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Ethics in bird photography

Peter Connan

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Reports www.sanparks.org


It is time for all the nature-loving shutterbugs out there to submit their finest photos in our Annual SANParks Photographic Competition 2015 which is open for submissions as from today, 15 September 2015 until 18 October 2015.


There will be seven (7) categories for both Digital Compact and Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras. We will have a winner in each category and an overall winner. The overall winning image will be published in the SANParks Times. The categories are as follow:


To find out more, click here.


Will you be entering?

On perusing the rules, this cropped up:

You must declare at the time of submitting if a picture has been taken in captivity or conditions that are unnatural (eg if live bait has been used). Details of the subject and location must be provided in the file info.

Seems that using live bait is acceptable. Disturbing.

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Coming back to the ethical issue, while we all agree that harming an animal is wrong, what about photographing fishermen using Cormorants? Even if the photographer got a natural shot?[/size]

My first reaction would have been that people have been using animals to help them hunt for millennia. Most of our domestic dog species were bred for some or other hunting activity.


However, if these guys are now fishing mostly for the pay they get from photographers, then perhaps that's a different situation?

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since this post is about ethics in bird photography, I had to share this horrifying practice that is arising in Singapore. how much truth there is, I'm not sure, but I haven't found anything to dispute the post.



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Why not just use stuffed birds on wires, which can be photoshopped out, You can get the appropriate natural poses for your taxidermist from a nature documentary. Could even have the fish or mouse dressed in a t-shirt and posed on tail or hind legs in an "oh no!" pose straight out of a Pixar movie. Cracking shots, no doubt. The Internet would break with love for them.


Seriously I like a lot of captive shots and appreciate how they can allow a photographer to use his or her creativity to set things up beautifully. It's no easy task at all. Baited shots could be the same, but while I am sure most baited shots are done with thought and ethically, or do not harm... and I won't forget inyathi's example from close to home showing that baiting (or waterholes) can facilitate appreciation of nature- personally I rarely offer more than faint praise for any such shots because there are too many stories, and too many photographers (and remember there are an awful lot out there now, so this is a tiny minority) seem to be fine with other people doing a lot of stuff that they would never do themselves because it would feel wrong or they would worry about censure.


What did you do today Mummy?

Oh, I tied up terrified mice in a field so that owls could glide down and butcher them, and then I took pictures of the carnage so people on the Internet would say I was a good photographer.


You'll understand when you are older and more disappointed with life dear.

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@@Kitsafari, @@pault, @@Peter Connan


i am appalled, shocked and angry after seeing that post of the photographers of Singapore. But hang on. Don't we all have double standards? Using live bait, as long as the bait is an insignificant life form, is ok with us. So we protest when say a gazelle is used to catch that stunning photograph of a cheetah chasing it. But using worms for photographing birds is ok? As i mentioned earlier to Peter, this debate has opened a can of worms.

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@@Earthian what Im appalled about is that the photographer stuffed styrofoam into a live fish. You surely don't stuff the impala with styrofoam to bait a leopard or cheetah?

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Yes, it is absolutely horrendous. I was admiring a beautiful photograph of an owl on the verge of grabbing a snake. The photograph was perfect from al counts and i marvelled at the tenacity and patience of the photographer, I was also envious that luck seemed to have favoured him. Till i found out that actually the snake was tied down and its constant attempts to get free attracted the owl and viola! There are many such stories.


The issue that i am raising here is that where do we draw the line?


  • using live bait, but unrestricted?
  • live bait, restricted ( tying down, confined)
  • live bait, restricted by horrendous means. (styrofoam, nailing a rodent)


food for thought: most of us are more concerned about what would happen to the eagle that ingests that styrofoam, rather than the fish that was left helpless and violated by stuffing styrofoam.

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My backyard bird photography is totally natural.

Naturally... I recline on my outdoor patio couch, camera to one side, mug of coffee to t'other, and ipad tuned into safaritalk on my lap... should a bird natually futter in and land nearby I will endeavour to take a snap of it before my dog (see avatar) leaps up in indignant surprise and with a "guruph" quite naturally sends the avian invader fluttering back out of his territory...



When oft on my couch i lie,

In vacant or in pensive mood;

They float upon that inward eye,

Which is the bliss of solitude.

and then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the avians...

(apologies to WW)


Can almost see you thus....

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