When I first thought about starting a photography magazine I had to consider what kind of subject matter it would cover. Sitting right next to the most visited National Park in the United States, it only made sense to have nature photography as a major component. That just moved the question one step further down the line. What is nature photography? There doesn’t seem to be an easy answer.
Researching information online showed that there were some strong feelings on the topic. One school of thought is that nature photography, particularly wildlife photography, should be documentary and should have little post capture work done to it. The other school looks at photography as art and allows for more freedom in the interpretation of the image. Individual photographers fall all along that continuum. A few don’t even sharpen wildlife images and a few pass off composites as wildlife, but most are somewhere in between.
The Audubon Society has an interesting posting of the poll result they received from thousands of people they questioned after they disqualified an image from their contest for being a composite image. Twenty-six present of the respondents thought that Ansel Adams’ images were not nature photography because he dodged and burned in the darkroom. Sixty-six percent thought that the National Geographic cover that moved the pyramids around was ethical or ethical if there was a disclaimer. Seventy-two present thought that baiting was either ok or ok if there was a disclosure of the use of bait. It was about half and half on whether game farm shots were nature photography.
Exploring my own feelings revealed that I believe both points of view are valid as long as the photographer makes it clear what was done to the image. Each individual can determine what he/she thinks is nature photography and what is art. There is a place in the world for both. We need scientific study of nature and journalist presentations of the results. We also need beautiful images to inspire people to commit to saving the environment as Ansel Adams’ work did.
Regardless of whether a particular image is journalistic or art, it needs to be captured in an ethical fashion. The North American Nature Photography Association and the American Birding Association each have a Code of Ethics that provide guidelines on how to act. The Park has regulations on how far to stay away from bears and elk (50 yards) and how to interact with other life in the fields. We all learn to leave nothing but footprints. No image is worth harming the subject.
Take a look at the humming bird image above. It is a composite. I took a shot of a hummingbird visiting one of our feeders and combined it with a flower from our neighbor’s yard that humming birds do visit. Is this a wildlife image? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t enter it in a wildlife contest. Is it an art image? I think it is ok as an art image as long as I don’t call it wildlife. Whether you like the actual composite image or not, what is your opinion of the concept. I’m guessing that opinions will be all across the spectrum.