Canned Wildlife Photography
words Peter Hanscomb , photos Peter Hanscomb
So what makes a great wildlife photographer ? I guess the answer would depend on who you ask. However for me it would have to be someone who has a portfolio of captivating images , which show off their outstanding field craft , technical ability and images that show empathy with the subject matter . The ability to combine all of the above plus experience gained in the field and an understanding of the subject. Oh and time , plenty of time and last on the list , just a little bit of lady luck.
A select few wildlife photographers are blessed with all of the above attributes and produce stunning original images capturing animals in their natural environment. Their craft , patience and skill quite rightly deserve admiration and applause. For a few truly great photographers, they have not only managed to master all of the above but also maintained humility and the capacity to help and educate others on their photographic journey.
The vast majority of wildlife photography enthusiasts and I definitely include myself here have aspirations to capture the perfect shoot, personally for me the most important element is learning and developing my skills and fieldcraft / knowledge, whilst at the same time balancing the demands of a full time job and family commitments . At all times the welfare of photo shoot star , the animal comes first.
Last night I managed to escape from my domestic duties and decided that I would check out the wonderful world , according to Facebook. I came upon a post , well more of a rant that caught my eye from a “proper wildlife photographer” . Obviously something or someone had got his back up , off he went with his rant , anyone who has used a commercial hide , baited areas to attract wildlife or has taken photographs of captive animals can’t call themselves a photographer , let alone a wildlife photographer. He carried on with his rant blaming anyone and everyone who has every set up a hide or left out food to attract animals , paid for a wildlife guide etc. Not real wildlife photographers . Now I fully understand and accept he is entitled to his opinion but the shocking thing for me was the number of comments posted from the wildlife photography community supporting him.
So here is my very simple take on canned wildlife photography .
So here’s my first observation , anyone with a camera who has a love of Wildlife and takes pictures of Wildlife is a wildlife photographer, regardless of the cost / style / make of camera . Simple as that really. Granted we are all at different levels of ability , the time we have available to commit to wildlife photography and funds available for equipment, I think we sometimes forget that photography is a journey, and not a destination.
For me personally, animal conservation and wildlife welfare always comes before taking a photograph. Hopefully this is reflected in the content and tone of this blog site. I would not support , condone or give publicity to any individual or company who puts profit and damage to the environment ahead of animal welfare just to get the perfect shot ( including the so called “proper” wildlife photographers with big egos ) This includes the use of captive wild animals or any behaviour that changes a wild habitat or any wildlife’s natural behaviour .
I have used several paid for wildlife hides. if they are properly managed these cause no environmental damage or harm to the subject and can instead educate and foster a greater understand and appreciation of individual species. I take it no one has a problem with the hides at most wildlife reserves the likes of Slimbridge and I think we all agree it’s far better to keep animals separate from people , unhindered and safe from human interference ?
Captive animals , this is a little more contentious . Simple here , wild means wild . If for any reason , an animal born in captivity can’t be released , i have no problem with this animal being “used” for conservation research providing the animal is allowed to live as normal an life as possible and it’s kept in a human , stimulating environment . Most important for me if that this furthers our knowledge of the species helping us to better protect its wild cousins.This includes allowing photography , provided the animals welfare is not compromised and the funds raised go towards conservation projects.
An example of this is Boo the bear , at the grizzle bear refuge in Golden , BC , Canada. Orphaned at birth , most orphaned wild bear cubs are euthanized. However Boo was rescued and has lived in captivity for the past 12 years. Yes he’s a tourist attraction during the summer , but he is kept in a 22 acre enclosure . If he doesn’t want to be seen , you will not see him. He hibernates just like a real wild bear . But importantly for me , Research has been used to help the Northern Lights project , which to date has cared for 34 orphaned bear cubs , all of which have been returned to the wild.
I think anyone who loves wildlife doesn’t want to see wildlife in a circus or in an old fashioned Zoo. However ethical well run establishments have their part to pay in education , conservative , this includes photographic education.
Finally my last point , and this is a big one for me , honesty . Another simple point here . Don’t pass of a photo taken of a captive animal as “wild” .