02 July 2011

To Photograph Wild or Captive..??

The subject has been written about many times - by many amateurs and professional photographers alike. Is it right to photograph captive species..? Personally I don't think the question should be: is it right; but rather - what's the reason for doing so.? Yes, I have spent a fair number of hours photographing captive species, including falcons, hawks, owls, hedgehogs and red squirrels. These subjects are constantly in demand, and as a professional wildlife photographer I need to have them on file. In fact, my reason for shooting these types of images is often not in the expectation that they will sell as invidual pictures, but rather in their use to illustrate my written articles on nature. In this way I guess it's more of a journalistic approach. I'm not naive in the reality of just how many of these pictures are available, so I know that it will take some luck for one to find its way onto a greetings card or calendar.

This brings me to my main point: just how sensible is it to shoot these images in the current climate.? Do a picture search with any photo libary and you'll find page after page of red squirrel, goshawk, red fox and the like.. So, yes these images are saleable - but where does it go from here..? As these types of images become increasingly common, they begin to lose impact; and there is a crucial part of the image missing - the story. For these images, there is no story - no background, no preparation, no tale of discovering a wild animal and working the site to finally achieve that special image. For me, it's not just about the ethics of shooting captive - it's simply about the surrounding story of how those images came to be. I make no apologies for photographing captive species and no doubt I will continue to do so on a relatively small scale. But I honestly believe that the future is in story-telling. Things often come full circle (look at some of the clothes out there these days) and photography is no different. Editors and readers are always looking for something new - and I think that the 'new' future will be once again in photographing completely wild animals in their natural habitat, and the stories of how photographers achieved the images.

This recent roe buck image illustrates my point pretty well. I could have photographed roe deer in captivity but would never have been able to capture the animal in this natural setting of a wild buttercup meadow. Shot in captivity - once asked how I got the shot, my answer would have been: "I turned up, used a telephoto lens, made the most of the light and composed the shot...oh, and I paid some money too.."
So how did I get this roe buck..? Answer -"I've been watching a group of roe deer for the last 3 months. I arrive at 5.00am and reach my usual check-point wearing camouflage. I spot a buck and hind towards the far end of the buttercup meadow and contemplate going for the stalk. The decision to stalk is made by weighing up the benefits of extra stability (stuck in one position) against potential camera shake (hand-held stalking). In this light I can use ISO 200 and get 1/1000 second - but I need to get damn close with a 300mm lens! I manage to get to the opposite side of the hedgerow in the adjacent field - there's plenty of cover, but it's a true crawl all the way. What the hell! In wet grass, I crawl around 50 yards trying to make zero noise all the time. I stop and look up. They're still there. Just get past these bushes and I'm close enough... My camouflage hood has netting with various grasses stuffed in to break up my outline, so I should be o.k.. The female has disappeared, but the male's still there making his way to the corner of the field. There's a barb wire fence in the way.. so I have to rise higher to get a clear shot. One click... the buck doesn''t even seem to notice! He moves forward and now the shot's there. I compose with the deer looking into space and have no option but to use the out of focus hedgerow as foreground. A couple more shots - perfect!!"

I'll continue to concentrate on wild subjects and have a story to tell. There are many pictures out there - but there are also many, many more that have never even been taken. It's only by putting in the time and gaining the knowledge that these will come about.

A great many thanks to Andrew and Fiona for allowing me the opportunity to watch and photograph these fascinating animals on your land.

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