Tips for Photographing Wildlife Ethically

Photography is derived from the Greek language; photo- for light and –graph for drawing. Hence, a photographic image is made with light to record on a light-sensitive surface. Since its first introduction, photography has become one of the most widely used forms of expression globally.

Photographs are products of photography used to tell stories in different ways. Different industries use it to promote their businesses. Photos are used to teach in schools to represent the particular subject discussed. Who would not love photography for it preserve memories?

Photography has become a medium to express art and share stories worldwide. Wildlife photography proves this. While it is a risk for photographers to capture and document wildlife in action and their natural habitats, their work creates impact and lasts for many years.

Wildlife photography requires extensive travel and sometimes a long stay in the location. Depending on the area, some photographers shoot only in their backyards. Some photographers have consistent subjects for specific species, while others shoot anything they encounter in the environment: National Geographic, Smithsonian, BBC Wildlife, and Planet Earth, some known wildlife photography outlets. But photography, particularly wildlife as a subject, is never absolute. There are ethical practices to observe before, during, and after using the lens.

This article gives you essential tips for ethical wildlife photography.

1. But first, nature.

a film negative with captured photos of nature and animals

Whatever setup you got into and how non-human creatures do, never interrupt. Let the natural surroundings govern your photography. Respect your subjects and whatever is around them. Refrain from making so many disturbances. Your goal is to capture the natural events without being scripted. As much as you are taking the risk, especially with animals like lions and tigers, you are also threatening them if you do anything unnecessary and disturbing.

2. Aim for wildlife conservation.

As the majority of the photographers do, even if your purpose is to sell the photos, always promote the conservation of biodiversity and all life forms your lens capture.

3. Educate yourself before your lens.

2 giraffes in the safari

Wildlife photography could entail a lot of time, preparation, and risks. So you have to research the location, what species exist there, how they live and survive, how they defend their habitats, among others. Your research should include the existing environmental and wildlife policies of the place. You need to better understand the nature of your subjects by consulting some locals in the area or experts. Your knowledge of your subjects will help you capture them naturally and find the best angles. And will most likely guide you for your safety.

4. Respect your fellow photographers and other professional wildlife projects in the area.

Never disturb any wildlife-focused work in your location. Be mindful of your actions and give importance to what they do. Choose a space that does not overlap with theirs. You have different goals, yet you should always have the same intention of respecting nature. Do not compete with them. Never make fun of others’ outputs because you think it’s not nice. Focus on your work while being sensitive.

5. You are a guest.

So whatever is in there when you arrive should remain there. Never leave any wastes, and always be mindful of your belongings. Do not carve anything on the wood or get anything from the area. Leave nothing but memories, as they say. Your token is already in your lens, so there is no need to get anything from nature.

6. No food, please.

You are not recommended to bring food as the bait to get your desired shot. Feeding the animals is not allowed. It can interfere with the natural food chain and the diet of the wildlife in the area.

7. Be invisible.

a woman using her camera

Like soldiers, wearing camouflage clothing to blend in with nature helps minimize visual distractions. They might feel threatened by your presence. But do not overdo it by wearing an animal costume. It doesn’t help, for sure.

8. Hire a registered local tour guide.

If you are unfamiliar with the chosen area, it is advised to get a local tour guide to assist you and provide you with important reminders. The locals would surely love tourists visiting their area, but concerned locals would also hate welcoming people who are not sensitive to their place. How much would the animals and other life forms feel when you step on their territories.

9. Be cautious when taking closed shots.

Close-up shots are amazing, but they must be done with maximum caution and care. You and your subject’s life are both at stake. Research and bring someone knowledgeable and equipped in handling circumstances like this. Nowadays, wildlife photographers use a telephoto lens, so no disturbance and danger happen.

10. No selfies.

a camera placed on a grass

Even if it’s very tempting to have some personal souvenirs, this can cause distress to the living creatures. Nature first before your stuff.

11. Extra caution for endangered species.

Be familiar with the endangered species in the area. Always stick with the local and international rules. It is not advisable to publish the photos to inform would-be poachers about their location. Remove EXIF data from a photo to ensure GPS coordinates won’t be attached.

12. No harm is the golden rule.

Killing or doing any harm is never wildlife photography.

Cutting anything or getting from the creatures’ bodies is prohibited even if you only want it as a token for your mission.

Now you have learned these rules. Surely, there will be more specific things to follow when you go to specific areas. You see, wildlife photography is also a form of art, but it is not merely getting fun shots for yourself. You have to harness that kind of professionalism, observe wildlife ethics, and appropriate attitude when at work. 

These tips are not extra baggage for you; rather, these are important actions to ensure wildlife conservation. Your intention might be good, but anything unethical and a lack of caution in nature may cause harm to the plants and other living creatures.

Wildlife photography has contributed a lot to conserving the wildlife population in general. Through the many projects initiated by international organizations and animal welfare advocates, zoologists, and environmentalists, milestones have been achieved, and many endangered species have slowly increased. 

As modern technology progresses, we can never go back to the old ways for sure, but we can still preserve what’s left here on Earth by using the technology responsibly. 

If you have plans to try this career, go for it. Just bring these rules with you wherever you go. If you know someone about to try this field, share this. If you have kids at home or are teaching kids, it is also best to get them familiarized with these to guide them early and awaken their consciousness. Most kids love playing with animals in the neighborhood, so it is better to teach them early.

Because no matter what our role in this world is, we all have a stake in ensuring that our planet is still a better place to live in. Not only for us humans but also the animals and other non-human beings.

So, nature is foremost before the lens!