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03-15-2010, 11:20 AM   #1
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Unethical bird photography, or it it? Comments please!

Hi everyone.

This past saturday, March 13, 2010, I watched a short documentary on National Television - Radio Canada - French; showing groups of "wildlife photographers" using what I would call unethical techniques for taking the "best shot of your life", you don't really need to know French just to watch the clip below:

La Zone Audio • Vidéo | Radio-Canada.ca

When you get to the site, there will be a few commercial ads, but the clip follows quite soon after that. The video clip in question is called "Chasseurs d'images" (Image Hunters) and starts at about 1 minute into the overall video.

To summarize, baiting owls and snow owls with dozens of pet store-acquired live mice in order to get a "great shot" really ticks me off!
This is simply too much ... and shocking.

Those who want to have the complete audio in English can ask me and I am willing to put the time and effort to translate it, if the demand is high enough, that is. On the other hand, just watching, as I mentioned earlier, should suffice to give you an idea on how some of the best bird photography shots are achieved.

Cheers,

JP


Last edited by jpzk; 03-15-2010 at 12:21 PM. Reason: added info
03-15-2010, 11:59 AM   #2
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I haven't been able to watch it yet due to some technical difficulties. But what precisely do you find objectionable? The fact that they are treating the animals this way or the fact that photographers are substituting this as real wildlife photography? I assume that it's strictly the latter, although perhaps it's a combination of both.

It seems to me that so long as the photographer doesn't claim, if asked (or required to disclose, as might be the case for a competition), that the photograph was taken in another manner, then there's no ethical issue insofar as the photography is concerned. Is it unethical for photographers to stage humans for a shot that looks spontaneous? I don't think many of us would say so. In the end, even if the bait was provided by the photographers, the animals exhibit their ordinary behavior. It seems to be a legitimate photograph to me, even if it was easier than what real wildlife photographers would practice.

Asking whether something is ethical or not presupposed an accepted code of ethics or morals and I don't think that one exists in this situation. Lying about how the image was taken to qualify for a competition: unethical because it is against the competition's rules. Getting the shot for your living room or Flickr photostream: just lazy.

I'll be sure to watch the video when I have a chance at a functional computer, though.

Last edited by indytax; 03-15-2010 at 12:01 PM. Reason: grammar & spelling
03-15-2010, 12:17 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by indytax Quote
I haven't been able to watch it yet due to some technical difficulties. But what precisely do you find objectionable? The fact that they are treating the animals this way or the fact that photographers are substituting this as real wildlife photography? I assume that it's strictly the latter, although perhaps it's a combination of both.

It seems to me that so long as the photographer doesn't claim, if asked (or required to disclose, as might be the case for a competition), that the photograph was taken in another manner, then there's no ethical issue insofar as the photography is concerned. Is it unethical for photographers to stage humans for a shot that looks spontaneous? I don't think many of us would say so. In the end, even if the bait was provided by the photographers, the animals exhibit their ordinary behavior. It seems to be a legitimate photograph to me, even if it was easier than what real wildlife photographers would practice.

Asking whether something is ethical or not presupposed an accepted code of ethics or morals and I don't think that one exists in this situation. Lying about how the image was taken to qualify for a competition: unethical because it is against the competition's rules. Getting the shot for your living room or Flickr photostream: just lazy.

I'll be sure to watch the video when I have a chance at a functional computer, though.
Indy, thanks for your reply.
I will answer your reply very shortly but I would like to know what sort of technical difficulty you had with the video clip ... was it the link I provided that didn't work?
I'd like to find out so that everyone can see it.

OK, ... the video shows a group of photographers all lined up in a field, throwing mice to attract the owl; then when the bird gets closer, they clap their hands, make loud noise, scream, etc ... to make it miss its "meal" and they repeat the procedure until everyone is happy with their shots.
This part of making all sorts of noise is not shown on the video BUT it is well explained by the witnesses interviewed by the reporter.
To me, this would qualify as a real stressor on the animal and would render the owl more "tame" because it has been used to be fed by humans; again, this is what the video explains. I didn't make it up.

"In the end, even if the bait was provided by the photographers, the animals exhibit their ordinary behavior."
I don't agree with your quoted line above, but I do respect your opinion.
As far as I am concerned, maybe I am too much of a "purist" and I won't use bait for attracting birds or other wildlife ... !

Cheers.
JP
03-15-2010, 12:26 PM   #4
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I disagree with all the noises used, along with with all the arm waving and hand clapping.

But shooting photos over " bait " has always been in a wildlife shooters bag of tricks. Many is the time a dead carcass has been put out to attract animals, birds included. For some species, this is the only way to get a shot, except by dumb luck.
Many famous wildlife film makers have used that method to bring them into film range.

03-15-2010, 12:47 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by jpzk Quote
Indy, thanks for your reply.
I will answer your reply very shortly but I would like to know what sort of technical difficulty you had with the video clip ... was it the link I provided that didn't work?
My technical problems were that the video requires Silverlight to be installed and as I don't have administrator privileges on the computer I'm using right now, I can't install it. The link works fine, though. (Humorously, the 10 second advertisement preceding the video plays just fine, but the video itself requires the plugin).

QuoteOriginally posted by jpzk Quote
OK, ... the video shows a group of photographers all lined up in a field, throwing mice to attract the owl; then when the bird gets closer, they clap their hands, make loud noise, scream, etc ... to make it miss its "meal" and they repeat the procedure until everyone is happy with their shots.
This part of making all sorts of noise is not shown on the video BUT it is well explained by the witnesses interviewed by the reporter.
To me, this would qualify as a real stressor on the animal and would render the owl more "tame" because it has been used to be fed by humans; again, this is what the video explains. I didn't make it up.
That description is helpful and is different from what I expected it to be. I had assumed that the photographers just set some bait and then shot the birds going after it. But the clapping and noisemaking to disturb the bird seems like taunting just for another chance at the shot. That seems to be to be an unethical treatment of the bird because it's done merely for the convenience of a pretty frivolous thing.

I also understand your point about the effect that providing bait has on wild animals. It sounds like the situation that you've described might pose this problem, also. Although, I tend to think that so long as any "baiting" was limited, whatever effect it would have would be minimal. Not unlike animals scavenging road kill.

QuoteOriginally posted by jpzk Quote
"In the end, even if the bait was provided by the photographers, the animals exhibit their ordinary behavior."
I don't agree with your quoted line above, but I do respect your opinion.
As far as I am concerned, maybe I am too much of a "purist" and I won't use bait for attracting birds or other wildlife ... !
You're right, that is debatable in a few ways and I agree that reasonable minds can disagree or draw the line differently. In fact, that underscores one of my points, which is that there is no photographer's code of ethics that applies here; maybe there should be. Our objections primarily come from our naturalist/conservationist sides. While I'm fine with staging a shot through bait, I guess I am uncomfortable by the display that you describe because it borders on abuse. Just using bait seems less problematic than holding the animals captive in a zoo or similar setting so that we can gawk at them. But we (hopefully) don't see zookeepers taunting the animals for the enjoyment of the spectators.

But whatever my objections are, they have less to do with photography and more to do with how I expect people (especially photographers) to treat animals and other natural subjects. That's why I asked about the source of your objections, I was just trying to help define the conversation a little.
03-15-2010, 12:50 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by wildlifephotog Quote
I disagree with all the noises used, along with with all the arm waving and hand clapping.

But shooting photos over " bait " has always been in a wildlife shooters bag of tricks. Many is the time a dead carcass has been put out to attract animals, birds included. For some species, this is the only way to get a shot, except by dumb luck.
Many famous wildlife film makers have used that method to bring them into film range.
I wondered about this, but am not well-versed enough in serious wildlife photography (read: practically not at all ) to know if baiting is an accepted technique among professionals. Not that merely a pro's blessing would make it right in any event; the practice seems likely to be perpetually open to little-noticed debate.
03-15-2010, 01:01 PM   #7
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Where the pro gets his tail in a wringer, is if he claims something like a fresh kill, or that it was just a chance shot. One wildlife filmmaker got in deep do-do for not being upfront about the staged stuff he presented.
I've picked up roadkill and moved it to a more shootable area. The animal doesn't know that, and they never see me waiting with the camera. So I have not interfered with the normal find and feed instincts of the creature.
Many folks put out food for animals then photograph them. The animal just can not be allowed to realize it was given by a human, for it to be a true wildlife shot.
03-15-2010, 01:09 PM   #8
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BTW. There is a way to bait owls without them knowing it was a present from a human.
And that would be the right way to do it.

03-15-2010, 01:34 PM   #9
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I don't think any self-respecting wildlife photographer should ever bait an animal. I've seen it done, and think it's cheap. I would rather not get a shot myself, but that is just me. I don't like zoo shots either though, so I probably am in the minority. (I don't like fishing with bait either)
03-15-2010, 02:58 PM   #10
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I don't like this for two reasons.

1) My personal appeal to nature/wildlife is the unpredictability. "Set up" shots while they may look real just aren't.

2)I don't like feeding wild animals. Leads to many problems for humans and for animals.
03-15-2010, 03:12 PM   #11
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Well for many that are going for a money making shot, they have a gray area as it pertains to ethics of baiting/staging.
I'm not into bird photography, but have worked with those that are. I've never seen them blatantly bait birds.
But shooting over a carcass that is there naturally I don't consider baiting. As long as the creature does not see you, it will act totally natural. And will not equate you with food.
Much like watching at the edge of an orchard for deer to come for the windfalls.
03-15-2010, 04:00 PM   #12
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I don't see the big deal.

People feed certain wild species all the time without damaging their instincts. And I grew up with an appreciation of wildlife from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, kings of baiting.

There's a place for many things and methods in this world, whether we choose that place for ourselves or not.

I don't hunt for a hundred reasons, but I defend the rights of others to do so based on their reasons.
03-15-2010, 05:47 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by wildlifephotog Quote
I disagree with all the noises used, along with with all the arm waving and hand clapping.

But shooting photos over " bait " has always been in a wildlife shooters bag of tricks. Many is the time a dead carcass has been put out to attract animals, birds included. For some species, this is the only way to get a shot, except by dumb luck.
Many famous wildlife film makers have used that method to bring them into film range.
I stand my ground about using any sort of bait, but at the same time, I won't bash people doing it.
I am still in awe looking at superb photos "National Geographic"-style and if the photographer(s) has (have) used bait, I don't want to know.
Yes, baiting may be part of this "bag of tricks" you mentioned but my point is that I am in the "no-no" clan.
This video shows what I believe is wrong.

JP
03-15-2010, 05:53 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by indytax Quote
My technical problems were that the video requires Silverlight to be installed and as I don't have administrator privileges on the computer I'm using right now, I can't install it. The link works fine, though. (Humorously, the 10 second advertisement preceding the video plays just fine, but the video itself requires the plugin).



That description is helpful and is different from what I expected it to be. I had assumed that the photographers just set some bait and then shot the birds going after it. But the clapping and noisemaking to disturb the bird seems like taunting just for another chance at the shot. That seems to be to be an unethical treatment of the bird because it's done merely for the convenience of a pretty frivolous thing.

I also understand your point about the effect that providing bait has on wild animals. It sounds like the situation that you've described might pose this problem, also. Although, I tend to think that so long as any "baiting" was limited, whatever effect it would have would be minimal. Not unlike animals scavenging road kill.



You're right, that is debatable in a few ways and I agree that reasonable minds can disagree or draw the line differently. In fact, that underscores one of my points, which is that there is no photographer's code of ethics that applies here; maybe there should be. Our objections primarily come from our naturalist/conservationist sides. While I'm fine with staging a shot through bait, I guess I am uncomfortable by the display that you describe because it borders on abuse. Just using bait seems less problematic than holding the animals captive in a zoo or similar setting so that we can gawk at them. But we (hopefully) don't see zookeepers taunting the animals for the enjoyment of the spectators.

But whatever my objections are, they have less to do with photography and more to do with how I expect people (especially photographers) to treat animals and other natural subjects. That's why I asked about the source of your objections, I was just trying to help define the conversation a little.
Hi again Steve.
Well, you've summarized pretty much my thoughts on the subject.
I am quite open to any such discussion as long as we can understand one another.
Fine by me if someone wants to use some bait, (in a careful, limited way maybe?), to get personal shots of a rare bird ... as long as I don't see them in action.
This video really hit a nerve here.
JP
03-15-2010, 05:58 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by wildlifephotog Quote
Where the pro gets his tail in a wringer, is if he claims something like a fresh kill, or that it was just a chance shot. One wildlife filmmaker got in deep do-do for not being upfront about the staged stuff he presented.
I've picked up roadkill and moved it to a more shootable area. The animal doesn't know that, and they never see me waiting with the camera. So I have not interfered with the normal find and feed instincts of the creature.
Many folks put out food for animals then photograph them. The animal just can not be allowed to realize it was given by a human, for it to be a true wildlife shot.
Interesting this bit about moving the roadkill to another more shootable area; I would likely not bark at the action although I wouldn't do it.
Of course, the animal wouldn't know about it and go about its regular business of feeding in a most natural manner.

JP
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