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Commentary and Opinion

Love Hurts!

Some Nature Photographers Get too Close

Nature photographers trespassing on the Alafia Bank


Photography trespassers at the Alafia Bank


Nature photographers who walked on the Alafia Bank, Sunken Island, to look closely at an American Oystercatcher nest, causing the adults to move away, the nest to be unprotected, allowing a fish crow to steal one of the eggs


Florida Audubon Society celebrates the nature photographers who demonstrate proper ethical practices, while still managing to achieve amazing images.

Lynne Buchanan is an up-and-coming nature and landscape photographer, exhibiting at Bradenton’s South Florida Museum this spring,

“When I photograph birds, I use a long lens and stay far away.  We are all in the environment together.  If I happen to get a photograph of a bird without disturbing it, that's great, but if I don't, it is not the end of the world for me.  One thing I value and express in my art is the sense of being fully present in the world and sharing it with other lifeforms.  I am respectful of the fragility of our ecosystems and tread lightly.

“I appreciate efforts to promote more conscious and considerate behavior towards the wildlife of our State.  No doubt many creatures would prefer that we stay totally out of their environments, but I believe if we try to be less intrusive then we can all co-exist.  It is my hope that my photographs of the rivers in Florida and the creatures inhabiting the banks will raise people's awareness, so that they will work towards preserving these beautiful natural resources and the wildlife that lives here.  I always try to go into nature with the right attitude as one being who coexists in an interconnected web of life.”

Jim Gray, a well-known local natural photographer, winner of the Grand Prize in Tampa Audubon’s 2012 Photo contest and ranked as a prize winner in the Boyd Hill Nature Preserve's 30th Annual Photography Contest, is also a Getty Images contributor who has provided images to Audubon and the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

“I am fascinated by animal behavior and I get my best photographs when birds are not responding to what I am doing but are behaving as if I was not there.  A point I'd like to make is that some photographers at public places forget that birds still need rest and quiet time.  Just because birds are used to people doesn't negate their need to sleep.  In fact, recently, I was at Fort De Soto near the great horned owl nest and a lady photographer clapped her hands loudly.  I asked her why she had done that, and she responded that she wanted to wake the owls up and make them feed their young so she could take pictures of that behavior.  She said that clapping her hands was not nearly as loud as the construction work at the park had been the day before.  I replied that perhaps the owls really needed their rest today, as they might have been disturbed by noise yesterday.  So, in all, my point is, we should treat and respect animals like family.  We are all creatures of mother earth and we should not interrupt birds' meals and sleep.  They are more likely to successfully perpetuate the roles they play in the environment if left in peace, and that provides us with the quality of life that we enjoy here in this part of Florida.”

Lou Newman, a retired professor of veterinary medicine, is an active member of the North American Nature Photography Association, National Association of Photoshop Professionals, Dimage, Digital Photo Artists, Sarasota Audubon Society and Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Citizens Advisory Committee.  His work is held  in several private collections and is on permanent display at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Pines of Sarasota, SMH Institute for Advanced Medicine, Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation and Plymouth Harbor on Sarasota Bay’s Smith Care Center.He frequently participates in regional art gallery and photography exhibits.

“Photographers need to respect the birds, especially when they see a bird indicating by its behavior that it is nervous about their approach.  As photographers, if we get too close, birds will exhibit behaviors indicating nervousness, such as bobbing their heads, standing up on the nest or taking flight.  It’s important to get the picture without getting so close that you make the birds change what they are doing naturally.”

Jeff Ripple is a fine art landscape photographer,

“I do firmly believe that photographing any wildlife needs to be done with the utmost respect for wildlife subjects, and their needs must surpass those of the photographer's needs for a shot. Photographers should pay close attention to keeping a safe distance to their subjects and be able to recognize signs of stress in wildlife. Use longer lenses whenever possible. They should also not bait wildlife.”

Kevin Schafer is the founding fellow of the International  League of Conservation Photographers and chair of its ethics committee. He was named outstanding nature photographer of the year by NANPA in 2007 and his work has been published in National Geographic, Audubon, National Wildlife, and Smithsonian magazines.

“Without knowing the details, I can easily imagine that you are having some issues with photographers and wildlife in your sanctuaries.  I was out shooting snowy owls myself here (near Seattle) last week, and encountered the complete range of photographer behavior: good to bad.  The problem is obvious.  Wildlife photography is more popular, and more accessible, than ever.  It is not uncommon to see dozens, if not hundreds, of photographers in refuges and reserves every weekend, each one of them hoping for a “killer” shot.  Some are careful, respectful and try to minimize their impact on their subjects. Others, through ignorance, insensitivity, or greed, push the limits and potentially harm the animals they are there to photograph. 

“Part of the problem, of course, is that there are no universally accepted standards of what constitutes proper behavior. The closest thing, which I'm sure you've seen, has been proposed by NANPA, which is the largest membership organization of nature photographers:

“But only a fraction of all those people with cameras are NANPA members or know these guidelines.  What's more, whatever guidelines or rules you establish, some people will simply choose to ignore them.

“My personal standard is pretty simple: if my behavior is changing or disrupting an animal's behavior, I am too close.  I consider an encounter a success if I can get pictures and then leave the animal in the same position, or activity, as when I arrived.  There is simply no excuse for scaring a bird off its nest, exposing its chicks or eggs to predation.  We should always avoid disrupting both hunting and feeding behavior.  Does this mean I have never scared an animal, or disrupted its behavior?  I'm sure I have, but my goal is always to respect my subjects and minimize my impact.

“The fact is, standards of behavior are open to individual interpretation, and can be devilishly hard to manage (as I'm sure you know all too well).   Setting minimum working distances (say 25 feet) is one technique, but different kinds of animals (and individuals) have different tolerances, which can vary with  the situation, the time of year and the level of habituation.  Because of this, I suspect that setting ethical guidelines is about the most you can do, possibly requiring visitors to sign an agreement to follow them.”

Tammy Lyons has been an environmental consultant in the Tampa area for 25 years. She currently serves as vice president of the Tampa Audubon Society and is an amateur nature photographer, whose work has been featured in Audubon and FWC publications, reports, and presentations.

“I really enjoy seeing wildlife.  That got me into trying to photograph it, but to me, the welfare of the wildlife always comes first.  However, I find that there are some photographers who exploit the wildlife to get that perfect shot - to make money from the photograph — and I find that very disheartening.”