Category Archives: Lessons Learned

Reflections on life, life’s lessons, parenting and just being a 40-something in Dayton, Ohio

Ethics and Value in Nature Photography

Early morning in May 2010 at Ash Cave in Hocking Hills Ohio by Jim Crotty

 

“I wanted to find out from you a few things. What kinds of situations have you run across that brings this to mind? Have you conducted photography lessons and made sure the students are aware of possible ethics? What are your thoughts?”

Well once I get started on such a great subject I can’t just simply provide a couple of brief example and answers. This is one topic which I feel the urge to elaborate. One, because it’s so timely, and two, because photography has been my passion for quite some time now, long enough to notice and experience trends, developments and impact the medium has had on society.

Ethical conduct in nature photography should be a priority. I’d venture to say so much so that one should establish personal, ethical guidelines long before advancing to the latest and greatest DSLR camera, those big lenses and all those ninja-like software editing techniques. Ethical conduct in any art medium and line of work first must have a foundation of kindness, fairness and respect for the sanctity of subject and environment. Yes, that’s something that’s honed upon and learned over years of experience but there’s the simple fact that part of such a foundation is rooted in personality and upbringing.

The vast majority of people are decent human beings who make an occasional mistake of bad judgment, true, but there is that small minority who will go after what they want no matter what the possibility of negative impact it will have upon others, other life we share this planet with and the environment. They’re capable of justifying anything and everything they do. Nothing I can write and share will encourage a change in their behavior.

This response and article is not for them or about them. My thoughts are directed toward the large majority who already have a sound moral compass and just need a few reminders of what not to do when in the field, involved and pursuing that wonderfully rewarding medium of expression known as nature and landscape photography.

The allure of capturing that one image that garners the most “likes,” lead to that book cover and result in that 1st place award at the camera club can be intoxicating, can’t it? It always has been but what has truly amped-up the enticement of this kind of competitive notoriety is the explosive growth and impact of online social media. It’s caused nearly all photographers to drift into the realm of the quick fix of online fame. It’s worth mentioning here because I think it does have a great deal to do with the importance of ethical conduct in this particular artistic medium. It’s served as “added fuel,” so to say, to forces at work that can push good, decent people over that borderline and away from what is right toward not-so-good behavior. Our collective ethical conduct has been watered-down by the gods of the internet and everyone aiming to be that rock star photographer.

By my very nature and the nature of my work I am an observer; a student of cause and effect within the environment. With my work it has to do with light, subject and setting. I tend to apply this same studious approach toward people. I look for the root cause. I believe strongly that the insta-fame of social media is what is driving a lot of questionable behavior of nature photographers these days. Herein lies the source of my examples. And I will add this – I am not been immune to it, that pull and temptation.

The situations that come to mind most often pertain to wildlife subjects but I’ve observed it in landscape photography as well. I’ve seen Black Bear cubs harassed up trees in Great Smoky Mountain National Park and raptors baited with store-bought mice. I’ve seen crowds of photographers fighting and clamoring for the same scenic vantage point. If seen photographers put themselves and others in danger in stopping along roadsides with traffic flying by, inches away (ok I’m kind of guilty of that one). Gardens have been trampled over, subjects posed on active railroad tracks and garbage and domestic animals brought out on trails where both are clearly prohibited. I’ve also seen bird nesting sites destroyed and alligators approached with nothing more than camera phones. In general, just a lot that leaves me walking away and shaking my head.

It would be easy to list simple tips on what not to do when actively engaged in nature and landscape image-making. There are the obvious – don’t unroot plants, don’t harass animals to the point of stress or abandoning territory, don’t trample through protected areas, etc. I think the better way to offer helpful suggestions is simply adapting an “approach of honor and respect,” which must first be grounded in solid, positive self-image, and then applying that approach into what I consider the five key areas of consideration within the medium and pursuit of nature photography – subject, setting/location, audience/viewer, fellow photographers and finally, the resulting photograph.

1) Subject: I briefly touched on this earlier but it is important to go into more detail here. Honoring the subject, with respect and appreciation, is absolutely essential. Whether animal, plant or landscape. The sanctity of the living space and life of the subject should always be maintained and not sacrificed in the name of the “good shot.” Besides when an animal is scared and stressed it will show in the resulting image. Here’s the true value of a good telephoto lens when it comes to wildlife photography, other than the obvious amazing optics. For birds and other wildlife I recommend at least a 300mm telephoto lens. The zoom lenses that come with DSLR cameras offer some telephoto capabilities – usually up to 200 or 250mm – but it really is not enough to fill the frame with your subject while maintaining a safe distance, unless with a very tame animal. Be a brief visitor and not an intruder. Go quietly and gently toward subject. Understand its behavior. Invest the time needed to observe before photographing.

2) Setting/Location: The natural setting could be just down the road at a nearby metro park or somewhere in the vast beauty of a National Park. Regardless here too I recommend slowing down and spending time to be quiet and observant rather than rushing onto a location, shooting away and moving on to the next spot. The rush will show in your images. I always find it more productive to spend time within a particular area, allowing the images to come to you, versus chasing one often photographed scene after another. There is so much more to be explored when being patient with a scene and allowing the light to change and unfold before you. Time and time again I’v witnessed groups of photographers constraining themselves with time and schedule limitations, rushing their image making and then returning with average photographs at best. Respect the process and the location well enough to let it bring the photograph to you. Established trails (and operating hours) are there to protect flora and prevent ground damage. Be careful with tripods because often legs are spread out to where they could possibly harm other plant life.

3) Audience/Viewer: Ansel Adams once said “there are two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” And he was referring to landscape photographs in response to a critic who complained about the absence of human subjects in his images! By way of the photographer approaching his or her subject with honor and respect the image also communicates honor and respect for the viewer. There is a dynamic of visual storytelling taking place that should not be taken for granted or glossed over. That dynamic should be positive-amplifying. If you should have the opportunity to listen to any one of the top pro nature photographers in the industry, such as Art Wolfe, you will leave with strong sense of his appreciation for both his subjects and you, a member of his audience. The best artists know to honor this dynamic – this “conversation” – between artist, subject and audience.

4) Fellow Photographers: Now this gets a bit more nitty gritty because I’ve noticed a disturbing trend over the last 15 or so years with the advent of digital image making and DSLR cameras. Nature and wildlife photographers are poaching the heck out of each other and are becoming entirely too focused (no pun intended :)) on outdoing each other, to the point of feigning online friendship for the sole purpose of gleaning information on locations, techniques, inside tips, etc. Yes, it’s good to be friendly and helpful but when one is continuously “pumped for info” it becomes easy to see the difference between honest connection and community and just being used for information, and then seeing one of your images duplicated. It might just be me but it just brings a negative energy into the medium that takes away from what makes an excellent landscape image so special in the first place. It detracts from the intimacy. Respect the work of your fellow photographers. Respect each other when photographing together or at the same location. Develop your own eye and approach and have enough confidence in your unique way of image making that you don’t feel the need to constantly imitate others. Yes, it’s good to learn and be inspired, but then apply it to your own unique vision.

5) The Photograph – Honor it. Always. Artists always have a tendency toward devaluation and trust me, there are many people who know how to profit from that type of self-devaluation. I know. All too well. The photograph is the culmination of our work and if you’ve been at it as long as I have you have less and less tolerance for those who want to assign value based on their own intentions toward profit down the road. How does this apply to nature and landscape photography and ethical conduct? Easy. Honor and respecting the final image will always increase its value because by doing so you communicate honor and respect for yourself and your subject. People react to that kind of energy. By appropriately valuing that photograph of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in beautiful morning light you are also maintaining respect for that species and its environment. Always carefully manage your copyrights and usage of your images.

Anyone involved in the artistic endeavor of nature and wildlife photograph should understand his or her role as a steward in the protection of the subject, the medium and the relationship between artist and audience. Honoring and respecting the sacredness of stewardship in the art and craft of photography will help ensure the variety and vitality of beautiful and inspiring subjects for generations to come and the amazing stories to be shared long after all the “likes” are done and the awards forgotten.

As we approach and capture the essence of our subjects – with honor and grace – so we accept and respect the honor and grace in each of us. Let no one detract.

Ethics and Wildlife Photography | At What Expense ?

This story came to my attention yesterday via posts and messages to my photography page on Facebook. What’s funny is that people posting and messaging me thought that I was the “Jim Crotty the wildlife photographer” interviewed in the story. I’m not. It just happens to be a coincidence that this photographer and I share the same name! But this news items brings up a good question regarding what is considered ethical behavior with wildlife photographers when it comes to photographing these animals.

The controversy in this story centers around the issue of “baiting” Snowy Owls for those “spread wing – open talons” shots. I agree with the other “Jim Crotty” in this story. I do think such tactics place both the animal and the photographer in danger. But that’s not the only area of controversy involving wildlife photography. There is also the issue of photographing captive animals in a natural environment and mislabeling the images as true wildlife photography as well as stalking wildlife to the point of harassment and harm.

Truth be told I have photographed the big predators – bears, tigers, wolves – at a wild game farm in Montana. I’ve also spent time photograph raptors at rehabilitation centers. Do the images look as if they were captured in the wild ? Yes. Do I identify the images as being captive animals ? Most times, yes, when it needs to be identified as such.

What I will add is the fact that in both cases the animals were very, very well cared for, and in some cases were rescued from deplorable conditions at zoos and circuses. Still, some “purists” consider this to be cheating. I can easily argue on behalf of the safety and care of the animals being photographed. At least I’m not pursuing a bird to the point where it abandons its nest and/our young or chase it into starvation.

But baiting-in wildlife for me crosses the line into what I consider manipulation of subject to fit the photographer’s needs versus capturing the true spirit and nature of the animal. Yes, it’s not illegal but as stated in the story, “is it ethical?”

One of the reasons this issue is gaining attention in the media is due to the large influx of Snowy Owls into the Midwest (and even as far south as Washington DC) due to the severity of this winter. Wildlife photographers all want that “money shot” of these impressive birds swooping in for the kill. But is it placing the animal at risk at becoming another casualty on the side of the road or tangled in the fishing line used to cast the toy mouse ?

It’s been my experience that people have a unique sense to tell if a photograph has been pushed too hard by a preconceived notion of the photographer, to the point of manipulating the subject into submission. It comes through. Perhaps subtle but most people can pick up on it.

I’ve learned that the images the generate the most positive, honest response are those that were unplanned and a result of a spontaneous interaction with the subject, whether it be portraits, landscapes or wildlife. The greater skill for the photographer is gained through patience and fortitude, and always, always, respect for his or her subject.

What do you think ? Can you tell which images below are of captive animals and which were taken in the wild ?

Jim Crotty Commercial Photography Wildlife Photography by Jim Crotty Great Blue Heron on Hilton Head Island South Carolina by Jim Crotty White-tailed Deer Doe and Fawn on the farm property of Photographer Jim Crotty Golden Eagle Aquila Chrysaetos by Ohio Nature Photographer Jim Crotty Wildlife Photography by Jim Crotty Red-tailed Hawk in South Carolina Maritime Forest by Jim Crotty Siberian Tiger at Triple D Wild Game Farm by Jim Crotty

True and Original | The Coen Brothers and the Art of Expression

“Like something out of a Coen Brothers movie.” There’s a fine line between inspiration and imitation and I suppose that’s why I find my best sources of inspiration in other mediums than still photography. I admire the work of the masters such as Adams and Weston, but I never want to imitate it. And that can be a challenge sometimes. But to be inspired by prose and poetry, music, film, design, sculpture . . . that’s where energy in the art of expression is renewed, again and again.

For example, the films of Joel and Ethan Coen. They don’t bend to popular whims nor do they film to please this particular group or that particular audience. They hold true to their own creative vision and all else falls into place. They also stay true to those components or pieces that best serve their vision, whether it be the musical genius of T. Bone Burnett or the understated performances of John Goodman.

The Coen’s nail it every time because they have the courage to be who they are and not mold themselves to the expectations of a fickle audience, and the studios come to them. Sure their best work often gets snubbed but there’s no mistaking one of their films from those of a sea of other filmmakers.

The universal connection found in the art of creative expression that is unique to each soul is life and light set to a harmonious interludes of wonder and joy. To be true, even it means long stretches of hanging out there by your lonesome, that’s the place to be. Life was never meant to be a popularity contest. The posturing and posing and pandering leaves everyone wanting. I’ve seen a lot of that in my life. There have been many times I’ve been guilty of falling into that trap as well. It served as a painful reminder of the importance of being true to self, always humble and thankful to a higher power and love without conditions or false intentions.

Life is meant to be lived in the courage of your own convictions and expressed through the work of your own hands. Talent fully utilized may on the surface be seen as selfish but when serving the higher purpose of inspiring others (and always in gratefulness) it is actually quite the opposite, and beautiful to behold.

Awesomeness : Looking Through the Lens of Kindness | Measured in Moments

2013 Christmas Challenge: Day #13…Looking Through the Lens of Kindness | Measured in Moments.

It was incredibly rewarding to once again participate in Help Portrait Dayton. It was something I missed after moving away in 2011. I am very thankful for the opportunity to jump back into this great event of donating professional portrait photography to those who normally wouldn’t be able to afford it. In December 2010 Help Portrait Dayton provided a full day of portrait photography and prints to families of military personnel based at Wright Patterson AFB. This year the event was held at the Church on Third Street in East Dayton. It’s a blast to come together with other pro photographers and volunteers and to brighten the faces and holiday of many families in our community. Thank you Kelly Maroney @ http://kellymaroney.wordpress.com/ for the great behind-the-scenes shots and blog article.

The Photographer’s Journey | Deeper and Higher

There’s an article that popped-up on my web browsing radar this morning (I gave up on TV news long ago) that tells the sad story of Canon Inc. cutting their annual profit forecast due to declining sales in the face of the rise popularity and capabilities of “smartphone” cameras. From the perspective of a professional photographer this would at first appear to be sad news with the assumption that everyone with a camera phone now can do just about everything a pro could do with a DSLR and several lenses.

True there’s some impressive imagery coming from shooters just using an iPhone. The new apps are amazing. Personally I’ve been having a ball with my iPhone 4S, Snapseed and Instagram . . . but . . . my iPhone won’t be replacing my DSLRs with those nice lenses. And it’s not a matter of greater technical capabilities of the equipment. It’s more of a case of making the most of the tools that are at my disposal.

The paintbrush and canvas don’t define the artist. The pen and computer do not represent the soul of the writer. What is more important is what is achieved with the tools available in representing in visual work how and why the photographer interacts with life and light around him or her and more significantly, if that work touches and moves the viewer – even if just one person – in a way that is affirmation in the positive and heartfelt.

It’s the connection that matters and from my experience it must be a connection that is honest, respectful and reflective of a gracious nature. Can that happen with a pic from an iPhone ? Sure can. Not often, but it does happen. One of the images posted with this entry – below – was snapped with my iPhone. Is it an award-winner ? Maybe.

Camera manufacturers adapt to the changing market. New, easier to use cameras come out to meet market demand. “Smartphones” get smarter. People shoot away. It’s all good. It’s all fun and once in a while very creative and inspiring. The one consistent will always be the grace and beauty found in the balance of light and subject and that hard-to-explain reason why we are all pulled toward artistic expression through the visual interpretation of our life experiences.

Sometimes I fight the urge to get a bit perturbed at the fact that the one thing I was (and hopefully still am) good at – photography – has now become so mass produced, mass marketed and mass consumed that I worry that I will be lost in the crowd, insignificant and meaningless. But in spite of all the noise and mass image snapping out there, the sense of accomplishment still remains when I touch and move just one viewer in a positive way.

It’s not about the gear. It’s not about the apps. And honestly it’s not about me. It’s about what I can accomplish by allowing my time, talents and tools to be used as vessels for reaffirming the blessings all around us and encouraging others to do the same. It’s about gaining the greater wealth when letting flow and letting go and to connect deeper and higher, in the sacred honesty of love, light and life.

The nice equipment and accolades are temporary. The connection is forever.

NovemberWhentheLightEchoesbyJimCrottyFW Photo Oct 08, 7 35 26 PM ThreeMapleLeavesEarlyOctoberbyJimCrottyFW November Morning by Jim Crotty ToSetAglowbyJimCrottyFW

 

A Beautiful Mess | Leaving The Leaves Be Where They Fall

A Beautiful Mess. Of leaving the leaves where they fall and letting go of expectations.So much of the stress we place on ourselves resides in the inheritance of the self-imposed pressure of meeting unrealistic expectations – of not disappointing those who will never be willing to freely release their approval in the first place, no matter how hard we try. Why is it that we so willingly give over the power of approval to those who are reinforced by this negative energy when God has already released us from such binds ? There is a beauty to the simple grace that arrives when we not only learn to let go of our own pride-filled expectations of others but also when we regain the rightful inheritance of peace based on an unconditional and all-powerful love. There is never a need to earn what has already been given. Declare today to stop the cycle of the sinful inheritance, embrace the gift that has already been given and just enjoy the beauty of all the simple graces of each day, including a yard full of fallen leaves!

ABeautifulMessbyJimCrottyFW