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 ?