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

Photograph by Arne Olav/Caters News

Finally, a match made in Photoshop. Arne Olaf merged a pug and a bird to create a purd.

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I wonder just how many

I wonder just how many "amazing" photographs there would be in the world if photographers were required to submit raw images, straight out of the camera with nothing done to them whatsoever... not even cropping or exposure adjustments. My guess is that there would only be a handful.

Our present digital cameras'

Our present digital cameras' capabilities, magnificent as they might be, still cannot capture the full f-stop range of color and light as the human eye. Thus, it is virtualy impossible, without minor alterations, to capture in a picture exactly what you see in the viewfinder. In my opinion, digital enhancement which allows the photographer to more accurately approximate what the eye saw in the viewfinder, is simply evening out what your eyes can see and cameras cannot. Having said that, there is a place to draw the line, especially for nature photography!

“...altered beyond standard

“...altered beyond standard optimization (including but not limited to removal of dust, cropping, and/or adjustments to color and contrast) will be disqualified.”

Just what is “standard optimization”? It is unclear to me; is the parenthetical phrase part of what the editors consider to be “standard”, or are cropping and dust removal, etc. considered alterations? I would consider all the listed items acceptable, up to a point; darkening a sky is OK, but turning a gray sky blue is not.

Absolutely agree with Paul -

Absolutely agree with Paul - "art for art's sake" you can do what you want, but in a contest, follow the rules. I would like more clarity on those rules beyond "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.". Maybe provide us with some examples for 2014. What I consider standard may be different than you what you think, and I wouldn't want to include (or discard) a photo because of confusion about definitions.

None of the questions are

None of the questions are appropriate. Definitions of "nature" are subjective and arbitrary. If an organisation creates their own definition then play by their rules. As to what is acceptable ethically, that depends on the motive of the photographer, the treatment of and risk to the wildlife and the willingness of the audience to consider the implications of a possibly provocative work. There can be a time and a place for an awful lot of things that might agitate under the banner of "nature photography". There is absolutely nothing "true" about photography. Use it how you will and make the effort to understand the implications of its usage.

True, definitions of "nature"

True, definitions of "nature" can be subjective and arbitrary, but hardly as subjective and arbitrary as definitions of art. As others have stated, it all comes down to the definitions/rules presented in the contest. To me, documentation of reality provides a different kind of truth or value than an artistic expression that is artificial contrived or manipulated, but none the less bears an artistic truth. As an observer, I want to know context. Some people prefer movies, others prefer real life, and even there, the line can be blurred.

Nature means nature, not

Nature means nature, not something rigged to look like it or "adjusted".

Anne Marie Musselman's photo

Anne Marie Musselman's photo choices did not offer an option for a qualified yes. If she is using photos of wild animals in captivity and they are labeled as such to accompany an article on abuse that would be no different than the picture by Todd Forsgren, where a qualifying option was used..If it were for any other purpose, it would not be ethical.

Any and all photographic

Any and all photographic manipulations should be disclosed. However, the use of "farmed" animals should NEVER be tolerated. Raising wild animals to be cheap models is 100% unethical.

Digital or darkroom

Digital or darkroom manipulation is, sometimes, necessary. At the same time if the photo is published or in an exhibit the manipulation must be clearly acknowledged. As a photographer for well over 60 years and a photo-journalist for some years I demand of myself and others truth about the image. With the advent of digital photography and cell phones that can take very good digital photos honesty is vitally important. I started doing photo work and processing my own black and white photos at about 12 years old. I taught myself how to manipulate photos in the darkroom and I had a lot of fun doing so. However, photo manipulation can and has been used for blackmail, distortion of new stories and other less than honest purposes.
The loud cry of a good editor and publisher is "verify, verify,verify. Anything less is hypocritical and out and out dishonesty.

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