Ethics of Photography – Nature

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Whilst it is a little bit more in the background right now, I am continuing to work on the Ethics project. As a reminder, I am working with a  10-point framework.

    1. THE PHOTOGRAPH ITSELF (Technical – Composition – Manipulation)
    2. SUBJECT MATTER (Content – Symbols – Meaning – Caption)
    3. GENRE CONSIDERATIONS (e.g. Art, Documentary, Nature, News, Scientific)
    4. TIME AND PLACE (Significance – Appropriateness – History – Altered Meaning)
    5. CULTURAL & RELIGIOUS CONSIDERATIONS (Respect – Taboos – Sacred)
    6. GENDER, RACE & EQUALITY (Stereotypes – Public/Private – Gaze)
    7. POWER RELATIONSHIPS (Photographer – Subject – Audience – Media)
    8. CHANGE INTENTION (Observe – Document – Advocate – Programmatic)
    9. NETWORK EFFECTS (Trustworthiness – Reuse – Alteration)
    10. THE LAW (Ownership – Consent – Privacy – Data Protection)

I can see that this needs elaboration in terms of nature photography, which has a raft of particular issues. At this juncture, I think this fits inside point 2, the subject matter, as would other genres of photography. I do wonder though whether in the context of the broader environmental issues, it might require another ‘point’.

The RPS, back in 1997 and revised in 2007, prepared a ‘Nature Photographer’s Code of Practice. Whilst this is rather oriented to the UK and the law, it has some concepts which are very useful. From the document’s introduction:

There is one hard and fast rule, whose spirit must be observed at all times: ‘The welfare of the subject is more important than the photograph’.

    • Photography should not be undertaken if it puts the subject at risk. Risk to the subject, in this context, means risk of disturbance, physical damage, causing anxiety, consequential predation, and lessened reproductive success.
    • Photography may be seen as a criminal offence with relation to some species, since disturbance will be occasioned.
    • Many species are afforded special legal protection. The Law as it affects nature photography must be observed. For Great Britain the main legislation is listed at the end of this leaflet. In other countries one should find out in advance any restrictions that apply.
    • Apparent lax or absence of local legislation should not lead any photographer to relax his/her own high standard.
    • The photographer should be familiar with the natural history of the subject; the more complex the life-form and the rarer the species, the greater his/ her knowledge must be. He/ she should also be sufficiently familiar with other natural history subjects to be able to avoid damaging their interests accidentally.
      Photography of uncommon creatures and plants by people who know nothing of the hazards to species and habitat is to be deplored.

The RPS documentent is here: RPS Nature Photographers Code of Practice.

Research and more work to be done.