Sunday, February 2, 2014

Photo Project: Year Three--Discussing Ethics

This is my third year doing a photo project and I have enjoyed it so much.  I find myself getting out more and exploring or just going bird watching and taking photos while I am out and about. 
Snowy Owl (photo by Cathy Spahn)

However, since I spend so much time outdoors photographing wildlife I get a chance to see a lot of other photographers doing the same.  And by photographer, I mean anyone holding a camera—not just professionals or hobbyists.  Most professional wildlife photographers are very aware of the “rules of the road” when it comes to outdoor ethics.

Unfortunately, sometimes I see the things these would-be photographers do and I realize that unlike birders, most of whom have a pretty strict code of ethics while practicing their hobby, some wildlife photographers do not.  In this particular blog I am going to talk about a few things that as a photographer you may not realize you need to think about.

As many people realize, photographing birds and other wildlife can be very difficult and challenging because the subject moves about and is not always cooperative.

The first thing to always consider is the safety of you and your subject.  Do not put yourself or the subject in harm’s way.
Short-eared Owl (photo by Cathy Spahn)

You should also think about how comfortable the subject is with your presence.  Every animal has it’s own comfort zone.  Another way to put this is….do not keep pushing to get closer just because you want to get that better picture.  If you see the animal’s behavior starting to change, such as going from very relaxed to suddenly starting to look around faster and getting that nervous jumpy look, chances are the animal is looking for an escape route—which means you are too close.  Your best bet is to slowly back away and let the animal relax.

Another thing to think about is habitat and the effect you have on it.  First and foremost stay on trails, paths, pavement, etc.  You always want to have as much of a minimum impact on the environment as possible.  I have personally witnessed photographers-- more so than other groups of people--breaking branches to get that perfect shot, or stepping on rare plants to get that perfect angle.  I am not saying that birders and hikers are perfect and always do the right thing.  I just know I see these transgressions more often with photographers. 

Also remember to respect private property signs and get permission to enter the land.  At the same time remember that even with a long lens you may make a landowner nervous if he sees you photographing his/her property, even if you aren’t on it.  Always explain what you are doing if they ask and with the digital age you can show them.  Many times offering to send them a copy of a photo taken on their property can go a long way in creating a good relationship with a landowner.  Also, always follow their wishes--even if that means they do not want you photographing their land.
Short-eared Owl (photo by Cathy Spahn)

The last thing I would like to touch on is to always follow the rules of the road and be courteous to others.  Being courteous to others that are taking photos or just enjoying wildlife is important.  One of the most common things I see while out shooting photos is a lack of respect for others.  An example of this is if you have a small parking lot or roadside pull-out, make every effort to pull all the way into parking spots so other people can use the lot, too.  Remember, you are not the only one taking photos.

I meet many photographers on a regular basis who follow all of these rules.  It’s just that sometimes when people are behind the camera they become oblivious to what is going on around them. 

These are just a few things that many times are overlooked by people, and they do not just apply to photographers, but birders, eagle watchers, etc. 

For some excellent practice photographing animals, plan to bring your camera and come out and spend the day at the World Bird Sanctuary.  You will have the opportunity to photograph and observe not only our resident animals, but also the wild birds that visit our feeders.  This will give you some hands on practice in reading the body language of our feathered friends, and will give you the opportunity to bring home fewer of those photos of where a bird used to be.  (Fess up now—we all have them!) 

Chances are you may even bring home some outstanding wildlife photos. 

Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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