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
Magazine Category


For contests, why not create

For contests, why not create two categories: "Natural" and "Anything goes" as long as the ethical standards followed.

I am opposed to mist nets

I am opposed to mist nets being used even by professionals because some birds perish from being netted.

As a wildlife photographer I

As a wildlife photographer I firmly believe that the truth is the only valid way to approach nature photography. Manipulated images must be acknowledged. The use of an image is of course the deciding factor in if or how much minipulation was used. There is a differance in art and reality. Reality can be (and often is) art but art is seldom reality. I have no problem with images made in less than natural situations if they were done in an ethical manner and are acknowledged as such. As to photo competitions simply have a catagory for manipulated images.

Thank you for presenting the

Thank you for presenting the poll and results. I think the results speak for themselves with most people wanting basically natural images with only minor adjustments to lighting mainly. Any disclosures shouldn't be disguised or hidden in text, it should be right out in the open. Once the line of acceptability is moved then processing rules the shot instead of the photographer's ability to capture spontaneous images.

if you are entering a contest

if you are entering a contest with rules you should follow those rules - if everyone changes their photograph then there is no real contest. perhaps the additional category suggestion is a good one - a category of "photographer altered photographs" those photos should be indeed taken by the photographer

Thank you for including this

Thank you for including this interesting questionnaire. It was though provoking and I'd like to see subject matter used in schools. Keep up the good work.

I think it's all about the

I think it's all about the definition. If you are a professional photographer selling your work then manipulation is acceptable. To me that is "art" not photography. Nature photography should be photos shot in the wild of wild animals. Not farmed animals of captive animals released to take a photo. Baiting the animal might blur the line, but it's still in the wild. I would have objection to someone feeding an animal on a regular basis to "tame" it and then go back and get photos for that "perfect shot". To me that is unethical treatment of an amimal. For purposes of contests, no manipulation. It should be about the skills of the photographer to grab that "money shot" on the fly, getting the best image you can under the circumstances. Not going back later and manipulating the shot to make it better. Again, that would be my "rules" for a contest. If they sell the picutre (art) then anything goes.

There is a difference between

There is a difference between nature photography and digital art, and a place for each. Audubon's rules seem appropriate for a photo contest. Perhaps, as some have suggested, a separate contest could be held for digital art where anything goes; but Audubon may not be the place for it. It is nice to see Adams mentioned. So often we hear the argument that manipulation is new with digital photography, which of course it is not. If photography is art, and I would argue that it is, then the photograph isn't "done" until the artist says that it is done. No one complains when a painter takes creative license and adds a few deer to a mountain meadow, yet the photographer/artist is condemned as a charlatan. But PHOTO contests should be about photography skills, not computer/PhotoShop skills, especially ones held by respected nature magazines like Audubon. For the purpose of contests manipulation should be limited to traditional darkroom techniques, such as contrast, color, sharpening etc.

I would like to believe that

I would like to believe that you care abut nature as much as you say you do. I have always believed that you did until recently. In the past two years I have reached out to you on several occasions to get your help in protecting our swans and now this past winter the snowy owls that they have been murdering here in Michigan. You have not once responded and as far as I know you have done nothing to help. So is it manipulated photos you care about or our precious bird.

I definitely think things

I definitely think things like cropping, dust removal and level adjustment should be permitted. You are trying to capture what the eye sees, not what the mechanical view finder does. Altering images by adding subjects or manipulating shapes is not nature photography but is art and should be identified as such

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