Archive for Ethics in Photography

Photographer of the Month – John Marriott

Posted in Inspirations, Photographer of the Month with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2011 by Darwin

The photographer of the month for April is John Marriott. John is one of the Canada’s top wildlife and nature photographers. I admire John not only for his fine photography but also for his ethics and action in living softly on the planet. John cares deeply  about the subjects he photographs and their welfare always comes first. Nature photographers need to act to preserve what they love to photograph. John is a shining example of nature photographer whose actions speak louder than words. Below is my interview with John.

Darwin: John, you are one of the few photographers out there who has not only self-published your own coffee table books but has been wildly successful at the endeavor. I know you give an inspiring, real-life look at how you did this in one of your popular seminars called How to Self-Publish (and actually make money doing it). For those that have not heard your talk, what are the key points in being successful at publishing your own books?

John: Darwin, in a nutshell, photographers that are interested in self-publishing and want to be successful at it have to first find a product niche, whether it be books or cards, posters or calendars. In other words, if they take a look in the marketplace and figure out that no one’s doing an owl calendar, then they’ve found a potential niche.

They then have to determine if there’s actually a market for that product niche.  Will anyone buy the owl calendar?  Who should they be targeting, what types of stores, which customers?

And finally, they have to crunch the numbers to see if they can actually make money at it.  Just because there’s a niche and a market doesn’t mean that you’ll make money with a product.  You have to sit down and do your spreadsheets (or write it all out on a cocktail napkin) to figure out your start-up costs, your profit potential, your projected sales, and your cash flow scenarios.  It sounds daunting, but it’s well worth it.

I’ve sold over 20,000 coffee table books and 130,000 greeting cards to date, so if you put in the time and effort and research your idea properly, you can really make self-publishing a huge part of your photography business.

©John Marriott

©John Marriott

Darwin: I am impressed by your ethics in photography. Many wildlife photographers just want the trophy shot and honestly care very little how that impacts the animal. I know you’ll give up the shot if it means any harm, stress or disturbance to your subject. Given that, how do you still come home with the amazing images but without negatively impacting your subject?

John: I don’t think many wildlife photographers realize that being ethical and showing respect for your wildlife subjects can actually lead to better and more interesting photographs.  For instance, if you’re always pressuring an animal and following it about, the animal is not very likely to act naturally and show you much in the way of interesting behaviour.  By contrast, if you show some patience and wait for opportunities to develop, then you’re often rewarded with an animal that will act much more naturally and offer you the chance to capture a wider range of behaviours with your camera.

I think it’s important to know how to recognize when you’re stressing an animal and to react accordingly by moving back or leaving the scene.  Like you said, Darwin, I do believe that the welfare of the animal is more important than just ‘getting the shot’.  I think passing up certain opportunities not only teaches patience, but I believe it also opens up other chances, allowing me to pick and choose the encounters that are going to result in the best pictures.

©John Marriott

©John Marriott

Darwin: You have come out strongly against baiting wildlife to get photos, using wildlife models (e.g. trained bears, cougars, wolves) and even using flash for wildlife photography. Why should other photographers consider not doing these things?

John: I think wildlife photographers need to look at this from two angles.  One, how is game farm photography the same as wildlife photography?  I would argue that it’s actually much closer to commercial model photography.  There is no thrill or chance involved in taking photos of an animal that is forced to live in a cage and that has to respond to a trainer’s demands.  These animals are not living free, wild lives, and I just think there is a real disconnect from the natural world with photographers that do these game farm shoots.  You’re picking the day, the scene, the lighting, even the model.  It’s not wildlife photography at all, it’s just animal model photography, and it takes very little skill to be good at it.

Secondly, photographers that go to game farms often argue that it’s an economical way to get images to fill out their portfolios and that it allows them to get shots of animals that are very tough to find in the wild.  But that’s showing a disrespect for the craft of wildlife photography as an art and a profession.  People like myself work long and hard to get images of wild wolf, lynx, cougar, grizzly bear, and even wolverine, and it’s actually helped my business, not hindered it.  That’s because there is a growing discontent in the marketplace for images of captive animals.  Many magazines and companies now won’t even consider using photos that weren’t taken in the wild, which is a refreshing change from five or ten years ago.

As for baiting and the use of flash, I feel that the challenge of getting an image without trying to control the animal’s behaviour or the lighting is worth the extra time and effort I may have to put in to get a good shot.  Again, it comes down to having an animal act naturally and showing some respect for your subject.

If you’re using a flash, you are almost always disturbing the animal to some degree.  Imagine having someone follow you around all day with a camera and flash.  Of course you’re going to start noticing the flash going off, and of course it’s going to alter how you behave, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Baiting is even more egregious.  You’re basically saying, “My need to get this shot is more important than the well-being of my subject.”  You’ve helped to condition an animal to an unnatural food source without thinking of the consequences. The next person to throw bait out for that wolf or bear may want to shoot it with a gun.  And the owl you just fed so you could get shots of it swooping down to pick up the lab mouse has just been conditioned to look to humans for food.  Worse yet, it might now survive the winter when it wasn’t supposed to, leaving its weaker genes in the population and throwing off the process of natural selection.

©John Marriott

©John Marriott

Darwin: What separates a good wildlife photographer from a great one? Why is it your images stand out above the mass of other wildlife images created? I mean, isn’t having a 500mm lens and getting close to a grizzly enough?

John: Ha-ha, I wish!  I always have to remind myself that two of my best-selling wildlife images of all-time were not taken with a big lens and that it pays to set it aside sometimes and look at the bigger picture (pun intended).  Getting close enough to photograph a grizzly’s nose hairs is not all it’s cracked up to be!

I think the great wildlife photographers wear their ethics on their sleeve and they put in the dirty work that’s necessary to get those amazing images that truly tell a story.  There are no shortcuts to great images. It takes time, patience, and vision.  I’m still working on all three, particularly the vision part of things — it’s tough to maintain what direction you want your shots to take, what story you want to tell, when you’re busy firing 2,000 images a day of bears chomping down on salmon or of caribou migrating across the tundra.  I’m often muttering to myself, “Look for the spectacular” or “Wait for the spectacular.”

My goal right now is to train myself to take fewer pictures each day, yet have more stunners.

I’m not sure if my images do stand out above the mass of other wildlife images out there, but if they do, then I think it’s because of the amount of time I spend in the field.  I do have some vision and some patience, but more than anything, I love being out there looking for the next great shot.  I typically put in over 180 days a year in the field, though in 2010 I was up at about 220!

©John Marriott

©John Marriott

Darwin: Describe a perfect day in the field for you.

John: Any day in the field is a perfect day for me.  I get an incredible rush out of just leaving my house each morning or waking up in my car in a strange place, unsure of what I might find and excited for what the day will bring.

Even just pondering this question got me wound up thinking about all the amazing days ahead of me chasing swift foxes, polar bears, orcas, and so much more!

©John Marriott

©John Marriott

©John Marriott

To learn more about John’s photography visit his website, workshop and tour page and his blog.


Another Canadian Geographic Rights Grabbing Photo Contest

Posted in Controversy, Ethics, Magazines, Rants, Sad News with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2010 by Darwin

Canadian Geographic magazine hosts numerous photo contents per year through their popular Canadian Geographic Photo Club. The club is a really good idea and the photo contests have great themes and some nice prizes but by entering these competitions your are at minimum giving away your photos to be used by Canadian Geographic magazine in any way it sees fit. That might seem acceptable or the price ‘you pay for winning’ but this right grabs applies to any image entered! Also Canadian Geo partners with ‘sponsors’ for each contest and these partners also get to use your photos however they want. For example, in their Canadian Wildlife Photography of the Year Contest they partner with the Canadian Museum of Nature and in their Heritage Treasures of Parks Canada Photography Contest they pair up with Parks Canada. In their latest contest The Canadian Geographic Annual Contest (26th edition) they team up with the Forest Products Association of Canada (The Voice of Canada’s Wood, Pulp and Paper Products). This quote below is from the contest page and clearly lays out what rights you are giving away:

Canadian Geographic and the Forest Products Association of Canada (in regard exclusively to the “Framing the Forest” category) reserve the non-exclusive right to publish any entry and/or use any entry in its promotional material during or after the Contest without further compensation to the entrants. For FPAC, promotional material shall include without limitation any print or electronic advertising or marketing material such as posters, online images, newspaper ads, television ads, e-mails and social media content. FPAC further reserves the non-exclusive right to publish and publicly display without further compensation to the entrants any or all winning photos as part of a promotional publicity tour of the photos at a date and for a period of time to be determined by FPAC in its sole discretion.

With regard to any photo submitted to the Contest, you, or the owner of copyright in the photograph, retain all copyright. By uploading or submitting any photo to the Contest, you grant (or warrant that the owner of such materials expressly grants) Canadian Geographic Enterprises and FPAC and its affiliates and licensors a world-wide, perpetual, royalty-free, irrevocable and non-exclusive right and license to use, copy, adapt, transmit, communicate, publicly display and perform, distribute and create compilations and derivative works or merchandise from any such submitted photograph to promote the Canadian Geographic Photo Club, its photo contests or FPAC in general.

Why would anyone willingly enter this competition where you essentially grant a royalty free license to Canadian Geo, FPAC and ‘affliates’ (whoever those may be)? And yet there are hundreds of entries from photographers.

There are several possibilities.

  • Some people must not read the rules closely and so miss out on the fact that they are granting worldwide royalty free rights to the photos they enter.
  • Some photographers are naive about their rights and the rights they are giving away and have no clue what the rules are asking them to give up
  • Some photographers don’t care. They are thrilled to have their photos published by anyone for any use just for the thrill of seeing their work online or in print.
  • Other photographers are entering strategically. They shoot a lot of material and so are willing to give up an image or two for the chance at winning a prize.

I raise this contest as an example of how many photo competitions are actually just ‘excuses’ to make money (where entry fees are charged) or to get free images for advertising and editorial uses. If you enter photo contests, please read the rules carefully. Are you willing to give up what is asked? Only you can decide. If you want a great site listing some crappy and some good contests to enter go to Photo Attorney (this is also a great legal resource site for photographers)!  Also see my previous rant about Canadian Geographic. And if you want to see what my ‘rules’ are for the photo contests I run on this blog go here

Bat Photography Workshop

Posted in Controversy, Ethics, Photography Gear, Techniques, Workshops and Seminars with tags , , , , on May 25, 2010 by Darwin

Scott Linstead, one of Outdoor Photography Canada’s columnists, has a unique Bat and Owl Photography workshop coming up in shortly (June 3rd – 9th, 2010). If you want to get unique photo like the one below then this might be the workshop for you.

©Scott Linstead

Be aware that there is some controversy in using flash in wildlife photography, there are those who are pro flash and those who are against it. So… I suggest researching things a bit to see if flash photography of nocturnal birds and mammals is something you want to participate in.

Here is Scott’s take:

1) For aesthetic purposes as well as ethical concerns, the flashes that I use for bats and owls at night are never pointing in the line of site of the subject — they are always lit from the sides, above and from behind.  This makes a huge difference from an intuitive POV, since we all know how different the experience of looking right at a flash versus looking away from the flash (or simply the experience of driving at night).  Subjects lit head-on also look quite flat and shadowless.

2) I have never experienced a bat or owl being killed, injured or even disoriented by flash.  (BTW, bats do use their site in addition to echolocation in order to navigate)  I know of screech owl that have flown through night time flash set-ups literally thousands of times and returned the following season to once again participate in the photography.