Nature Photography: Objectivity, Manipulation, and Ethics
From stitching together images to baiting wildlife subjects, what's acceptable when it comes to nature photography?
The Grand Prize winner for the 2013 Audubon Magazine Photo Awards seemed to be a lock. But when the original file came in, the judges quickly realized that the photo of a majestic great horned owl that they'd fallen for was a composite. As Mark Jannot, Audubon vice president of content, notes in his editor's letter, the photographer had broken the contest rules and was therefore disqualified.
We're inviting readers to weigh in on whether our contest rules need to evolve, as the tools of photography have. We want to know: When it comes to nature photography, how much manipulation is acceptable?
We're not just talking about Photoshop; we also want your take on shooting captive animals, baiting wildlife, and more. So tell us: Do the images below pass your ethical test? Cast your vote beneath each photograph.
Feel free to continue the conversation in the Comments section below. And remember: Play nice. Our goal is not to slam the photographers whose work is shown below but rather to foster a robust, considered conversation.
Ansel Adams is an icon of nature photography. But even he partook in some creative re-interpretation of reality. Above is his most famous photograph, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941), in which he played with the exposure to make the clouds in the upper half of the image disappear.
The reason our presumed Grand Prize honoree was slapped with a DQ: The red line on the photo on the left above roughly marks the invisible boundary where the two images were joined into one. The image on the right is the original file—same background, but a hunched version of the owl in the photo submitted to the contest. From the rules: "All Photographs must...accurately reflect the subject matter as it appeared in the viewfinder. Photos that have been digitally or otherwise altered beyond standard optimization (including but not limited to removal of dust, cropping, and/or adjustments to color and contrast) will be disqualified."