Nature Photography: Objectivity, Manipulation, and Ethics

Nature Photography: Objectivity, Manipulation, and Ethics

From stitching together images to baiting wildlife subjects, what's acceptable when it comes to nature photography?

By The Editors
Published: 01/30/2014

National Geographic’s February 1982 cover is famous for its deception: The Giza pyramids were squeezed together to accommodate the cover format. After its publication, the magazine took a hard line against doctoring its photography, even after the advent of Photoshop.

Photograph by Art Wolfe

When Art Wolfe’s book Migrations was published in 1994, it was heralded as a triumph of nature photography. Two years later it came under fire when it was revealed that Wolfe had altered about a third of the images. To create this shot, for instance, Wolf cloned zebras to fill in spaces. Wolfe calls the work a “digital illustration”—a term he mentions in the book.

Photograph by Connor Stefanison

Above is one of the winning shots from the Natural History Museum in London’s 2013 Eric Hosking Portfolio Award, taken by Connor Stefanison. To capture this dramatic pose, Stefanison baited the barred owl—which he explicitly stated in the caption, writing that he used a dead mouse to lure the raptor.

Photographs by Andrew Geiger

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Comments

In Mr Adams photo, I'm

In Mr Adams photo, I'm assuming he did not disclose the altercation and therefore I voted No.
I trust most people did not vote yes because of Mr. Adams notoriety.

As a professional

As a professional photographer (8 years as art director and staff photographer for Foot Locker, Inc. and Champs Sports) and as a wildlife water color and acrylic artist, I find digital photography to be an incredible tool. I had to become masterly capable of manipulating photographs in Photoshop for my profession. I have taught classes in Photoshop to other artists and the general public titled "How to get the most out of your photographs". In these classes I instruct the students how to richen the natural color, get realistic contrast and sharpen the focus with filters, all in five easy steps. I always stress to them that they have not altered the integrity of their photo or added anything that was not already there, and they didn't use special effects. They are blown away with the results to what they thought was already a very good picture. Not to brag but I know just about every trick in the book. If you look at my website www.hiltonsnowdon.com you will see nothing but Photoshoped imagery. I was pretty critical in my voting, so as a painter, I take artistic liberty with my artwork (see my Illustration page) but as a photographer of nature I think it must be…. well natural. Thanks for a great opportunity to vote on these images.

I love the scarcasim in the

I love the scarcasim in the PURD and would like to know where I might obtain a print of this.

I agree with the above

I agree with the above commenter "LIKED AND LEARNED VERY MUCH". Thank you.

It is important to

It is important to distinguish "nature" photography from photographing nature as "art". As I define it, nature photography should be showing the natural world truthfully, and this responsibility should over-ride any wishes to win a contest or express an artistic concept. As with any concept, there is a blurred line between what is acceptable and not - maybe increasing contrast, for instance, will enhance the drama of a scene. There will always be some human interpretation - even the human eye sees the scene differently from the camera. If the photograph is clearly presented only as art and not a representation of "nature", then any and all manipulations to communicate the artist's point of view are welcome.

It is important to

It is important to distinguish "nature" photography from photographing nature as "art". As I define it, nature photography should be showing the natural world truthfully, and this responsibility should over-ride any wishes to win a contest or express an artistic concept. As with any concept, there is a blurred line between what is acceptable and not - maybe increasing contrast, for instance, will enhance the drama of a scene. There will always be some human interpretation - even the human eye sees the scene differently from the camera. If the photograph is clearly presented only as art and not a representation of "nature", then any and all manipulations to communicate the artist's point of view are welcome.

It is important to

It is important to distinguish "nature" photography from photographing nature as "art". As I define it, nature photography should be showing the natural world truthfully, and this responsibility should over-ride any wishes to win a contest or express an artistic concept. As with any concept, there is a blurred line between what is acceptable and not - maybe increasing contrast, for instance, will enhance the drama of a scene. There will always be some human interpretation - even the human eye sees the scene differently from the camera. If the photograph is clearly presented only as art and not a representation of "nature", then any and all manipulations to communicate the artist's point of view are welcome.

A distinction that could be

A distinction that could be made with several of these photographs: was the intention to create art? I believe that is why Ansel Adams "doctored" his photograph. The term "nature photography" is not necessarily art. In some cases, the photographer has created art with her/his nature photographs but not always. Did the photographer intend to capture something from nature? Did the photographer intend to convey a message (e.g., animal abuse)about nature?
I appreciate any information a photographer can provide about her/his photographs.

Great, thought-provoking

Great, thought-provoking survey! I love nature and photography both, and never knew there was a term "nature photography" that adhered to certain rules. Sometimes a person wants to create a beautiful work, as in the owl flying toward us. The owl was probably not harmed, so i don't think it's an unethical way to get a photo... unless you are breaking contest rules, that is!

Great, thought-provoking

Great, thought-provoking survey! I love nature and photography both, and never knew there was a term "nature photography" that adhered to certain rules. Sometimes a person wants to create a beautiful work, as in the owl flying toward us. The owl was probably not harmed, so i don't think it's an unethical way to get a photo... unless you are breaking contest rules, that is!

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