Are Photographers taking it too far??

With social media becoming part of our daily lives and with Wildlife images flooding the social scene, are photographers putting themselves under pressure to stand out from the crowd and in turn impacting wildlife in a negative way?

Now this might be a very controversial topic, but here are a few issues that I have noticed on social media and some thoughts…

Low Angle Images

There is no doubt that low angles make for some very interesting and captivating images.  The issue comes in when it starts affecting the animal’s behaviour.  There are a few methods being used to create low angle images:  Something to bare in mind is that the first two examples are done with wide angle lenses, whilst the third method is done with a telephoto lens.

1.  BeetleCams 

One of the most frequently used methods and many examples are showcased on social media.  These remote controlled devices are driven within close proximity of wildlife, often forcing a reaction from the animal.  I will gladly admit that I am not aware of authorisation given by wildlife authorities for the use of these devices, but from the animals reaction, is this ethical?  Are the images coming from these beetlecams impressive?  Absolutely!!  Does it have a negative impact on the animals behaviour?  In my opinion, it does!

2.  Tripods out of vehicles

Something that has crept into the industry and starting to appear more and more especially in East Africa.  From the onset it most likely has less of a negative impact than BeetleCams, but purely from the reaction one gets from the wildlife, I still feel this has a very negative impact on the animals behaviour.  What Photographers would do is turn the camera upside down and then lower it next to the vehicle whilst mounted on the monopod/tripod.  Again are the images captivating?  Absolutely!!  Is it ethical?  Does it have a negative impact on the animals behaviour?  I believe it does…

3.  Lying next to the vehicle

Another method of getting low angle images, and one which can be done ethically.  Now before I contradict myself, it is vital to remember that some parks lends itself to this more than others.  Places where animals are accustomed to people on foot such as Mana Pools for example, you will get less of a reaction from wildlife.  It is an extremely fine line on what is right and what is wrong, but in small groups of 1 or 2 people it can be done without having a negative impact on the animals.  It is important to remember that if you decide to get out of the vehicle, that you cannot do that within the same close proximity as if you were in the vehicle.  By moving the vehicle further away, it might be less intrusive on the animal.  The challenging thing here is that there are no guidelines as to what distance a particular animal might be comfortable with.  For some animals it might be 2o metres, for others it might be 80 metres.

Photographing Wildlife at night

This is something that has appeared a lot on various social media platforms with the use of the flashes and spotlights the most obvious examples.

1.  Flashes

There will be a million different opinions around this, many of whom will argue that there is no compelling evidence that this has a negative affect on the animals when using flashes.  From personal experience and this is purely just my opinion, I don’t feel this should be allowed, and here is my reason.

Nocturnal animals tend to have larger eyes as well as larger pupils that can open widely in low light.  Having a larger eye and larger pupil allows a nocturnal animal to receive more incoming light due to the larger surface area exposed.

Due to this increased sensitivity the animal needs to protect its eyes from the high intensity light that it could possibly experience in the day. The way that nocturnal or diurnal mammals accommodate such a wide range of light intensities is through having a slit pupil. Slit pupils let in less light. Light can further be reduced by having a vertical slit and partially closing the eyelids.

NOW imagine a Leopard is walking at night, its pupils are widely opened up to allow in as much light as possible, then all of a sudden this bright flash goes off.  Now if one flash doesn’t have an impact on the animal, what about a vehicle with 2,3,4 even up to 6 people firing off with flashes?  Doesn’t that have an impact on the animal?  I will let you decide if that is ethical and if it has a negative impact on the animal or not…

2.  Spotlights

As mentioned above regarding the larger pupils of nocturnal animals, it makes sense that are more even light will have a little less of an impact.  By not shining the spotlight right in the animals face and instead bouncing it off the ground, allowing for the light to reflect onto the animals body should technically have a minimal impact.  There might be time when a Leopard of Lion tilts their head back to yawn with their eyes closed that the spotlight can be lifted a little bit, but discretion needs to be used here.

From previous experiences I have found that the more interesting images at night come in the form of backlit images.  This is done by the use of another vehicle’s spotlight shining from behind the subject, basically having the subject between the two vehicles at a comfortable distance apart.  The easiest way is when the subject is stationary as positioning the vehicles become a bit easier.  It is also important to remember that in this particular case you only have one spotlight shining at a time to limit the amount of light, both for the animal well being and from a photographic point of view.

There will also be a grey line of what is ethical and what isn’t but a few points to keep in mind when photographing wildlife at night.

  • Using spotlights on diurnal animals is a NO GO.
  • Using spotlights or flashes or any lights for that matter when a predator is hunting at night is a NO GO.
  • Shining a spotlight or using flashes when a predator is moving within a few meters towards you is a NO GO.

The main reason we go to these incredible destinations – yes it to create some memorable images, but it should be more importantly about enjoying being in nature and respecting the animals.  If at any stage your images are more important than the well-being of an animal, well then maybe you need to reconsider why you are taking up photography.

Keep it real out there.