Ethics in Wildlife Photography

landscape photography by Paul Ottaviano
Huntington Beach, CA

What is the role of the photographer? 

 “Finding the Right Track -Now, more than ever, we need an open discussion on the ethics of wildlife photography”, by Melissa Groo is a thought-provoking column in Outdoor Photographer magazine.

I’m not a nature or wildlife photographer, sans the occasional landscape or stumbling upon wildlife. I respect the photographers who are really good at it. But Groo’s column is certainly food-for-thought.

And not just for wildlife photography, but ethics across-the-board.  It’s a discussion photographers must have – amateur and pro – as photography saturates globally.

Case-in-point…

I see photographs of African villagers with lip plates and face paint, made to look as real documentary photos. I know the “pro” photographer likely tipped villagers for it, perhaps just as tourists did, because lip plates are not very common anymore.

It teaches villagers to be dependent on naive or cynical photographer tips. They also portray a stereotype, so European or American tourists can get a few likes on Instagram or wherever. Perhaps the so-called pro can make a stock photo or “editorial” sale. It’s inauthentic and lazy photography.

Randy Olson, a National Geographic photographer, touched on this at his Portland seminar two years ago. He was critical, and of sound logic. I agreed with him at the time, and Groo’s column is a reminder of that lesson.

How far are we willing to go? How much impact – culturally, economically, and environmentally – are we willing to have, just to get a picture? Groo challenges photographers to think about the broader effects of their actions.