Titles for Nature Shots

Discussion in 'Nature' started by mickl, Aug 9, 2004.

  1. I would be interested in your views on the following argument.

    When a nature photographer takes a photograph (and I'm thinking
    especially about flora and fauna rather than landscape) the primary
    purpose is to show some aspect of the subject - some detail or form.
    The primary purpose of a NATURE photographer is not to create
    a 'piece of art' (although a pictorial overlay often adds value!).

    When that photographer shows his/her work, for example on this site,
    the purpose is (or should be) to inform or demonstrate some
    interesting feature of either the subject or the technique.

    If the former then it follows that the viewer must, repeat must, be
    made aware of the species that is being shown. From that the
    conclusion must be that the photograph title must include the name of
    the species. This is especially true of postings on the internet
    where the viewer may not be familiar with the species because they
    may be on a different continent.

    Am I alone in being driven to distraction by clicking on (sometimes
    very fine) nature photos and finding a meaningless 'twee' title that
    prevents me truly following up the special characteristics of the

    What's your verdict?
  2. Douglas,
    I think you should be careful when using such strong language in such a loosely defined practice as photography. Not all people make images with the same goals and purpose as you might.
    Yes, if those images are to be used to identify a certain creature or serve as visual evidence of its existence at a given place or time then I would agree one should provide accurate information. This, however, is not the only reason people photograph animals.
    If I photograph a bison caught in a snow storm, I don't necessarily care if people are searching for bison images. I want to show the hardship and perseverence and any number of other meanings, more symbolic and, dare I say, artistic than just the name, species, location etc. Those are not important at all to this particular image.

    Scenic Wild Photography
  3. Guy,
    I take your point - to some extent. However to continue with your Bison analogy wouldn't it be important for folk to know that it was a bison and not a polar bear? The reason of course is that one may think that the polar bear in the snowstorm might be better equipped and therefore not demonstrating the 'qualities' that you may have mentioned in your title. (I'm struggling here because I don't know much about bison!!).

    Apologies if you thought that the language was too strong - the last thing on my mind was to cause any offence. I also admit to being extremely (and incorrectly) simplistic but I didn't want to spend all night composing a post that covered all of the possible nuances.

    Thanks for your input.
  4. The primary purpose of a NATURE photographer is not to create a 'piece of art'
    I'm not so sure that's true. I think a lot of Nature Photographers ARE in fact out to create art. Some want to sell it, some want to hang it on their walls. It wouldn't much matter to them if the subject is a coyote, a bison or an eagle, as long as it looks nice, the lighting is good and the composition is aesthetically pleasing.
    If you're shooting for fieldguides and textbooks, then the exact nature of the subject is very important, but otherwise I'm not so sure it's all that important to a lot of photographers.
    That doesn't mean they should title their shot of a 13-lined ground squirrel "Chipmunk" of course - and I've seen that happen!
  5. Actually bison are very well equipped to tackle severe winter weather. It's amazing to see them almost buried in snow.
    By "strong" I meant definitive, not offensive. There was certainly nothing offensive about your post. I just feel that anything that may be practiced as art (though not necessarily) should not be described in terms like "must". Art is what the artist wishes it to be.
    Anyway, to your point - I actually do have such an image as I described and I did include "bison" in the title, though some may prefer to call it a buffalo or be interested in its latin name or history or location. To me those are not pertinent to the use I intended for my image. If someone mistakes it for a polar bear, so be it. If however they miss the feeling of a lonesome being in a cold and desolate winter scene, then I would be worried.

    Scenic Wild Photography
  6. mbb


    Yes and no. Yes, for me it is important to know the species on my photos as well as on others un manipulated nature shots. Here, no. Why? When I started to post photos here few years ago I was giving all the info how the photo was taken and I tried to include the names of the subjects including latin names. Soon I found out nobody gives a rat ... so I stoped loosing my time. If somebody wants to know will email me, I am sure, or post the question. And I will unswer with pleasure. Here people put more attention to aesthetic value of the images, often more manipulated are better (I am not against manipulation as long this info is stated). As far as originality most people here have no background to judge that in nature shots and there is nothing wrong with this. I can not tell too much how original is for an example a fashion shot.

    In science when you write an article you sign it with your real name and give your real address to contact. Here many are hiding behind fake names and often fake email. That said we have to accept the community 'as is' and do our own work. Best regards, Mark
  7. Regarding the 'art' aspect, some nature photography is intended mainly for aesthetic results while some is more documentary. Of course even for a documentary shot the photographer is going to tend to strive for as much artistic quality as the situation will allow. But, if the heron is eating a crawdad and the photographers wishes to capture the event, then they have precious little time to pick and choose the composition.

    Titles can vary depending on how 'obvious' the identity of the subject is. To take the polar bear example, one can assume that most people know a picture of one when they see it. When it comes to the photo of Dendrobatis granuliferus (poison arrow frog species), then one can choose anywhere from "Poison Arrow Frog" to "Green and Black Poison Arrow Frog", etc. I have occassionally intentionally left off the ID of an internet photo subject.
  8. I believe that there are more than just a few variables involved in this discussion. For one,
    of course, there is the purpose of the picture. Among other purposes, a picture might be
    taken to demonstrate a certain feature, to identify the species, to produce art, to create an
    enticing image, etc.), Secondly, the kind of photographer one is comes to bear: an amteur
    who simply happens upon a beautiful flower, a pro working to catalogue, an artist who
    wants to use a particular shot to incorporate, manipulate, or otherwise use in an art
    project (not to say that anyone else is not an artist), etc. Thirdly, what kind of audience
    gets to see the pics (again, there are clearly many kinds of different audiences with
    different comprehension levels, interest levels, insights, or lack thereof. I would think
    there are other factors that come to bear as well.

    In other words, I don't think anyone can make a blanket statement as to what information
    "must" be used in the title of a picture. To me, it may just be a bison in the snow, to
    someone else, "Solitude" could be much more informative and meaningful.
  9. I too believe that it depends upon a number of variables. Mostly I'd say it
    makes no difference what you title the shot most people will get it wrong

    I have a shot entitled Caribou Crossing. It is a photograph of caribou in the
    midst of a water crossing. The title is always right beside the photo when I
    have a show. 5% of the people that see it call them Caribou. 75% of the
    people who see it call them Moose, and the other 20% think they are elk.

    I did have one that tickled my funny-bone...they thought it was a picture of
    drowning buffalo.

    So, from my experience...it makes absolutely no difference what the title is.

  10. Thanks for all your answers. It looks as if I'm in a minority so I'd better grin and bear it.

    One of the reasons I get irritated is that my particular interest is Odonata (Dragon and Damselflies). Although I'm familiar with many, but not all, of the species found in the UK I'm very unfamiliar with those hundreds of species found elsewhere in the world.

    Sometimes on this site one sees very excellent detailed photos of say the head. As you might expect each species has slight differences in the head. When there is no identification that makes the picture completely worthless to someone with a 'scientific' interest.

    Guy - I looked at your site and had to smile when I saw that you had in fact inlcuded the word Bison in your title. I enjoyed your photos by the way.

  11. I think there is another aspect to this. When i am out photographing an animal especially in a public park, so many people stop to look or ask what the animal is. Their guesses can be quite comic e.g i was photographing a black crowned night heron and was asked twice if i had called the zoo about the escaped penguin! The fact is people are curious about nature and its human nature to want to put a label on things. This applied to photos of nature as well. Personally i think the aesthetics and mood are conveyed by the picture itself though i will admit the title can guide you in some cases. Though it should never be mandated, adding the common name (where known) to the technical information box would be a courtesy to those with the frequent inclination to categorize. I count myself among those though being a zoologist, this is probably natural (bad pun intended). None of this should ever distract or detract from the photo itself.
  12. mbb


    A few more $02. As a former entomologist the last thing I will want to is an amateur collector or photographer to post the names. It can be very misleading for many people looking at the photo. Many people act as they know insects very well. Well, I can guarantee that only expert can know one or a few groups very well. NOBODY knows all insects' names. As an example I was working on ladybugs. Not only this 'very small' family has few thousands species but many of them you can tell a name only after close examination of male genitalia under the microscope and you have to know the differences and/or have a photo or drawing to compare. Some females you can not identify. For me putting names of insect under photo (except maybe some large well known species or name of the genus) is in most cases useless and I personally will not even look at that if it is not coming from the recognized expert in this group. Best regards, Mark
  13. Mark,
    I completely agree with you. No scientific or pseudo scientific attempt at taxonomy belongs here for the reasons you stated. But i think from your post you could agree to someone labelling a photo as a damselfly or a stonefly or red tailed hawk. Having admired such a photo (or even hated the photo), this can motivate someone to read up on this animal and perhaps even go take their own photos. One exercise i have done with classes is to have them pick a photo of an animal and then find out as much as they can on it, take their own photos where possible and report back. Its amazing the enthusiasm this generates and perhaps sets a few on their way to become starving zoologists/entomologists
  14. mbb


    Barry anything what helps one to become a zoologist/entomologist or nature photographer is well worth the effort :). Best regards, Mark
  15. <<When a nature photographer takes a photograph (and I'm thinking especially about flora and fauna rather than landscape) the primary purpose is to show some aspect of the subject - some detail or form. The primary purpose of a NATURE photographer is not to create a 'piece of art' >>

    Huh? If I'm not trying to create photos that express a feeling (my definition of "art",) why would I take the shot? I often take photos of critters and so on that are very deliberate abstracts or even silhouettes. Don't care what your approach is, but mine is definitely to create something artistic. I'm not a photo journalist. I do love clever titles when appropriate.

    Kent in SD
  16. Some interesting comments coming through. It seems to me that there is a fundamental difference between the definition of a Nature Photograph in the US and the UK.

    In fact in the UK there, most often, is no class called 'Nature' (I'm referring to exhibitions etc) but there ususally is one called 'Natural History'. What that means is that landscapes , for example, would usually not fall into the Natural History category unless there was something of geological interest in the shot. In particular the 'artistic silhouette' referred to by Kent almost certainly would not be accepted in the category (there are exceptions that would prove me wrong but, again, if I go into all the byways this will get much too long). That's not to say Kent's pictures are wrong - of course they are not - but they are taken for a different purpose from the ones I take. Mine are to inform folk of the detail, structure, beauty and biology of the subject and hopefully to add some crumb of knowledge to the sum total known about the species. That's why you would take a photo without trying to add artistic endeavour.

    I also agree, to a limited extent, with Mark. But to take it to the extreme by saying an amateur should not attempt an identification seems much too strong to me (although, as was pointed out, I was guilty of it in my first post!). Again in the UK a decent Natural History photographer would be well aware of the issues that Mark points out and would label a picture for example Zygoptera sp. rather than guess at an ID. (For those not familiar Zygoptera sp. would roughly translate as 'some sort of damselfly')

    The thing that drives me crazy is, to use my previous example, to see a very fine picture of, say, a dragonfly head with the title 'smile please'. There's no 'art' or 'emotion' in the picture. It's a demonstration of very considerable photographic skill (maybe that's another reason for taking it)but without some sort of ID it has no value whatever to a naturalist.

  17. It is apparent that among us nature and wildlife photographers, there are various reasons that we do what we do. Some hope to inform and enlighten others on their subject, while the primary goal of others is primarily or even purely aesthetic. I think all of the purposes are equally noble ones. Personally, I see myself as both an artist and one who is passionate about nature and wildlife. When I attended college, I started out as a biology major and then changed my major to art. I got certified in education and taught art in the public school system. I also aquired a degree in radiologic technology and worked as X-ray technologist. All this time I was painting and shooting photographs. In my wildlife photographs, I tried to capture some kind of defining behavioral aspect of the subject, but also produce an image of exceptional aesthetic merit. I think you can combine these two aspects and produce a work of art that will also be informative. Today, I am a full time fine art photographer. I shoot subjects that are close to my heart, while also attempting to create a work of art. Sometimes I have an agenda, such as helping to save an endangered species. Other times, my only reason to shoot an image, might be to produce a well balanced abstract composition of complimentary pastel colors, for example. I believe that one reason is as valid as the next. When I exhibit my work, I often include an information label, sometimes telling facts about the subject and sometimes explaining my aesthetic intent. In that way, I'm able to educate on both the biological side and the aesthetic side. At the shows, the vast majority of people who purchase my large prints, acquire them primarily for their aesthetic content.
  18. mbb


    In general I believe any aspect of nature photography is important; art, documentary, scientific, educational etc. There is a place for every body to feel the niche. Another example; I prize ZOO photos almost equal to wildlife in aesthetic with much more scientific or documentary value in wildlife one. Yes Douglas, placing general name or sp. by advanced amateur is fine but again we have to remember that mistake can be easy done. It gives another people general direction to help continue search for more info and this is fine. On another hand expert usually can tell the species from very fine un manipulated photograph. Again I am with you on this subject but most people, especially on forum like this one look for an art not for scientific document. We have to accept that only a few people have very deep interest in taxonomy. George point of view fits very well to accommodate majority of the audience. Best regards, Mark
  19. I agree with you to a point. As a naturalist, I too like to see accurate captions (species name, location etc) whenever I can. It is especially important in scientific and natural history publications. But elsewhere, so what. Would be nice to have them, but ultimately for me, it is the content of the image that matters most.

    If people did not show images that they could not accurately caption, then I think we would not see many, many fine nature images.

    I disagree with you saying:

    The primary purpose of a NATURE photographer is not to create a 'piece of art'

    That is *MY* primary purpose sometimes. I only shoot nature and nature related subjects.

    Art is in the eye of the beholder and the person who created it. An image may not be art to you, but it may well be to someone else.

    And finally, not every viewer of nature images, is going to be a naturalist. Would the latin name of a dragonfly, or whatever, really make any difference to the majority of viewers?

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