I would love to go to Africa, the Galapagos or the Arctic to photograph animals but since that’s not possible for me, I do so at zoos, the African Lion Safari in Cambridge, ON and at wildlife rehab centres. But several members of my camera club say that it’s not right to photograph captive animals even if you mark your photos as “taken in controlled conditions”. What is your philosophy on this?
While some photographers maintain that a simulated image is a lie most have adopted a more pragmatic approach, Martine. Many photo enthusiasts and pros regularly work with “wildlife models” at zoos and safari parks for the sheer enjoyment of the experience or to make dramatic images. There is no clear-cut answer to your question, but the compelling logic behind photography of animals in controlled conditions seems to have converted many photographers.
Photography in the wilderness is very difficult and time consuming. Some species are extremely elusive (almost impossible to find) while others are endangered and deserve to be left in peace. “If every wanna-be was staking out the real thing, the pressure on animals in the wild would be exceptionally great,” says Joe Van Os of Van Os Photo Safaris. Pro photographer Joe McDonald adds this perspective about parks with animals available for photography. “They have helped to combat a misunderstanding and terror of various species of animals, especially wolves, making their conservation a cause celebre.” Also remember that many such animals have been raised in captivity, or have been injured, so they would not be able to survive in the wilderness.
Of course, purists believe in remaining true to the original definition of nature photography and others are concerned about the ethics of keeping animals captive for profit. That is understandable but everyone needs to make his or her own decision in both respects. Personally, I have photographed wildlife in their habitats in Alberta, British Columbia, Florida and Brazil but that’s not practical on a regular basis. Hence, I frequently do so in controlled conditions, at locations where the subjects are obviously well cared for and humanely treated.
Unless you have strong feelings against this type of photography, animals in controlled conditions can provide an ideal way to get close-up photos and sometimes, dramatic behaviours. Patronize only the reputable wildlife centers and workshop firms, respect their rules to avoid stressing the subjects, and label your images honestly. Follow these steps and you’ll find there is simply no better or safer means to getting excellent photographs of many species especially carnivores and raptors.