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Peter Connan

Ethics in bird photography

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@@Peter Connan

The issue of ethics is always thorny - and of course there is no right answer.

 

From my perspective there are possibly 2 major issues of ethics involved

1. Was uneccessary harm caused to animals

As taking photographs is an uneccessary activity (unlike getting food or protecting oneself), I think it is unjustified to cause harm to creatures to get a photograph. It appears to me that you are not causing harm. Your feeding of the birds seems like a reasonable response to the harm we cause by building cities on their natural habitat. Certainly in the UK it is promoted in our cities.

2. Do I lie to people about how the photos were taken?

"Photo of XXX bird taken in my garden" or "I struggled through the bush for three weeks, sat in a ditch for six months being eaten by insects to finally get this image"

 

Other issues surrounding what is or is not acceptable in taking photographs appear to be an arbitrary set of standards agreed between some photographers. (Although you could of course argue that ethics themselves are arbitrarily agreed standards). Are these standards important - it depends on whether you care about what those people think! If you enter a competition where the rules state what is and is not allowed then it is important.

Is it ethical to use a background? Is it ethical to move grass?

Is it ethical to use a long lens? (it could deceive people into thinking you were closer than you really were). Is it ethical to use a fast burst on your camera? (you present one picture that looks like you carefuly chose it when shooting). Is it ethical to use autofocus? High ISO? What about post processing? (I am not suggesting these are un-ethical - they are a group of arbitrary conventioins about what is or is not acceptable.)

 

If we want to think of real ethical issues (these are not talking about you - you just got me thinking!)

Is it ethical to spend $5000 on camera equipment when children around the world do not have enough to eat?

Is it ethical to buy a camera from Amazon who avoid taxes all over the world (but I do pay VAT in the UK)

Is it ethical to buy grey imports avoiding tax altogether?

Is it ethical to process my photos on an Apple computer when Apple avoid tax?

Is it ethical to pay tax when money can be used for illegal activities? But it is also used for many positive activities.

Is it ethical to use a mobile phone or computer when I know some of the rare metals used fund warfare and oppression in parts of Africa? (Which I only know about because I have used my computer!)

Is it ethical to fly to my safari holiday when I know that the flight damages the environment? Is it ethical not to go when I know this will impact on employment and the value of wildlife?

Is it ethical to use cotton, that can cause environmental damage because of the large amount of water and chemicals used, and the probable use of child labour. Or is it ethical not to use cotton, and put these children out of work and possible into homelessness, child prostitution or starvation.

Is it ethical to eat beef fed on soya, grown in Brazil, on illegally logged land, destroying wildlife and leading to the murder of large numbers of environmental activists (see other thread)

The list is endless really.......

 

 

From my perspective what you do is not unethical - and I always enjoy looking at your bird photographs - so please keep posting them

 

Similar thinking to how I see the whole thing. Good post Tony.

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@@Peter Connan - I don't think you have anything to worry about. As long as you are not misrepresenting how the photo was obtained / where it came from, you are not doing anything deceitful.

 

As others have said, the primary ethical consideration is the welfare of the birds and wildlife in question. I do not think attracting birds through feeding is unethical in terms of photography. And I agree with @@Geoff and others that improving the habitat in suburban yards is win-win; it helps your local native wildlife and gets you improved photo opportunities. And as @@Geoff says, providing water is the number one way to attract wildlife. I think we all have a moral obligation to restore and maintain our property for the benefit of native wildlife. Sice so much natural habitat is being lost to development, we can mitigate that by improving our suburban yards (compared to the sterile monoculture lawns that society finds so attractive).

 

* But when we offer bird feeders and water features, it is critical to clean them properly. Sadly, here in the USA, the majority of people who feed birds do not clean their bird feeders thoroughly enough or often enough. This applies to seed feeders, nectar feeders, suet feeders, etc. And as someone observed - putting up bird feeders often attracts "bully birds" like Jays, Crows, and so forth and it may actually negatively affect some of the smaller native species (especially during nesting season).

 

In terms of your setup, you might consider trying to eventually replace the canvas background with a living background screen of vines, trees, etc. Perhaps that is easier said than done...

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@@TonyQ, wow, that list makes my little list pale into insignificance!

 

@@offshorebirder, the canvas has been replaced for quite some time.

Unfortunately only with a concrete wall.

 

Thanks for your well thought out replies gentlemen.

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Posted (edited)

Are you sure it is a question of ethics @@Peter Connan? It's obvious that There are ethical issues with feeding birds, but you seem to have taken that into account already by strictly limiting feeding. Is there are particular issue around that in South Africa? Possibly you are "stealing" birds from your neighbours 2-3 times a month.

 

It's just weird to suggest that hanging up a sheet in your garden is unethical. How are you going to do your washing? This must be either a religious issue or actually an aesthetic issue.... aesthetic and ethical can sound very similar after a few beers. We're you or these people having a few beers?

 

Sitting in a tiny tent in your back garden at your age is troubling, certainly. Possibly disturbing if you did it in a scout's uniform or military gear, If you have a teenage daughter, then she could see that as something pretty close to unethical if you did it while she had friends around, but I am not sure how it is otherwise an ethical issue.

 

Hanging some twigs could result in birds sitting on thise twigs instead of natural perches like posts, light fittings, railings and that rusty old nail you were too lazy to pull out years ago. Or on the non-native trees and shrubs you or someone planted sometime.

 

Taking photographs ... well this could be the problem. Did you ever tell someone that you like hiding in a little tent - just you and your "Canon" - and snapping some shots of cute little birds bathing? Hmmm....

 

Seriously, Peter, I can't see how there is any ethical issue here - at least worth having a row about. And, although open-minded and a bit agnostic, I am on probably in general on the same side of the fence (a hypothetical fence I should say, in case anyone worries a bird will land on it) as those who like to shoot "natural".... nobody ever asks me to take their portrait for some reason. But surely it's a matter of taste and business (people buy the pretty shot) and people arguing that it doesn't matter and it is nobody's business that they didn't tell anyone the shot was set up.

 

So unless it relates to someone else being perceived as "conning" the viewer in some way or to people posting stuff to twitching websites without bothering to mention that things were set up, or people bothering nesting birds to get a photo, or all of that stuff that it doesn't seem to be about....I can offer no insight but had some free time in a Bangkok traffic jam. And I'll wait with you for insight as sometimes there are things we didn't think of - although I think I have headed well outside the box in my search this evening.

Edited by pault
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This post made me smile! Thank you @@pault

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Posted (edited)

@@offshorebirder, the canvas has been replaced for quite some time.

Unfortunately only with a concrete wall.

 

 

@@Peter Connan - do you mean someone next door erected a concrete wall? If so, there are still ways to screen it with natural vegetation.

 

Case in point:

 

My parents and I are on a 50-year plan for converting their suburban yard into optimum native habitat. Over the years since 1978 we have installed a LOT of native plants, built water features, and re-introduced multiple native species of lizards, amphibians, insects, and plants. And we have let many of the native plants that birds have "planted" become established.

 

A few years ago one of their neighbors installed a horrible outdoor floodlight for "security lighting" - unfortunately it also illuminated my parents' yard and partly shone on their house. So I built a 10-foot tall trellis and planted a Climbing Aster (Aster caroliniana) vine I bought from a native plant nursery. It did well, and grew thick up to the top of the trellis and a bit beyond. Now there is a wall of natural green foliage (and beautiful flowers from September-November) blocking the light pollution fixture next door.

 

If you would like ideas on how to easily and inexpensively build your own trellis, send me a PM and I will share a few potential methods.

 

Now the moths, toads, and other nocturnal creatures are not bothered by the terrible floodlight.

 

And these residents of their yard are especially grateful:

 

* Nothing unethical in my video recording them! :-)

Edited by offshorebirder
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@@offshorebirder A beautiful little video but I think your cover is blown, they're definitely onto you.

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Interesting topic, @@pault since you mentioned Bangkok, in Thailand bird photography has become really quite popular and visiting national parks there like Khao Yai you will see quite a few Thais wandering around with tripods and huge lenses and a tub of worms or grubs of some kind. As a result many of the birds certainly around the main carpark area had become very tame and confiding after regular feeding. Some of the photographers would also go into the forest and put a screen to sit behind and then put food down.

 

Up in the mountains in the far north of Thailand is a place called Doi Lang which is right up on the border with Burma it’s fantastic area for birds the forest is full of them and in the winter lots of migrants show up especially if the weather is bad in China. Being on the border there are quite few military checkpoints and next to one of these some Thai photographers had set up a feeding area for birds I went there on a birding trip a few years ago and our guide bought some papaya and put out some slices which attracted a good variety of birds. Walking further along this same road in what is a very remote area seemingly in the middle of nowhere it was noticeable that some of the birds were much tamer than you would expect, clearly photographers with their tubs of tasty worms have been feeding the birds along this road for some time. I suppose some people might consider that feeding birds like this in the wild is unethical because it’s altering the behaviour of the birds. However I think it’s great that some Thais are really interested in their birds and other wildlife and are willing to travel around the country to find them and on balance for me this outweighs any of the negatives.

 

A good example of the positive effect that the popularity of bird photography in Thailand has had can be seen further south. At the top end of the Peninsular also on the Burmese border is a fantastic national park called Kaeng Krachan some local conservationists discovered that poachers were creating little artificial waterholes in the forest on the edge of the park. In the dry season the poachers would create a blind or hide and dig a shallow hole in front of it which they would keep topped up with water and they would also put out bits of fruit as well and then wait for whatever birds or mammals might show up. These they would then kill for food or in the case of songbirds catch them alive to sell at the local market. The conservationists went and found some of the poachers and persuaded them that there were Thai photographers who would be willing to pay to make use of their hides and that they would make far more money from this than from killing the animals. These initially very sceptical former poachers are now earning a nice income from allowing Thai and foreign photographers to use their hides to photograph species that would be difficult to see otherwise. Although I did visit Kaeng Krachan I didn’t unfortunately visit any of these hides, looking at some of the photos in the following article I’m tempted to go back there as I clearly missed out.

 

Bird Hides and Water Holes: A Model Conservation Project near Kaeng Krachan National Park -Thailand

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~ @@inyathi

 

Fascinating!

Thank you for sharing this background in such complete detail.

The level of detail you've kindly provided enables one to visualize what it's like in remote Thai forest areas.

That Thai bird photography is flourishing is a pleasant surprise.

I've seen a more modest counterpart in the Hong Kong Wetland Park, albeit sans the worm tubs.

Much appreciated.

Tom K.

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Thank you gentlemen.

 

@@offshorebirder, the concrete wall has been there for years, certainly longer than I have owned the property. And I am not really complaining about it, as I have found that, rendered suitably out of focus by relative distances and apertures, it actually makes an ideal background, being of even, unobtrusive colour.

 

Unfortunately I can't see your video though?

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@inyahti.... Some very good points, and a truly interesting perspective.That kind of birding iand photography wouldn't be something i would particularly want to participate in, but in context you're right that there are as many or more positives than negatives to it.

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@@inyathi

Very interesting post (your link appears to take me back to this thread rather than to the article)

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Sorry about the link in my last post

 

Note to self when including links always preview the post and check that the links work properly before posting.

 

Here it is and this time it does work

 

Bird Hides and Water Holes: A Model Conservation Project near Kaeng Krachan National Park -Thailand

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@@offshorebirder, your video works now. I agree, they are on to you, not that it matters. Very nice!

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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...

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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...

 

 

@@ZaminOz I'm impressed by your idea of 'setup' photography!!

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@@Peter Connan

well, you seemed to have opened a can of worms!!!

 

I believe that part of the fun is taking position, waiting for that perfect moment...and then finding that your settings were wrong!!!

seriously, to each his own. If it gives you pleasure, by all means do so.

Having said that, i raise some points that have been troubling me:

  • To take a photo of an owl landing to capture that snake is great....... but what if the snake was tied down??? ( as i have heard some great photographers have done) is it cheating? If so, cheating whom?
  • To take photos of birds who are naturally jittery, but have become comfortable in a protected environment- is that the same thrill of capturing that of a bird in its natural surroundings?
  • why do we go to Africa to photograph lions? why cant we do so in a protected environment like a zoo? is it because it does not give us the same thrill? a sense of achievement?

 

i could go on. in conclusion, take photographs that are nice, gives one pleasure to look at...but be honest in declaring the "settings" . settings are only part of the issue. taking good photographs is an art.

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is it cheating? If so, cheating whom?

 

The snake, I would venture ;)

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  • why do we go to Africa to photograph lions? why cant we do so in a protected environment like a zoo? is it because it does not give us the same thrill? a sense of achievement?

Personally I like to include the natural habitat as part of the backdrop to the photo for larger mamals. So the zoo backdrop doesn't do it for me. Yes you can take nice lion portraits in a zoo. But that is only one style of photography.

Obviously bird photography though is different.

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@@Earthian, I tried to point out in my first post that the harder you work for a photo, the more personal satisfaction you get out of it. Or at least, that's true for me.

 

Also, I agree with the concept of full disclosure (except that I try not to let on where the Rhinos are), but on the other hand, it doesn't bother me as much as it used to either somehow.

 

As for tying down snakes, this for me is beyond the pale. Photos should in my mind be taken without deliberately harming any animals.

 

Again, I realise that others do not agree and may have compelling arguments of their own, but that doesn't mean I have to follow their example...

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~ @@Peter Connan

 

It happened that the link you posted is one which is available here, therefore I was able to read it.

Thank you for posting it.

Sobering.

The examples given are to-the-point.

One wonders if it's truly worth to obtain images at such costs.

In the last couple of safaris Anthony and I have abandoned several specific photo situations as obtaining the most impressive shot would require undue disturbance of the subject.

We're able to leve without such an image but unable to live with the memory of heavily disrupting the life of a treasured animal.

We feel no such restraint with regard to trees, rocks or rivers!

Tom K.

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I'm coming late to this, but thanks for starting the thread @@Peter Connan

 

Up until recently I was a member of 2 photography sites and something that I always struggled to understand was the different standards that people had about bird photography and mammal photography.

 

mammal photographs had to be shot in the wild. Photos from zoos were not allowed.

But wild birds it was entirely different - so many people had set up feeders in their gardens and then set up elaborate '6 head' flash units, tripped by a sensor to capture birds like hummingbirds.

 

Some of the photographs were stunning.

 

From my perspective, a good photograph is a good photograph. If I enjoy looking at it I do not much care whether it was taken in a zoo or in the wild - as long as the photographer is honest about where they took it and the animal or bird has not been made to suffer.

 

Like any other skill, photography is something you need to practice to get better - few of us can afford to be on safari all the time - so we need to look elsewhere for our subjects. Personally I find it hard to get motivated by the birds in my own garden, but I am full of admiration for those who make the effort to photographs the birds they see every day.

 

And, to come back to Peter's initial question, I see nothing at all wrong with creating a more pleasing background for photographing the birds in your garden.

I have a bit more of a beef with the folks who insist on using the bird calls on their iPad or smartphone to try and attract birds when they are on safari.

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@@Peter Connan

 

Thank you for that post. Was appalled though i have been reading worse. i believe Cormorant's necks are tied with string so that they cannot gulp down the fish. 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?

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While i am at it...

 

 

 

 

 

But wild birds it was entirely different - so many people had set up feeders in their gardens and then set up elaborate '6 head' flash units, tripped by a sensor to capture birds like hummingbirds.

 

 

@@Soukous

 

The "art" of photography has changed. We have an elaborate set up, remotely triggered by movement while one is snoozing. kind off removes the thrill for me.

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