Several weeks back I wrote a post regarding the ethics of luring of fauna for the purposes of creating a photograph. For the record, I personally don’t think we should be baiting or luring wildlife in order to create a better picture. From the amount of personal e-mails I have received from my peers on this topic, there are obviously those who disagree.
There are some who bring forward a good argument that baiting a critter is the only way possible to acquire that image, and as a consequence, this could possibly be the only way the scientific community would see good images of that species for study or research purposes. This could be true, and if that is the case, allow scientists to hire you to make the photographs on their behalf under controlled and monitored conditions.
Most photographers, however, are more interested in capturing that one stellar image to vault them ahead of their contemporaries in competition or, at least, in bragging rights. To the purists, baiting or luring is a complete misrepresentation of skill.
I am more concerned about the critter, though. One photographer stops off at the pet store and purchases some mice as bait. He argues that his feeding a great grey or snowy owl does not interfere with their natural migration or hunting patterns. Another photographer later that evening says the same thing, and this same scenario repeats itself over the season. Every morning two or three photographers show up at that “secret and private site” over the next handful of weeks. No one photographer has altered the natural hunting instincts of that bird, yet the cumulative effect takes its toll.
With that having been said, each photographer is left to his or her own ethical standards with respect to what is morally acceptable, and what is not.
A clear example of a photographer crossing the line, in my opinion, appeared about one year ago on the website of one of the most respected names in the business of natural history awareness—National Geographic. The image was of a great grey owl coming in (presumably) for a field mouse. It is a great shot, and the comments attested to both National Geographic and the image itself: “What an incredible shot! This is why National Geographic has no equal when it comes to photography,” and, “This is not just a photo of the day, this is a photo of the CENTURY!!!” are just two examples.
The photographer wrote the following (in part) in the caption: “This owl was on the north shore of Lake Superior, just south of Two Harbors, Minnesota. We happened to find him as the sun was setting, and in the evening light, we were able to be in a position to see an owl that was hunting when a mouse came out, and the owl was quick to pounce and pick up an evening meal.” After many comments that questioned the integrity of the photographer’s words, the editors made the following post about one week later: “Since first posting this picture, we’ve received additional information. The mouse was placed in position to attract the owl.” Surprisingly, to my mind, was the fact that the magazine with the yellow borders left the image on their website, free to download as wallpaper for your computer’s desktop.
So, there now two debates with wildlife photography: Is it ethical to lure animals when making pictures? And is the responsibility on the photographer to clearly identify when the animal portrayed is in a controlled situation?
These questions are ones that must ultimately be answered by the photographer. The industry of photography is completely non-regulated in this respect; however, the “Position Statements” from the North American Nature Photography Association offer a good starting point on establishing a policy.