Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill


Brad Hill: Wildlife Photography Ethics

A basic reality of wildlife photography that we all must accept is that photographers DO have an impact on their subjects, even if the impact isn't always obvious. It's my belief that all wildlife photographers - be they amateurs or professionals - should think about and consider their actions and what impact they have, or could potentially have, on their subjects. And then they should take the next step and actively find ways to reduce and minimize their impact.

I encourage all wildlife photographers to develop their own code of conduct governing their own behaviour in the field. I don't believe there's a workable "one size fits all" set of ethical guidelines that fits every conceivable wildlife photography situation, subject, or geographic location. The one bit of advice I would offer as you develop your own ethical guidelines is to NOT assume that "...because other photographers are doing it" it's OK to do! This includes the acts of many professional photographers - I know many pros who place out bait to photograph bears or wolves despite the volumes of evidence on the harmful effects of feeding wild carnivores (of course, very few will ever admit to it - which says something in itself). And note that being ethically consistent in your actions can be very challenging, can require you to do research into the behaviour and ecology of your subject, and it can even result in you passing (or missing out on) some types of compelling photos. At times you will be tempted to "give in" to peer pressure to commit unethical acts that could negatively impact on your subject. I encourage and urge you to resist that temptation.

Over the past few decades I have thought about - and researched - this issue extensively, including delving into scientific publications on the effect of supplemental feeding on wildlife (including birds), chatting with and observing hundreds of other photographers, discussing the situation with wildlife managers and other wildlife experts, and a whole lot more. What follows are the guiding principles I have developed to govern MY behaviour with the subject matter I deal with in the environment I encounter them (mostly within the province of British Columbia, Canada). These principles also govern the behaviour of those who participate in photo tours offered by my company - Natural Art Images. I acknowledge - and accept - that adhering to these principles ties my own hands somewhat and means I will likely miss out on capturing some types of "killer" photos, such as a full-frame head-on flight shot of an owl (which, in almost all cases, is a direct result of current or past baiting/luring). So be it.

The Wildlife FIRST! Principles of Photographer Conduct

Wildlife conservation is the primary reason for my involvement in wildlife photography. I have a high respect for - and near reverence of - the subjects I photograph. I believe they have an inherent right to exist that is independent of my "use" of them - or to their utility to mankind. They are not props. As a logic extension of this philosophy, I place the welfare and value of my subjects above the value of any photograph of them. This value system - that the welfare of the wildlife comes FIRST - was the driving force in the development of my Wildlife FIRST! principles of photographer conduct to guide MY actions in the field and during all the photo tours of Natural Art Images.

For purposes of clarity, these guidelines apply strictly to wildlife photography, i.e., the act of capturing images of completely free-ranging wild animals in natural (non-captive and non-confining) environments.

The four simple ethical principles state that:

1. Wildlife photographers who place wildlife welfare FIRST should engage in passive wildlife photography only should engage in - passive wildlife photography only. This means I strive to capture images of wildlife behaving as naturally as possible and I take no actions to influence the behaviour of my subject. This includes no guiding or directing the subjects toward desirable settings and/or backdrops or any attempt to elicit specific "poses".

2. Wildlife photographers who place wildlife welfare FIRST should do nothing intentional to alter or influence the behaviour of my subjects for the purpose of photography. This includes NOT intentionally influencing their distribution in space or time OR their behaviour. In the field this translates into NOT engaging in any form of luring or baiting (or any other form of food supplementation). Additionally, it extends to not using any sound to alter the behaviour of the subject for the purpose of photography, including using predator and/or prey calls, song or vocalization playbacks, vocal clicking, or making any other sound to cause the subject to alter its ongoing behaviour and look at the photographer.

3. While conforming to (and working within) any legal guidelines determining minimum allowable approach distances, Iwildlife photographers who place wildlife welfare FIRST should allow the wildlife subject – regardless of the species – to determine the subject-to-photographer distance it is comfortable with. This principle serves to reduce stress on the subject - and also allows the capture of photographs of the subject behaving in a more natural, and often more interesting, fashion.

4. Wildlife photographers who place wildlife welfare FIRST always consider both their individual and the overall collective effects photographic activities can have on the subject(s).. This includes being aware of my total time spent with the wildlife subject(s) and, whenever possible, the total time spent with the subject by all photographers utilizing the subject. In practice this means I (or we) will often break contact and withdraw from the subject, especially if there is any indication that our presence is impacting on the subject's behavioural routine (including activities such as feeding, resting and/or sleeping, caring for its offspring, etc.). This consideration is always important and may become even MORE important if multiple photographers or groups of photographers are simultaneously or sequentially sharing the same subject(s).

Those participating in the photo tours of Natural Art Images are expected to conform to these principles of photographer conduct.

All images on this website, including those contained within PDF brochures or other marketing materials for my photo tours, were captured following these Wildlife FIRST! principles of photographer conduct.