Learn to be a more ethical wildlife photographer

As wildlife photographers there’s a lot to consider. From lenses to cameras, backpacks to bokeh, there are so many things that go into making a great natural world image. But before we get into all that over the next 12 blogs, we need to address one of the most important issues facing us today - ethical conduct.

Now I know I may be preaching to the converted here, but it never hurts to spend a little extra time considering what is certainly one of the core and underpinning notions about wildlife photography. In the past few years, with a surge in affordable cameras and our ability to travel to and access numerous locations, wildlife photography has become more popular than ever. This means that we need to be sure we’re still keeping up the standards when it comes to our work in the field.

Wildlife is wild and we should do our best to keep it that way. Obviously never putting your subjects in danger is priority number one, so work as hard as you can to avoid any unnecessary stress for them. Poor field craft can result in a subject constantly having to check its natural behaviour, taking it away from its feeding or breeding that can ultimately be detrimental to its wellbeing.

With an increasing number of photographers out and about looking for subjects, now more than ever it’s important not to crowd wildlife. Honey pot sights are becoming very busy and when crowds gather round a particular species or individual, this kind of behaviour can result in a high amount of stress. We all get carried away on occasion, but just be sure to look up and consider your subject.

Following on from the above, with more people visiting certain areas, stress on the habitat as well as the subjects is also something you need to consider. When on location be sure to stick to footpaths and if you feel there’s a high amount of soil erosion etc. being caused by over trampling, do your best not to add to the problem. Of course, it goes without saying that you should take your litter home.

As you progress with your photography it’s likely that at some point you’ll feed wildlife in order to tempt it in for an image or create a certain set up in your garden. Some photographers don't believe in feeding any creatures, but I accept that sometimes it’s a great way to encourage and create images that may otherwise cause far more stress. If you’re working via feeding, be sure to be as ethical as possible in your approach, choosing the correct food and if working with carnivores being sure to work with carrion rather than live baiting.

When you finish working on a feeding project slowly ease off the supply of food - if you stop suddenly after you’ve created your images, a subject may find itself in a hard position, having become reliant on your supplementary feeding. Slowly ease off and reduce the amount of food you’re putting out over a period of a few weeks to help reacclimatise them into their natural feeding behaviour.

In many ways working ethically as a photographer is a simple question of common sense.  I know that most photographers work with creatures they love, with the best intentions never to cause any harm. When you’re out shooting, be sure to take a moment and consider your subject, environment and impact. If everyone does the same, we’ll hopefully have a wonderful community of photographers, working to create gorgeous images and protect our natural wonders.

Tom Mason is one of the UK’s most exciting young wildlife photographers and conservationists. He leads workshops and seminars and writes a monthly blog for the RSPB. See more of his work here