Photography and Photographers
“In the end, nature must be the beneficiary, for nature photography must be the means and not the end”.
Nature photographers may profess a love for the aesthetics of an image but, sadly, not all of them have a similar love for nature. In the pursuit of excellence in photography, it is not uncommon for nature photographers to cause irreparable harm to the creatures they photograph. It is important that nature photographers work without compromising the safety and welfare of their subjects. With so many people taking up nature photography, bad behaviour inevitably surfaces. For example, vegetation around nesting sites, which otherwise would have been protection for the creatures, is sometimes totally removed for the ultimate shot. This exposes vulnerable nestlings to the elements and makes them easy prey.
Other bad practices include the excessive use of flash photography at nesting sites of birds, at nocturnal animals at night (putting undue stress on them). Most bird photographers do not use flash now. Organisms must not be intentionally harmed in the process of taking pictures.
Photographers have been known to purposely harm creatures in order to capture a desired visual effect. Dramatic shots of fish attacking a sea urchin have been photographed, right after that urchin was intentionally injured by the photographer. Flying snakes have been repeatedly placed in narrow pipes and forced out, to simulate their ‘flying’ behaviour. Locally, a photographer was once reported to have manhandled and restrained a pangolin (a nocturnal mammal) in order to subject the animal to flash photography. Excessive feeding of wildlife happens when different groups of photographers do not co-operate to reduce the act.
The internet is also partly to blame for enabling a culture of racing to be ‘the first to photograph’ by providing a ready platform for aspiring photographers. Ethical guidelines must be adhered to, and photographic societies should endorse correct codes of behaviour. Images of nesting sites are posted before the chicks are fully fledged draws hordes of photographers that creates excessive stress to the subjects. Birds have been known to abandon nesting sites when disturbed. The ramming of the bumboat against the rock off Pulau Ubin to photograph the Black-naped Terns is totally unnecessary. The act creates creates noise and air pollution and the distress caused to the birds is apparent. They refused to feed and can be seen attacking photographers. A better way is to anchor the boat and switch off the engine and let the boat drift. The use of very short lenses to photograph birds is also not encouraged.
As we have seen in the case of Chek Jawa, photography, if done correctly and ethically, can bring benefit by drawing attention to the need for conservation and wildlife protection.