online since Nov 2000
Ethics & Photography
Before the picture is taken
To say that the safety of subjects always comes first is almost banal, at least for the photographers from my generation. It should be for everyone. It is not. Not being ready to give up a shot in these cases means betraying the very foundations for which one should photograph Nature: empathy, passion, harmony, emotion, to name a few.
I do not take pictures of birds of prey at nest, with very few exceptions (e.g. nests visible from long distance): those animals are simply too precious and with a fragile ecology to jeopardize their breeding success in exchange of some shots.
Let me tell it straight: a nest or a den are one of the most common factors which help contacting an animal, and an amount of disturbance can be caused even without framing the nest itself. This, as other things, is up to the sensitivity and knowledge of the photographer.
However, the very fact of publishing photos at nest may cause a casual reader or a shallow photographer to think that it could be done without paying any price, and the misguided desire of emulation which often follows can lead to heavy damage. As a popularizer I feel an educational duty that goes beyond the attention and respect I put in taking my own pictures, and I have to take charge of that. Moreover, photos at nest are almost invariably of little aesthetic value, which is why, in general, I avoid them for any species.
I'm not taking (any more) pictures in controlled conditions, or to say it blunt, of captive animals. In those rare occurrences of old pictures falling into that category, it is clearly stated in the caption.
I do not like "photo-safari" or "photo-hunting", and I mean here that kind of approach where the focus is on the "competitive", I would rather say "predatory", side of wildlife photography. An animal should never be considered as a prey, even in a camera viewfinder (here you can find more detailed discussions on the subject), because it would eventually get the same status reserved to preys: an object less important than the aim, recreational goods to which no respect is due. I reject any form of real, bloody hunting as well, with the only exception of traditional livelihood hunting in archaic communities (Inuit, indigenous Amerindian and so on). And to those who are going to make the classic argument, I'm answering right here, right now: yes, I am an happy and healthy vegetarian (lacto-ovo-vegetarian, to be precise) ever since the 1988, year in which I also stopped using clothes or accessories made by animals (leather, skin and so on). I did it, everyone can do it: beyond my personal sensitivity, that was exactly the point I wanted to prove doing this step. Obviously I do not use any animal bait to attract the animals, neither I buy the services of those ready-to-go hides managed in that way.
After the picture is taken
Photography is always interpretation: a photographer is like a filter, and the choices he makes prevent any picture to be a mere documentation. Each photographic representation, however, starts from the real and it is based on it. A "photo", besides, is such because it is the result of the shooting process and the choices made at that very moment: to put it in simpler words: it is an image taken with a camera.
For these reasons, I use to do a very basic post production in my images, limited to the retouch of levels, contrast, saturation, sharpness and distortion. In short, those procedures needed to fix the limitations of the technical mean, the tool, so to return a scene as close as possible to the original; or rather, to what the photographer saw in the original. In the case of black and white conversions, I also use some partial dodging, as in the good old days of darkroom.
I consider unappropriate any action on the picture's content itself, such as deleting or adding elements (moving pixels), because it shifts the scope from photography to graphic arts, at best; or to mystification and cheating, when it is maliciously concealed in order to make a photo appearing realistic. You won't find any of this in my photography. I think that the easy shortcuts have negative educational impact: it's better to learn from our own mistakes, and above all learn to accept them, and accept our own limits as well. We have the duty to be imperfect, because that's the only way to have the opportunity to improve ourselves through a personal growth, an effort, an application: it's the only way to appreciate the value of our achievements. For the same reasons I do not join photographic contests which do not clearly require the original RAW files to confirm awarded pictures.
Where it is not possible to use a gradual neutral filter, I sometimes use HDR techniques to retrieve something closer to human vision, but always so that the intervention itself does not represent the very aim of the image: a good HDR is the one you can't see.
About crop also I have my own opinions: it is the cutting to increase the apparent enlargement or improve the composition. The way a photographer approaches a subject (how much he gets close), is indicative to me of his knowledge as a naturalist, as well as a good framing at the shot moment is a sign of photo "eye", focusing effort and application. I very seldom use a heavy crop and when I do I declare it explicitly.