said in my blog in an ideal world and in guiding you would try to approach game on foot without them being aware of your presence. It is not always possible but the most important is to remember the below-mentioned…
      I will never pester an animal, stick my camera in their faces, drive a beetlecam into them or hover a drone above their heads. The art of good guiding & wildlife photography on foot is to know when you presence becomes a problem, and to know when to leave and to stay. If you do intend to leave, the experience of how to do so is of paramount importance.

      My “actions” is as mentioned, always towards the welfare of the animal.

      I completely understand that by voicing our thoughts the way we did and will continue to do, we will always have people coming up against us. We are used to that.
      I appreciate your concerns and the time you took to voice them.

      Gerry and I will never capture wildlife images at the expense of the animal, and we will never produce material with captive animals whilst creating the impression that they are wild. The welfare of whatever I am photographing is first and foremost my priority, and that is the honest truth.

      I hope that the message above clarifies some of your concerns. Feel free to drop me a mail at marlon@wild-eye.co.za if you would like to chat a little further.

      Best,
      Marlon

      1. James Hayden

        Hi Marlon
        Thanks for your reply.

        Wild Eye posted a blog on Ethics in Wildlife Photography and Gerry and Yourself had strong views on Ethics and how you believe Wildlife Photography should be, you rubbished other safari operators and people who partake in so called “ animals crawling over you “ safaris and that it is fake. Within the first minute of your blog the following phrases were used “creating a false impression” “compromising the animal” and “you have intruded on their space and it is wrong” all great ideas and I buy into that, the issue I have is that you say this in your blog yet you guys do the exact opposite, let me explain.

        On your you tube video on private guiding it shows you Marlon walking next to Elephants , the Elephant raises its head and opens its ears, depending on who you are this can be interpreted in many ways but in my opinion you have created a false impression of viewing Elephants, someone who has never been to Africa may think this is how they can get pictures of Elephants , there is no warning that comes with this piece of footage, you yourself say in your blog post and I quote” get out of your car in Kruger and this is how accidents happen” I don’t know where you and the Elephant walked together so I can assume its safe to do so anywhere ! A accident waiting to happen.

        In the first minute of your blog post Gerry also uses the phrase “compromising the animal” and “you have intruded on their space and it is wrong” When the Elephant reacts to you in the private guiding video you have done just those two things, you have compromised the animal and intruded into its space.

        Gerry also says in the blog you need to be “safe and out the way” I don’t see you being safe and out the way in the private guiding video, you yourself say “ the moment you get its attention “ well you got the Elephants attention alright !
        You also have a video on the Chobe river and in the video you guys are photographing a Fish eagle as it comes to “catch” a fish on the river that is clearly baited, the ripples of the fish splashing on the waters surface are a meter or so from the fish Eagle before it even snatches the fish so clearly not caused by the Fish eagle, also look at the cameras pointing at the Fish eagle before it leaves its perch, I would say its almost impossible to predict when a Fish Eagle will strike a fish on the water and yet the photographers were all ready ! So a number of things here, you have altered the Eagles behavior so that you can get Photos of it, the opposite to what you say in your blog post on Ethics.

        In your reply to me on your blog post you say you will never “stick my camera in their faces” in your private guided video at the 4min 45 sec mark a Hyena sniffs and seems to lick your camera or go pro, well I don’t know how more in your face than that you can get !

        I can check through your blog posts ,videos on you tube and your personal FB page and I am sure I will find many images that can be used as examples but I think I have made my point.

        I will again say that the only reason I wrote a comment on your blog post was because you guys preach one thing and yet from your videos and images it is clear that you yourselves breach the ethics you speak of in the blog.

        Regards

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          Gerry van der Walt

          Thanks for your follow up comment James.

          You seem very passionate about the point you are trying to make and seems that you have spent a great deal of time researching our blogs, videos and behaviour. Thank you. If, like you mention in your comment, you want to spend more time to checking through our posts, videos and personal pages you are more than welcome to but the fact remains that, and I say this without hesitation, we are extremely proud of the way we conduct ourselves in the photographic guiding industry and, before that, for many years in the field guiding and hospitality industry.

          I am most definitely not going to try and defend any of the points you raise as it seems quite pointless. You seem to have made your mind up on this matter even though you have never traveled with is or met any of us. Unless of course you are writing all of this under a pseudonym, which looking at your Facebook profile seems quite possible.

          We are very proud of the way we conduct ourselves on our safaris, workshops and private guided experiences and if you would like to get in touch we would be more than happy to have a cup of coffee and supply you with the details of the clients who have traveled with us, both on normal safaris and during the instances you mention Marlon in, so that they can answer some of the concerns you have.

          From my point of view, and I am sure I speak for Marlon as well, I stand by every word I said in the video and urge you not to try and find validation for your opinion by using digital content such as videos and images but rather, should you truly wish to discuss this matter, get in touch personally. Again, we would be more than happy for you to chat to past clients who have traveled with in order for you to appreciate our intentions, conduct in the field and passion for the wildlife photography industry.

          These kind of opinion based conversations can go on and on online so unless you would like to contact us directly, Marlon shared his email address in his comment below and mine is gerry@wild-eye.co.za, we see this discussion as closed.

          All of that said, we appreciate your comments and thoughts and will use it to again look at our behaviour and reaffirm to ourselves and our guests that we are in fact on the right track and doing the right thing.

          Best regards,

          Gerry

  7. terre bzdick

    I have not read any of your responses so if this is a repeat I am sorry. This is a message of the strongest agreement to what you both have said, for I believe we are here to be care givers NOT life stealers. We are not here to control their lives for our own agenda or pleasure because for every action there is a reaction and we cannot predict all them. It is then that it creates an opportunity for loss of life whether human beings or animals. It is when protection, the gun, against an attack, that WE created by being ridiculously too close, may cause death to the animal. Personally, I am not in agreement with tourist housings where the animals stroll through the buildings without any fear. I believe that too, is a falsehood to the animals that they are safe among these structures. I saw a few videos where elephants and large cats were in the areas for human visitation, for example, hotel lobbies. To me both are a travesty of major proportions we don’t need to spread ourselves all over the land boxing more and more the animals in their habitats being invaded and relocated or worse killed. I say that for the African continent, the Americas continents, Asian continents, etc I wish we truly understood that this earth is precious and we are the caregivers or we will be the destroyers. Photography is important to me because it keeps me in touch with nature and even better when it is observing NOT disturbing the wild eye kingdom. Thank you very much for taking a stand. Blessings, joy, and peace Terre B

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  8. Jacobus De Wet

    Great and I agree. And at some point we all might have crossed the line as part of the learning process. I have great respect for Safari Operators and Wildlife Photography Operators. It is a commercial venture and I would give my back teeth to do it. However, for me it is a serious hobby that allow me to spend many hours in the bush with my wife. This way we build special memories and take the odd great image. Unfortunately we see and experience more and more aspiring photographers crossing the line. They get the lead from some professionals. In my view the biggest evil is the flashlight and beemers. Unfortunately in our national parks it is unavoidable to have some congestion at sightings and then the long guns pop out and the fill flash photography starts to pop. Apart from baiting, fill flash is my pet hate. I have seen animals get agitated by ongoing flash photography as well as the other spectators at a sighting. Plus using fill flash create an unnatural look. This to me is about the photographer and his picture and not about nature in its natural beauty. So Yes I am old school. and the reason that there are some Companies that I will never join on their photographic trips.

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