Ethics in Wildlife Photography

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry

How far are you willing to go to get a good wildlife image?

Are you willing to compromise your safety and stress out your subject in order to get ‘the shot’?  Are you willing to do it again and again?

I am the first to acknowledge that a charging animal makes for a very emotive wildlife image but is it worth your own safety?  Is it worth stressing our your subject for that one great image?

Ethics in Wildlife Photography

As a qualified and experienced field guide I find that a lot of people are not even bending the rules but flat out breaking them when they head out into the field with their camera.  This is sad and unnecessary as it creates a number of situations that the photographic travel  industry does not need.

The last while there have been a lot images posted to Facebook of photographers on foot in dangerous game areas.

You see them, camera in hand, with visibly stressed lions, wild dogs and rhino just to mention a few.

A stressed lion might make for a strong image which people online will really like and comment on but what about the repercussions.  What about the fact that you have, by pushing that subject to get your shot, made that animal trust humans a little less.  This is not only going to spoil future sightings of that animal for those of us who want to view and photograph animals doing what they naturally do but also make that animal more dangerous.  And this just so you can walk away with a great image?

Getting an elephant to mock charge might seem like a good photographic idea at the time but can you predict exactly what that animal is going to do?

Are you a 100% sure that it is going to be another mock charge?

What if it’s not?

Walking in a dangerous game area is a truly special experience and I have led many people on many walks.  We confronted dangerous situations but we always respected the animals and gave them their space and we most definitely never tried to provoke an animal to get a reaction.  In this case provoking is not something as harsh as throwing the animals with rocks so it ‘does something’ but something simple as getting to close even while they give you all the warning signals which tells you to back off.

The same thing would apply when you’re in a vehicle and following a leopard to ‘get the shot’.  If the animal keeps walking away from you let him be.  An image of a stressed leopard with ears flat and eyes wide open who obviously does not want you around just does not work and it is noticeable in a lot of images out there.

I would love to photograph wild animals on foot, and have done so in the past, but it was always done so with safety and a very healthy respect for my subjects.  Have you ever tried to look for warning signals through the distorted view of a lens?  Not easy and, in my opinion, a recipe for disaster.

Ethics in Wildlife Photography

Apart from the lower angle you get when you’re on foot why would photographers keep on pushing animals in order to get the shot?

Is it because of the rush you get when a wild animals charges at you?

Is it because of the adoration, however misguided it may be, of people seeing you on foot photographing wild animals?

Is it because, in your mind, you cannot get a shot that is different and unique form all the other wildlife images out there?

I cannot see that it is purely to get ‘the shot’ as if you were willing to take some time, be patient while you watch and get to know your subject you would be able to get all the same shots naturally and without having to stress out your subject.

If it was only about these presumably great shots, why do we see more images of you on foot out in the field rather than the actual images you were able to get?  As a photographer you should let your images speak for themselves without having to showcase how brave you were in order to get them.  If not, are you doing it for the right reason?  If not, was the whole exercise actually worth it?

I am all for getting the shot.

I love being on foot in dangerous game areas.

I love sharing these African experiences with guests and other photographers.

But all of this has always been done in an ethical manner.

A manner in which we get to see our wildlife subjects in their natural environmental in which we can create real wildlife images – wildlife images that shows animals doing what they do naturally and never because we made them do it.

And you know what?

We have all been able to get amazing images!

Pushing animals is wrong – for whatever your reason.

Keep it real.

I’ll ask again – how far would you go to get a good wildlife image?

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt

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