Few things are as beautiful as our natural world, with its expansive terrains and diverse wildlife.
As a photographer, your first inclination is to capture this earthly richness and share it with the world, but the practice of wildlife photography is complex in rules and regulations that are meant to protect the animals that inhabit these spaces.
Many photographers in the past have gotten into trouble for their inability to comply with ethical photography practices. Take Jose Luis Rodriguez, for example, who was stripped of his Natural History Museum Photographer of the Year Award for attempting to pass off a tame wolf as a wild one.
Or US Marine biologist Nancy Black who faces $12,000 in fines and up to 3 years on probation for attempting to lure in killer whales with bait while filming a documentary. There are many ways you can violate the ethics of wild life photography, so here’s a list of guidelines to follow when attempting the practice.
Do Not Disturb
It’s incredibly important to remember that when you’re out photographing in the wild, you are in other species’ terrain. This means you should make it the utmost priority not to cause destruction or disturb wild animals while they are going about their natural business. You should try your best to keep quiet and maintain a decent distance between yourself and animals, to ensure your safety and theirs.
Don’t Use Live Bait, or Really Any Bait For That Matter
This is a big one. You shouldn’t try to lure animals into your line of vision just to get a shot. This is highly unethical, as you are disrupting the animal’s natural behaviors which can be dangerous.
While it is, of course, normal and natural for animals to kill other animals for food, you should never facilitate this by offering live food to an animal. Even using non-living bait is considered unethical. If you can’t get an animal to surface from their den or get close enough for you to get a good shot, don’t force it.
Research and Follow Laws
There are a lot of laws in place to protect wildlife, so if you are journeying to a particular area, make sure to do your research and get familiar with the laws of the terrain. Some areas may be off limits, and others may prohibit photography altogether. If you are aware of what’s illegal and what’s not, you’ll avoid extraneous fines or even jail time.
Don’t Touch Nests or Dens
There is no reason for you to touch an animal’s home, under any circumstances. This is highly destructive, as you are disturbing their most sacred space.
Don’t Stage It
Especially if you plan on selling your photos or using them in your own collection, it is highly unethical to try to pass off a staged wildlife scene as authentic and natural. It is a disruption to the inhabitant and honestly, kind of defeats the purpose of wildlife photography.
Use Your Common Sense
Bottom line is, you kind of just know when you are doing something you shouldn’t. If it feels like you are intruding or endangering yourself or an animal, get out of there. There are many ways to successfully get a great picture while practicing wildlife photography that doesn’t require stepping out of bounds.