The Ethics of Wildlife Photography

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In his 1997 article “The Problem with Wildlife Photography,” author and environmental activist Bill McKibben wrote, “Without Kodak there’d be no Endangered Species Act.”

While viewed by some at the time as controversial, McKibben’s point has only gained traction in the intervening years. Recent news reports abound with stories of overenthusiastic shutterbugs who do harm to themselves—or worse yet, to their intended animal subjects—when attempting selfies in the wild or trying to capture a prize-winning close-up. Fueled by the power of photographic technology and the immediacy of social media networks, the interface between dwindling wildlife amid a burgeoning human population has reached an ever-more-precarious imbalance.

The Case for Animal Rights

Concern over animal rights is nothing new, with legislation to protect animals from cruelty dating back as far as the 1600s. The first animal rights societies were founded in Britain and the United States during the 1800s, around the same time that Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species revolutionized the way humans viewed their relationship with other sentient beings.

An orphaned elephant and the hands of its keeper at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in northern Kenya, the first-ever community-owned and run sanctuary in Africa. “Rescued elephants are rehabilitated with the ultimate goal to reintroduce them back into the wild,” Ami Vitale explains. “The sanctuary isn’t just about saving elephants; it’s about breaking down stereotypes and redefining wildlife management.”
An orphaned elephant and the hands of its keeper at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in northern Kenya, the first-ever community-owned and run sanctuary in Africa. “Rescued elephants are rehabilitated with the ultimate goal to reintroduce them back into the wild,” Ami Vitale explains. “The sanctuary isn’t just about saving elephants; it’s about breaking down stereotypes and redefining wildlife management.” Ami Vitale

When it comes to recording animals in images, guidelines for ethical practices in photographing wildlife have been established by various environmental and animal rights organizations in recent years, a few of which are linked below:

Principles of Ethical Field Practices, by the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA), as well as other documents on the Ethics page of the NANPA website

Audubon’s Guide to Ethical Bird Photography and Videography, by The National Audubon Society

The Nature Photographers’ Code of Practice, by The Royal Photographic Society (RPS)

The overarching philosophy behind such rules for ethical conduct can perhaps best be encapsulated in the passage: Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.”

Contemporary Media as a Cause for Unethical Behaviors

The overwhelming popularity of the Netflix series Tiger King is just the latest example of how contemporary media sacrifices wildlife ethics in favor of popular entertainment. Thrill-seeking shows or unnatural images that normalize encounters with wild animals send a subliminal message equating such animals to a prop, perpetuating a misconception about ethical conduct.

“Instead of scaring a perched bird to fly, it pays to wait patiently,” says Isak Pretorius. “It might take hours, but when they eventually do take flight, it often results in a beautiful pose, flying towards you, instead of away.” Such as in this photo of a colorful European Roller.
“Instead of scaring a perched bird to fly, it pays to wait patiently,” says Isak Pretorius. “It might take hours, but when they eventually do take flight, it often results in a beautiful pose, flying toward you, instead of away,” such as in this photo of a colorful European Roller.  Isak Pretorius

Social media and photo sharing platforms are equally responsible for spreading such damaging impressions. South African wildlife photographer and safari guide Isak Pretorius attributes a false sense of accomplishment from social media posts and “the idea of instant fame without putting in the hard work,” as contributing factors to unethical behaviors in photographing wildlife. “Instagram and Facebook are great tools for bragging about your photos, building a portfolio to get your name out there, and enjoying the attention that spectacular photos bring,” he says. “However, it doesn’t take long to realize that people don’t care how a stunning photo was created. A beautiful portrait of a tiger’s face taken in a zoo would get the same number of comments and likes as one where the photographer spent a month in a blind in Siberia to finally get his one shot.”

Rather than succumbing to the peer pressure lurking behind misleading social media posts, Pretorius stresses the importance of rediscovering the reasons why you love nature and wildlife photography, offering this advice: “Think about using photography as a tool to immerse yourself in nature and experience it in a more intimate way. You’ll be most fulfilled by creating truthful images in an ethical manner, regardless of the success that photo earns you on social media.”

Ethical Practices for Truth and Safety in the Field

According to renowned wildlife photographer Art Wolfe, “Ethical wildlife photography begins with knowing your subject. There is a certain amount of Zen in wildlife photography,” he says. “Maintaining a mindful calm is critical.”

A herd of Guanaco at Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. Art Wolfe was positioned very low to the ground, if not on his belly, when capturing this image.
A herd of Guanaco at Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. Art Wolfe was positioned very low to the ground, if not on his belly, when capturing this image.Art Wolfe

When capturing images, Wolfe recommends keeping a low and slow posture, which presents a much less intimidating profile than walking straight toward a subject. “Animals have very acute senses and pick up human stress and anxiety,” he explains. “If you’re stressed about the situation or anxious that your camera isn’t working, you might as well retreat.”

Animals are particularly attuned to the sense of smell, possessing a degree of perception to this unseen element that is much greater than that of humans. Noted animal advocate Ami Vitale advises, “Watch the way the wind is blowing and move in the opposite direction. Since animals are sensitive to smell, they will move away when they get a hint of your scent.”

For successful wildlife pictures, Vitale also recommends waking up early, before the sun rises. “Many species are most active at night and during the early hours,” she explains. “They will usually find a hiding place to sleep in during the day.”

Regardless of the circumstances, it’s crucial to remember that animals are unpredictable, so you can never be 100% sure what they might do, even if you think you’re a good judge of behavior. For this reason alone, it’s essential to keep a respectful distance when in the presence of any wild animal. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics offers this basic trick when encountering wildlife out on the trail: “Make a thumbs-up sign, extend your arm all the way in front of you, close one eye, and see if you can hide the animal with your thumb. If a portion of the animal is still visible, take a few steps back and try again. Once you can hide the entire animal, this means you are at a safe distance.”

Truthful Images of Animals in Nature vs. Set-Up Shots

When capturing still photos or moving footage in the wild, one determinant for ethical conduct is whether the images represent an unmediated occurrence in nature or if they result from human intervention. While practices such as baiting animals with food or otherwise altering an animal’s behavior may help to ensure an iconic shot, such behavior by humans can have serious consequences in changing the dynamics of the ecosystem, or even putting the life of an animal at risk.

In this classic example of a setup shot, Isak Pretorius explains, “African fish eagles often get baited for photos by throwing a dead fish from a boat. But, dead fish sink, so stuffing a piece of papyrus in the fish’s mouth helps to make it float. Yet, stuffed fish float upside down, so whenever you see a fish eagle with an upside-down fish in its talons, you can be sure it was a set-up shot.”
In this classic example of a set-up shot, Isak Pretorius explains, “African fish eagles often get baited for photos by throwing a dead fish from a boat. But, dead fish sink, so stuffing a piece of papyrus in the fish’s mouth helps to make it float. Yet, stuffed fish float upside down, so whenever you see a fish eagle with an upside-down fish in its talons, you can be sure it was a set-up shot.”Isak Pretorius

Says Vitale, “I think in our desire to make beautiful images of animals, we can forget our impact on them. While well-meaning, wildlife photographers can actually harm the creatures they are pursuing. Never clap at, chase, or bait an animal to get your photo. Not only is it unethical, it can cause physiological changes such as an increased heart rate or other types of stress that could disrupt the reproductive process. Furthermore, an animal’s behavioral response such as running or flying away can separate them from their babies, resulting in orphaned young.”

Another way to attract shy or elusive animals that has become a contentious issue in recent years is to play their call. This is an especially common practice among birders. “Without a doubt, playing a call will alter behavior to some degree,” says Pretorius. “Some calls that appear to have no positive reaction might be an intimidation call, scaring the animal away.”

As an example, he describes the call of a male lion being played among a pride, cautioning, “This could have a disastrous outcome. Cubs might run away out of fear of the ‘intruder,’ making them vulnerable to attacks from enemies like hyenas. To what extent a given call is detrimental to the species in question is unclear,” he admits, “especially if you’re not a species expert. If possible, it is best to avoid this practice altogether. But, if you must, it is certainly better to only play a call once or twice instead of repeatedly.”

Camera Considerations

As Pretorius explains, “Truly committed wildlife photographers are passionate about nature and the tranquility associated with it. Unfortunately, the success of flagship DSLR cameras hinges on the fact that they can fire off multiple shots in a second, sounding like a jackhammer at best.” This rapid-fire technique of using a DSLR in burst mode might better the odds of capturing a magnificent pose but, adds Pretorius, “the noise disturbance it creates can scare animals away, especially those that are not used to hearing it.”

Thanks to the silent operation of her Nikon mirrorless camera, Amy Vitale was able to capture this candid scene of rescued elephants at play at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in northern Kenya.
Thanks to the silent operation of her Nikon mirrorless camera, Amy Vitale was able to capture this candid scene of rescued elephants at play at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in northern Kenya. Ami Vitale

One popular alternative is to swap one’s loud and bulky DSLR for the silent operation and trimmer form factor of a mirrorless camera. Vitale recently added the mirrorless Nikon Z 7II to her gear bag, relying on this system for much of her animal work. “The Z 7’s silent mode has been a game changer when working with wildlife,” she says. “I also used this camera while working with orphaned and traumatized elephants. They were afraid of the metallic sound of the shutter on other DSLR cameras, but since I started filming and photographing with the Z system, they were no longer stressed by those sounds.”

Wolfe’s current camera of choice for wildlife work is the Canon R5 mirrorless, which also has a silent shutter mode. Instead of a flash, he recommends the use of newer model cameras for their ability to capture decent imagery at very high ISOs.

When it comes to lenses, telephotos are a must for wildlife photography. “Long lenses give a sense of intimacy with the subject while maintaining a working distance,” says Wolfe, who has gravitated to Canon’s EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM and the EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM in the past few years. “But I like to travel light,” he admits, shifting to the versatile RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM during a recent trip to Kenya. Vitale often uses a 500mm fixed lens, yet she points out, “These lenses add a lot to your load.” When weight is an issue, she chooses a NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6, or if not, she uses the 400mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4, or 600mm f/4. “If I’m hiking, I prefer smaller and lighter lenses,” she adds, “but the downside to smaller lenses is the loss of light and image quality.”

Camouflage, Blinds, Remote Cameras, and Camera Traps

When photographing wildlife, the ability to blend into one’s surroundings offers a decided advantage, and there is a wide range of photo accessories available to help. Lens skins are made in many flavors of camouflage to fit over your lens and hide its telltale black or white surface, while camouflage camera skins and leg protectors can also help disguise your other gear. If you want to blend in even further, camouflage shooting covers of various shapes and patterns provide an even wider berth. To dig deeper into this subject, check out B&H’s Camouflage Buying Guide for Wildlife Photographers.

A blind built into a rocky ledge at Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve in South Africa is a popular place to photograph the endangered Bearded Vulture.
A blind built into a rocky ledge at Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve in South Africa is a popular place to photograph the endangered Bearded Vulture.Isak Pretorius

Although traditionally associated with hunting, ground blinds are another useful method of concealment that allow image makers to observe wildlife undetected, often at close range, while waiting patiently for an optimal photograph. Another trusted method for capturing wildlife up close or in environments that would be impossible to access directly to is to incorporate remote setups such as trail/wildlife cameras or more elaborate camera traps. A camera trap consists of two basic components: a camera with a lens, and a sensor that can detect an animal’s presence and trigger your camera with an infrared beam. In addition, it’s helpful to have some sort of enclosure to protect the camera, such as a hard watertight case, a mount to hold it steady, an external battery pack for longer camera life, and a large memory card. Many photographers also add strategically placed flashes to freeze movement and add light to the scene. Once set up, a camera trap can be left for days or even weeks at a time. The longer you leave it, the greater your chances of capturing an image of an elusive animal.

In recent years, the use of flash has become a contentious issue from the standpoint of wildlife ethics. “It can definitely cause animals some sort of discomfort or risk altering their behavior,” says Pretorius. “This is why wildlife filmmakers now use infrared cameras to film at night, and safari lodges have converted to red lights at night. But, these are not feasible options for keen hobbyist wildlife photographers,” he adds. “So, my advice would be to judge an animal’s behavior when adding light to a scene. If the owl squints or look away, it’s best to switch the light off. If an elephant jumps each time your flash fires, even in the daytime, then it’s best not to use it.”

The Problem with Drones

Even more problematic from the standpoint of ethics is the use of consumer-level drones in wildlife settings. “It’s the noise that frightens the animals,” says Vitale. “Elephants and buffalo will run and even possibly cause a stampede,” adds Pretorius. “Antelope and predators also run or try to get away.”

A brown bear fishes for sockeye salmon in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. Rather than using a drone, Art Wolfe sought out a vantage point to capture the action from a high river bank. “As we know from online videos and news stories, drones are very problematic when it comes to many wildlife situations,” says Wolfe. “The noise can be terrifying.”
A brown bear fishes for sockeye salmon in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. Rather than using a drone, Art Wolfe sought out a vantage point to capture the action from a high river bank. “As we know from online videos and news stories, drones are very problematic when it comes to many wildlife situations,” says Wolfe. “The noise can be terrifying.” Art Wolfe

A 2015 scientific study to test the physiological reaction of wild black bears to the presence of a drone recorded a significant increase in the animals’ heart rate, and in certain cases interfered with the innate behavior of a mother bear and her cubs. It’s also worth noting that the use of drones is largely prohibited in sites administered by the National Park Service, at the risk of steep fines and the possibility of jail time. Even flying a drone in a seemingly unpopulated outdoor landscape setting could draw the attention—and the predatory instincts—of a passing bird, resulting in a downed and damaged machine, or worse yet, the prospect of injury to the bird.

Although unmanned aerial vehicles are valuable tools for the study of wildlife conservation and management, extreme care must be taken whenever drones are used in proximity to wild animals. A best practice involves using a spotter with binoculars to assess the area and identify any potential wildlife that might be negatively impacted by the introduction of a flying object. Close observation of area fauna should continue after the drone is launched, and the flight should be immediately discontinued if any behavioral changes are observed in surrounding animals. All told, Vitale counsels that, “Flying a drone very high and far away from animals is the only way to get your shot while not interfering with nature.”

The Matter of Zoos and Game Farms

Avocational photographers with a penchant for wildlife are often drawn to photographing animals residing in zoos, animal sanctuaries, rehabilitation centers, or game farms. In recent years, game farms have developed an especially bad reputation due to the questionable ethics behind keeping animals in captivity for the sole purpose of human enjoyment.

: Endangered Japanese Cranes appear to dance at a winter feeding center along the Kushiro Marshland in Hokkaido, Japan. Once thought to be extinct, conservation efforts have helped these spectacular birds make a dramatic recovery.
: Endangered Japanese Cranes appear to dance at a winter feeding center along the Kushiro Marshland in Hokkaido, Japan. Once thought to be extinct, conservation efforts have helped these spectacular birds make a dramatic recovery.Isak Pretorius

The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) offers links for vetting entities in what it describes as, “a poorly regulated industry, in which facilities that keep animals in deplorable conditions can identify themselves as compared to those of the highest quality.”

Before visiting a sanctuary or reserve, check the GFAS website to see if the location you’d like to visit is listed there. Those interested in visiting a zoo should check to make sure that it’s accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). According to Melissa Groo of The International League of Conservation Photographers, “the AZA is distinct from the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), a recently-formed, somewhat controversial coalition with a decidedly confusing name/acronym. Although some debate may occur about whether every AZA-accredited facility provides the quality of life to a captive animal that some of us would wish, these facilities are certainly held to high standards of care.”

Identifiable Locations and Truth in Captioning

Concern over ethics in matters related to wildlife is hardly limited to image making. Illicit activities such as animal poaching have long posed a major threat to animal well-being. In today’s highly digitized world, poaching has been aided by access to a photo’s identifying details, such as geolocation data, which can be readily pulled from publicly shared image files and used by poachers to track and kill endangered animals.

Endangered Tiger in Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India. Art Wolfe does not use the geotagging function on his camera. “It’s one thing to name a National Park where the animals are known to live, and another pinpointing an animal’s exact location,” he says.
Endangered Tiger in Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India. Art Wolfe does not use the geotagging function on his camera. “It’s one thing to name a National Park where the animals are known to live, and another pinpointing an animal’s exact location,” he says. Art Wolfe

Everyone—from the humble tourist to the seasoned pro—who captures a coveted animal subject in images and shares it in a public forum needs to be aware of the impact these actions could have. Best practices for minimizing risk range from switching off your geotagging before a shoot to scrubbing location details off existing photos to not disclosing identifying information about when, where, and at what time a given photo was made when writing a caption.

While being vague about specific location details—or not publishing such images altogether—is an encouraged practice for situations involving endangered animals or otherwise sensitive scenes, truth and accuracy in captioning wildlife photos is otherwise more critical today than ever. This is particularly relevant when submitting photos for publication or entering images in competitions. Indeed, failure to truthfully identify an image that is set up or enhanced in post can lead to disqualification, or even worse, do harm to a photographer’s future credibility within the photographic community.

In 2017, NANPA published a Truth in Captioning document as a guide for photographers to use in creating captions that are both accurate and thorough. In addition to the basic attributes of what, when, where, and how, commonly used to describe conditions under which a photo is made, NANPA’s document references the terms Wild, Captive, Controlled, Baited, or Lured to distinguish naturally recorded scenes from those involving varying degrees of human intervention. Additionally, the terms As Shot, Cleanup, Manipulated, Composite, Multiple Exposures, and Effects are suggested to clarify any enhancements made to an image in post.

Careful Planning to Ensure Ethical Conduct

According to the Royal Photographic Society’s Nature Photographers’ Code of Practice, “There is one hard and fast rule, whose spirit must be observed at all times. The welfare of the subject is more important than the photograph.” This guiding principal is the cornerstone of wildlife photography ethics.

Art Wolfe has a history with this brown bear, which he photographed leaping after salmon in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. “When you visit a location as often as I have you begin to recognize the ‘locals,’” he says. “She’s a young female I’ve photographed in years’ past, catching fish like none other. I knew exactly what she would do and focused on her. As the male bears splashed and thrashed at fish, she was like an efficient machine.”
Art Wolfe has a history with this brown bear, which he photographed leaping after salmon in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. “When you visit a location as often as I have you begin to recognize the ‘locals,’” he says. “She’s a young female I’ve photographed in years’ past, catching fish like none other. I knew exactly what she would do and focused on her. As the male bears splashed and thrashed at fish, she was like an efficient machine.”Art Wolfe

When asked for his insights, Wolfe provided a succinct, yet detailed, overview of his process—from initial planning of a wildlife shoot to his arrival in the field—presented below as a final pearl of wisdom. While the complexity of his approach far exceeds what might be expected of a beginning wildlife photographer or hobbyist, Wolfe’s procedures constitute the essential building blocks of preparedness that everyone with a camera should keep in mind to ensure ethical practices during any interaction with inhabitants of the animal world.

“I first try to anticipate the photographs I hope to take, even sketching out some ideas,” says Wolfe. “I then get organized by pulling out the proper equipment. I begin my research on the Web and through other researchers, friends, and travel professionals. My staff and I research the best time of year to travel to a specific destination, weather, terrain, wildlife habitat, accommodations, contact information, and travel restrictions. Any special permits or visas are researched beforehand. On some trips, I rely on guides or a guide service. I also acquire the necessary maps and books prior to my travel for inspiration. Then we plan all the connections, from the massive jetliner, to the smaller prop plane, to the boat, and finally, to the trail leading into the place I have been thinking about for the previous months. Over many years, I have learned to avoid putting myself or my subjects at risk by carefully observing the animals’ reactions to my presence.”

For more on photographing animals in the wild, including plenty of inspirational articles, product guides, and helpful tips, visit the B&H Birding and Wildlife Photography page.

What are your thoughts about ethics in wildlife photography? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

20 Comments

I was quite upset to find B&H explora containing recommendations to use unethical baiting practices and I was one of several who urged them to take those recommendations down and provide resources on ethical wildlife photography instead. I happened to get curious today and look to see what happened. I found this. And well done, B&H! I hope people will find this article and learn from it!

I should add that I focus on wildlife, conservation, and general nature photography so this topic is very near and dear to me. I’m very thankful that B&H is using its big voice among budding photographers to promote doing it the right way. 

Hi Angela, thanks for your comment about my Ethics of Wildlife Photography article. We're very glad to hear that you approve of this coverage, however I should mention this story was already in progress when the Intro to Wildlife Photography piece was published. Never the less, we truly value your input and are always interested to get our readers' thoughts on the articles and other types of content they'd like to see published on the blog. We'd also like to encourage you to share any content you feel will be beneficial to others with your social networks. Thanks again for writing in and for reading Explora!

Respectfully, I find the idea that photographers are responsible for the Endangered Species Act to be quite a stretch. With all the damage done to wildlife by climate change, urban development and industrial pollution, it seems strange to single out photographers like this. Make no mistake, I am absolutely not trying to justify bad behavior by photographers in the wild - I agree 100 percent that we should always be conscious of our actions while photographing in the field and their potential impact on wildlife, and I appreciate this thorough and useful guide on the subject. However, it also bears mention that photographers can be among the best allies for the preservation of wild landscapes and animals, as our images capture incredible moments that most would never otherwise see and places that most would never otherwise visit. Yes, wildlife photography can be a double-edged sword, but I believe most professional photographers these days are trying to do the right thing. 

My interpretation of "Without Kodak there'd be no Endangered Species Act" was that without the power of photography, there would be little understanding of what the natural world is being subjected to. Photography has provided an unparalleled opportunity to show people how beautiful nature is while at the same time how it is being threatened by development, hunting environmental degradation. Without Kodak, there would be a huge void of understanding of how the natural world functions.  

Unfortunately, the fact remains that there are some photographers that do not care about their subjects. They have no problem putting the photograph ahead of the subject. 

Yeah, that was the way I initially interpreted it as well, it's just the context it was presented in at the beginning of this article seemed to make it appear a critical rather than supportive view of wildlife photography.

Thanks very much for your thoughtful comment, John. Your sentiments are exactly why I mentioned the controversial nature of this quote. I wholeheartedly agree that photographers can be among the best advocates for animals and the preservation of the natural world, which is why I asked several leading wildlife and nature photographers to provide their insights and advice on this subject. It's great to hear that you found this to be a thorough and useful guide. Thanks again for writing in to share your views, as well as for reading the Explora blog!

Thanks for weighing in on this quote, Ernie. The power of photography has indeed been central to revealing both the splendors of and threats to the natural world. But as you also note, “There are some photographers that do not care about their subjects.” I would actually suggest recasting that sentence by swapping out the word photographers for “people with cameras.” In many cases it is the careless, thoughtless and/or risky behaviors of the casual shutterbug that make the need for articles about photography ethics so essential to publish. Thanks again for posting a comment, and for reading the Explora blog.

Such an important article. Thank you Jill for the bringing this together with the comments from Art Wolfe and Ami Vitale.

Hi Elane, thanks so much for your kind comment about the importance of this article. It was certainly an honor to write it. I've followed the work of Ami Vitale and Art Wolfe for many years and was thrilled when they agreed to share their insights about this important topic. Thanks again for letting us know your thoughts about what we publish, as well as for reading the Explora blog!

Did anyone else think the colorful European Roller was standing on top of a turtle?  Even when I put on my glasses and looked again I thought "well, maybe..."

I can see where you got that impression about the European Roller photo Frank, but what you thought to be a turtle is actually the worn surface from a stub of gnarled wood. The wonders of mother nature never cease to amaze us! Thanks so much for writing in, and for reading the Explora blog. 

I wish the general public would read and heed this article. Seen tourists interact poorly with nature (animals & plants) too many times.  Another tip when stalking critters is hide your eyes. Animals key on eyes and will spook them. A visor cap can help, but a camera to your face works well. Camera to face is how I dealt with a small herd of caribou coming down a river bench. They smelled me a couple hundred meters away and backtracked. After a minute of hesitation they proceeded my way and casually walked past me within 6 meters. Since caribou make clicking noises when walking (tendon snaps over a bone in their legs), the click of my DSLR wasn't out of the ordinary (part of knowing your quarry).

Hi Mark, I'm glad you found this article to be valuable, and thanks for sharing the tip about hiding your eyes to avoid spooking wildlife. It sounds like you must have gotten some great images of that caribou herd! While my own experience in photographing animals is more geared to domesticated species, one interesting observation I've made when making pictures with a Rolleiflex is that my animal subjects are drawn by the fact that I'm looking down into the viewfinder rather than directly out at them. With this in mind, adding a right angle viewfinder to a 35mm camera might be another viable method for avoiding direct eye contact when photographing in the wild. Best of luck with your photography and thanks for reading Explora!

This was an excellent article.  I focus on wildlife & sports photography.  About 6 years ago, a friend & I went out to shoot pictures of Snowy Owls. Before heading out, we were reminded to not spook them as the location was a resting place on their migration so they could eat and rest up.  My friend & I had long telephoto lenses and we had spent 45 minutes slowly moving towards a Snowy Owl resting on a log.  Then all of a sudden a woman with a huge umbrella (it was rainy) walked up towards the log with her cell phone to take a picture.  Of course the Snowy Owl flew away, and she got mad at the owl. My friend & I both were very respectful and moved so quietly and slowly that I almost stepped on a Snowy Owl laying quietly on the ground.  We got some decent pictures that day, but our favorite memory was just being able to see them.  Their yellow eyes are striking.

Great to know that you enjoyed this article Amy, and thanks for the story about your Snowy Owl shoot. It's nice to hear about the care you took when negotiating the owls' resting spot, especially given your encounter with the tiny creature resting on the ground. While photographs are often an important vehicle for memory, there is also much to be said for prioritizing careful observation and lived experience over picture making in these kinds of circumstances. Here's wishing you many more such memorable encounters in the future, both photographic and in your mind's eye, and thanks for sharing your experiences with Explora!

What a great article. Absolutely true. You are only an observer and need to remove your self as much as possible as not to interfere with the wildlife. In fact your very presence changes the dynamics. Having seen a Grizzly bear and her cubs many years ago and staying far far away, watching with binoculars. Seeing Black Bear, Moose, Elk, and more without disturbing them was amazing. Please read this article and learn as much as you can before photographing wildlife. There is more than that perfect head shot to see. 

Thanks for the insightful comment, Emery. Your point about being just an observer is very apt. In the presence of wildlife, it makes sense to tread lightly by employing tools such as binoculars first, and only shifting to a camera and lens after careful study of the conditions, and an awareness of the potential consequences of your actions. Here's hoping you continue to enjoy the majesty of nature, and thanks for reading the Explora blog! 

Thank you so much for this great article.  Too many images nowadays are taken at the disadvantage of the animal subject, especially in the wild.  Many famous magazine images were taken at the expense of the animal.  "Getting the shot" takes a lot of self control, to pass on the image, It may harm the animal through anxiety by causing them to alter their behavior because of your presence.   Maybe it might be better not to try to get the image.  It takes a lot of willpower and caring to put an ego aside for the good of the animal.  As most of us know, the first time an animal in the wild encounters a human, it potentially alters his behavior forever.  I feel that imaging captive animals living in zoos and sanctuaries (who are used to humans) can be great opportunities to get that picture which may tell the same story without endangering the lives of wildlife through altered behaviors from contact with humans.  I hope I don't offend the photographers who do try to do the right thing.  Maybe you miss that "great shot" because you put the animal's welfare first.  You are truly the professionals (paid or non paid) that many of us look up to.  This article showed the truly great caring artists.  It makes me feel better to know you are out there.

Hi Jim, thanks for writing in, and for your kind words about this article. Your point about the potential for a wild animal’s behavior to be altered forever upon its first encounter with a human is an important one. With fewer and fewer truly "wild" places left on this planet, humans need to consider the impact of their presence first, and to take accountability for their every action whenever any type of animal (both wild and domesticated, free-roaming and in varied states of captivity) is involved. There are times when a memory etched in the minds-eye is the better course than scrambling to try and capture a Kodak moment. Thanks again for your thoughtful comments, as well as for reading Explora!

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