Wildlife Photography Ethics That Makes You a Responsible Photographer

Ethics and wildlife photography are often a gray area. It does not stop at staging photographs. There are photographers who put species and habitats in danger, unwittingly or not. In this article, we explore what constitutes unethical wildlife photography. We also list solutions to these unethical practices so you can ensure the safety of animals.

What Is Ethical Wildlife Photography?

Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Luis Rodriguez, was stripped of award for using a staged animal

The term ‘unethical wildlife photography’ describes a number of behaviors. Making the audience believe the photo is natural when it is not, is unethical. Tactics used to stage such images, can be detrimental to certain habitats and species.

Some species, because of their characteristics, faces danger every time they’re approached. Take, for example, the Great Indian Bustard. This large bird, with hazel brown feathers and a dark black stripe down their head, are well known for their caution around intruders. When an unwanted visitor arrives on their patch it’ll stop whatever it’s doing until the intruder has left. That means eating, mating, and courting. As a result, constant contact by photographers can affect their chances of survival. This is one of the reasons that India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests took action. Photographing these bird during their mating season is now prohibited

Wildlife Photography Ethics and Your Responsibility

As photographers, it is important to respect wildlife. You should also research your subjects before heading into their natural habitats. One could write a never ending list of unethical practices in wildlife photography. Unlimited ways in which we could hurt our subjects makes it hard to define what is unethical. Each photographer is prone to form their own opinion on the matter. Some photographers argue that ethical standards depend on the type of shoot. For example, if you are photographing a local animal, you have a lowered set of standards compared to documenting a rare species.

The bottom line is to use common sense. If you think that you are putting your subject and the habitat in danger stop what you’re doing.

Here are the most abused wildlife photography ethics that could be detrimental to animals.

Photographing Nocturnal Animals

A photo of a Leopard at dusk. Nocturnal animals such as Leopards are sensitive to light
Nocturnal animals such as Leopards are sensitive to light

The problem with Photographing Nocturnal Animals.

Most nocturnal animals are sensitive to light. Using a powerful light source such as a flash can temporarily blind these animals. Since they are active at night, these animals aren’t often photographed. Which makes them a much more attractive proposition to an amateur wildlife photographer.

What you should do. Avoid taking pictures of nocturnal animals with your flash. And if you’re looking to monitor them to study, use a night vision video camera. For more tips, read photographing wildlife in low light.

Den and Nest Photography

A photo of 3 baby birds in a nest begging for food
By getting too close to the nest you can stress the babies or worst make the parents abandon the nest.

The problem with Nest & Den Photography.

Nesting & den photography is the act of getting close to birds and mammals within their dens. This disturbance often causes serious stress to the animal. It can also lead to the abandonment of the den or nest by parents. It could also force a family to move to a dangerous location, all because a photographer got a little too close. Some photographers are also known to remove the nest from its original location for a better photo! Some even go to the length of destroying the nest after their ‘session’.

What you should do. It’s simple – don’t take part in nest or den photography. There is no reason for any wildlife photographer to fiddle with the nest of an animal.

Baiting Animals for Photography

A squirrel eating a bait potato chip as it is being photographed
Baiting not only interfere with animal’s eating habits but it may also pose a health risk to the animal.

The problem with baiting.

As the name suggests, baiting is offering a free meal to an animal. To lure them out into the open for your photograph. Such practices can alter the way that wildlife behaves and interact with humans. There have even been instances of baited animals attacking photographers. Animal’s digestive systems are not used to human food and this could lead to them getting sick after you leave. Animals who are regularly fed by humans may also gain weight due to high caloric nature of human food.

What you should do. Don’t bait animals for pictures. It’s even illegal in some countries and can seriously harm your local wildlife.

Animal Chasing and Provocations

An elephant herd being chased away to photograph their movement. Clear violation of wildlife photography ethics
Chasing animals to photograph them is an unethical wildlife photography practice.

What’s the problem?

To ensure that the animal doesn’t escape, some photographers chase it until they’re too tired to run anymore. The problems these causes are obvious. A chased animal is under a lot of stress, unable to hunt or escape from a predator. Recently videos of people provoking animals and the resulting chase have gone viral in social media. By watching or sharing such videos, we are also contributing to the abuse.

What you should do. This is one of the worst ways imaginable to capture a picture of an animal. There is no excuse for putting an animal under such duress and risk, ever. No matter how good your final ‘photograph’. If you encounter viral videos with animal chases or provocations, be sure to comment your criticism of such acts..

Crowding an Animal

A photographer in the face of a snaring fox. A clear violation of wildlife photography ethics
Crowding an animal to get a reaction is unethical

What’s the problem?

On some photography tours and wildlife parks, animals are often crowded by visitors. Who surround the animal in groups to get a good picture. By crowding, they often provoke a response out of the animal, like a snarl, which is often their aim. This tactic not only stresses the animal but also impact its natural behaviors. Such as mating and hunting.

What you should do. Maintain a safe distance from the animal at all times. If you’re with others who aren’t respecting the animal’s proximity, ask them kindly to back away. Report to authorities or document the abuse if you are not able to stop them.


An off roading vehicle on top of wildflowers
Off-roading may not be a direct problem but destroying feeding or sensitive habitats goes against wildlife photography ethics.

What’s the problem?

Off-roading may not be a direct problem. However, destroying feeding or sensitive habitats goes against wildlife photography ethics.

What you should do. Do not off road on sensitive patches filled with wildflowers or vegetation. Instead, travel on foot. Whenever possible, stick to designated trails and paths.

The Future

The thirst for wildlife photography only seems to be growing. As result, it is important to educate newcomers to the hobby on wildlife photography ethics. This requirement is only made stronger by the fact that many photographers differ in their beliefs of what is ethical and what is not. The key here is to ensure that veterans of wildlife photography take it upon themselves to promote and lead the way in wildlife photography ethics. This will help instill a true sense of care and responsibility in a younger generation of photographers.

Damaging habitats and putting species at risk means only one thing. We as wildlife photographers will have fewer opportunities to capture images of the animals that we love. And we are sure that there isn’t a photographer out there that wants that to happen.

We would love to hear your take on some of these points. Did we miss something? Or would you like to share with us photos of unethical wildlife photography to raise awareness? Please use the comment section below to contribute.

Ethical wildlife photography cover

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About the author

Ramesh Yahathugoda

My love for photography started when I went on a hiking trip to Alberta's Banff national park. I have more than 10 years of experience shooting nature and landscape photography and I am a member of Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC).

My passion is to help others become better photographers. I share photography knowledge and review camera gear on PhotoBlog's official blog to achieve that goal. In my spare time, I love to read, run, and go on hikes! To see my latest adventures, visit my travel photography blog here on PhotoBlog.com

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