The Ethics Of Nature Photography: Is The Image More Important Than The Subject?

Is the image more important than the subject? Hint: NO! Moreover, I can’t even think of a hypothetical where it might be.

If you have been reading my blog, you know that I recently returned home from Death Valley National Park and Mojave National Preserve appalled and concerned by the behavior of some fellow photographers. See Ethics And Courtesy In Pursuit Of An Image. The Audubon Society has just published online Too Close for Comfort, an article from its May/June 2015 magazine, detailing how some photographers are pushing the limits and hurting wildlife in pursuit of an image. I highly recommend the article.

And, let’s all remember that our national parks and wildlife refuges are fragile, the animals we photograph are live there, and we are mere visitors.

Look and Learn: World Press Photo of 2014

One of the best ways to learn how to make great photographs is to look at great photographs and, once a year, we have an opportunity to view some of the best press photos when World Press Photo announces the winners of its annual photo contest.

WPP announced the winners of the 58th annual World Press Photo Contest on February 2. This year’s overall winner is a photograph by Mads Nissen, a staff photographer for the Danish daily newspaper Politiken, of an intimate moment between  a Russian gay couple. WPP also awarded prizes for images in the categories of Contemporary Issues, Daily Life, General News, Long-Term Projects, Nature, Portraits, Sports, and Spot News. WPP also posted short interviews of the jury members reflecting on the contest and photography.

The World Press Photo Foundation supports and works to establish high standards for photojournalism and documentary photography. Its yearly contest, if not the most prestigious contest for photojournalism in the world, is one of the most prestigious and this year’s contest drew 97,912 entries from 5,692 photographers in 131 countries.

Breaking a Creative Rut

Sunset on the Susquehanna River near Drumore, PA.
Sunset on the Susquehanna River near Drumore, PA. Nikon D750 with 24-70mm at 70mm, 1.6 sec, f/11, and ISO 100

Until this last weekend, I had been completely focused on work, the ongoing requirements of daily life, and other people’s tribulations for almost six months. In other words, I had been in a creative rut. It had even been a few weeks since I had my camera out of its bag! However, after a just a couple of days in new surroundings, I feel reenergized and I am once again reminded of the need to shake things up frequently to keep yourself fresh.

A dilapidated greenhouse door on the grounds of Valley Forge National Historical Park
Nikon D750 at 70mm, 1/2,000 sec, f/2.8, ISO 200

It is easy to fall into a rut. There are simply lots of people, events, and other things competing for our attention. It is especially easy to fall into a rut during this time of year; it is cold, rainy, and just not very agreeable outside. And, inertia being what it is, it is easy just to go with the familiar and safe. Ruts also pulverize your creativity.

What changed this last weekend? Dingo and I found ourselves at home alone and looking at another weekend of working on the house and doing laundry. In a moment of relative spontaneity (it played out over a couple of days), we decided to get in the car and drive north to Pennsylvania. I was going to see and photograph some new places and Dingo went along to smell some new places.

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Nikon D750 at 70mm, 1/80 sec, f/11, ISO 100

We visited six new parks, hiked about twelve miles, took a few hundred images, and got a good night’s sleep on Saturday. I also met a couple of other photographers while on the road and, based on their recommendations, have some additional locations to check out on the next trip. Overall, a great weekend. It was relaxing and gave me some quality time with Dingo.

More importantly, I feel like it broke the rut. I still may have painting and the laundry to do but I feel great and I got some good images. My recommendation to you is to remember to shake it up and get out soon.