Our Impact On Our Subjects

Discussion in 'Nature' started by sparky, Sep 9, 1998.

  1. After reading the question and some of the responses on baiting animals I started to wonder just how much we as photographers impact our subjects. How many times do we, in our eagerness to get the image, actually harm our subjects or the natural environment of the subject. I know that I have seen times where people with cameras,not necessarily photographers, drive waterfowl off of nests for hours at a time trying to get that one perfect image, thus effectivly killing the eggs. I have while, set up to photograph wildlife, noticed changes in feeding patterns in the subjects. While I don't think that any of us intentionally would cause major impact on our subjects, just how much impact do we cause unintentionally because we are trying to get that once in a life time image.
  2. To me this one is simple: Never put the importance of the image above the well being of the subject. We, as nature photographers, have an obligation to learn as much about our subjects as is required to ensure the safety of our subjects (and ourselves). Of course, I have been castigated for expressing this opinion before. It appears that there are many out there that dont think a dead duck egg or two will make much difference. These are the same folks that believe that shooting a nursing mother raccoon and leaving her cubs to die is okay because she over turned their garbage can the night before. There is no possible way they would ever believe that they might be at fault for not securing their garbage properly in an area inhabited by raccoons. The best you can do is learn enough about your subject before you go out to photograph it. Observe carefully the reaction to your presence and learn to recognize the signs of stress. When you see the subject is stressed, back off. Remember what you did, or how close you were before the stress signs became obvious and try to avoid the situation in the future. You will never correct the behavior of others unless they want to b e corrected. If they do, theyll ask for advice or research the proper thing to do themselves. But there will always be those that would rather spend $300 on a gun and kill an innocent animal than lock up their trash (or chase a bird off its nest, or bait a fox, etc..)
  3. I am in agreement with Bill, the image is never as important as the welfare of the subject (that includes people, animals, cultures, or wilderness areas) I feel it is the photographers obligation to stop before he/she reaches the line where your subject is put at risk. This< I admit requires photographers to research the subject fully, and maybe decide that any intrusion is unacceptable. Like the thousands of westerners that go to Tibet each year to capture the unique Tibetan culture on film help to destroy that culture by financing the Chinese occupation and genocide, the photographer who desires to show the world the last tigers, snow leopards, etc. may put at risk one of the individuals needed to insure that species survival. There are places we should not go, there are animals that need freedom with no interaction or contact. Photographers, at one time were in the vanguard of those concerned with showing the atrocities(political & environmental) perpetrated against the defenseless. No longer is this the case, photographers now lead the way to the Last Refuges (see Eugen Schumacher's book)of the worlds endangered species (and cultures) If you truly love something, then leave it exist in peace. As for the animals that are numerous, visit them with great caution, for their survival depends on our kindness and concern. Adventure travel and Eco-tourism destroy the very things they are supposed to venerate. Stay home, photograph what lives where you live, document the culture you are a part of. As to nature photography, photograph animals that are habituated to humans (a GOOD photograph relies on the skill of the photographer, more than on how exotic the subject) I know it is heresy in this forum, but photograph animals in zoos, document the culture of your neck of the woods...leave wilderness to the wild things...leave exotic cultures to those whose cultures they are....If you disagree, read "Seven years in Tibet" and then read anything written about Tibet today. Read Eugen Schumachers, "Last Paradises" and then read anything about those same areas today....each person who does not go, helps just a little.
  4. I understand and agree with the sentiments put forth in favor of preserving natural lands, creatures, peoples, etc., but I do think the pendulum has recently swung a bit too far in that direction regarding discussions of photography and recreation in the outdoors. It used to be that leveling the side of a mountain to build a new hotel was quite acceptable in the Western World. Now we've arrived at the point where some question even the gathering of photographs of the elements of the natural world that we enjoy. I agree that crowds funneled to the wrong places can cause great localized damage, but it's still true that the majority of open land in North America is mostly empty, and a few people hiking through it doesn't do inordinate harm in my view, certainly nothing more than the American Indian did in their day. As far as stressing animals by observing them, the fact is that animals deal with REAL stress daily as part of their lives. The fight for survival, remember? As was discussed in the question regarding nature film makers not helping their subjects when in distress, I feel it's not scientific to imagine ourselves as the caretakers of the daily mental or physical health of all the world's creatures. But, I do think a lot of well-meaning people can easily fall into that trap. It's perfectly "natural," whatever that word means, for us to be out in the wilderness (especially since we've already made lots of room by clearing out most of the large mammals that were there in previous centuries), and while there it is certainly not harmful to take pictures while following the reasonably sound guidlines for low-impact hiking and camping, even if our targets should, horror of horrors, take notice of our presence.
  5. Rob, I do not disagree with what you have to say, low impact visitations to natural areas (for photography, relaxation, spiritual healing, etc.)need not be detrimental to the area or its residents. The point I was trying to make was that when you choose to go to the same area as thousands of other visitors then problems do arise. If you choose to go the Big Bend or Guadalupe Mtns NP's rather than Yellowstone..that is a step in the right direction. Some areas become "in" with photographers (and others) while other areas remain almost deserted. If each of us would behave responsibly and with care for the environment, then our impact would be very small. However when scores of thousands descend on Yellowstone, Denali, and Yosemite (or for that matter Tibet) then we do have great impact...and that impact is negative. I am not a "Tree Hugger" I am just a realist. Just as the visitation to Tibet finances the Chinese occupation & genocide (There was no Holiday Inn when Heinrich was there) the degradation of Yellowstone and Yosemite is well documented. I don't believe that we are the "Keepers" of nature, I just share the view of the first Americans that you should do as little harm as possible. When it comes to endangered animals however, I believe that stress is not acceptable, in small populations (Florida Panther, Snow Leopard, Tiger, etc.) the health of each individual impacts the species chances for survival...in this instance, I do believe that those who claim to love nature are responsible for setting the example...leave these cratures and their dwindling environment strictly alone, contibute funds toward those goals (we can all afford that right? Photography is not a cheap hobby/occupation...if we can afford the gear, travel, etc. we can afford a little something to ensure that the natural world we love may survive) These are serious issues..if you doubt it read David Quammen's "Song of the Dodo" to identify those who feel an obligation to prevent further loss as "trapped" in a new age farce is to ignore the very real danger that future generations will have no window to the natural world (except maybe the photographs we take of it's demise) Good Luck and good shooting to all.
  6. Just a point that I think that I should make, I am not an enviromental extremist. I believe that lands and wildlife can be managed for multiple use without causing a major impact. But I am disturbed by people using photography as an excuse to cause more impact than is necessary without any concern for the subjects that we are trying to photograph. I am aware that no matter how careful we are and how much preperation we make we will always have a small impact. But there are people out there who think that a camera is an excuse to do anything that they want and they think that they are doing no harm to anything since they are only taking a photograph and not killing anything. I believe that this is a problem that we all must deal with and address.
  7. If an individual animal is a member of a small population I would worry about "stressing" it. Otherwise I would understand that that "stress" is an animal's natural response to something unfamiliar in its environment. However, it is essential that we take pains not to harrass or feed a subject. Harrassing them will prevent them from doing what they need to, like caring for eggs or young, and feeding them -- well that was well covered in "baiting animals." Its a big Bad.


    To get a shot in as non-obtrusive a fashion as possible should be a universal goal. This means that the wildlife photographer should rely on tracking skills to enable them to photograph the animal going about its daily business.

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