Most of us enjoy taking pictures of plants and animals. I certainly do and have for many years. But what changes have taken place since I began pressing a shutter release 40 years ago! Until little more than a decade ago, photos were taken on film in tiny canisters. The best films for nature photography were low ISO (“speed’) films, with my favourites being Kodachrome 25 and Fujichrome Velvia 50. The low ISOs meant slow shutter speeds, and I photographed animals such as moose at exposures often ranging from one-fifteenth to one-sixtieth of a second. A tripod was necessary.
Then along came digital photography. I was reluctant to change to this unproven format but when I finally did, two things impressed me. First, you saw your photo as soon as you took it. No more waiting up to a week to see if your exposure was correct or the subject sharply focused. Second, no longer was I confined to slow camera speeds. With digital cameras, 400, 500, and even higher ISO settings allow me to shoot at dramatically higher speeds and capture movement near impossible to record on film. New lenses contained stabilizers that reduced camera shake, making tripod-free photography possible; only for close-ups of insects or flowers do I use one. Digital photography seemed to have no disadvantages.
Camera sales grew exponentially, as did the number of people taking nature photos. But it became apparent that there were drawbacks. Computers were needed for image storage and editing (and I don’t like computers). And with the ease of digital photography, neophytes didn’t really have to learn the craft, and most certainly didn’t know their subjects.
Unfortunately, many of those (I am loath to call them “photographers”) are driven to attain photos to display on their websites for bragging rights (these remind me of the trophy walls of big game hunters), and they lack respect for their subjects: a photo must be taken at any cost. This type of “photographer” trespasses on private property, harasses animals until they become exhausted or flee, damages habitats to get clearer views of subjects, and feeds foxes or releases mice in front of owls to entice them to approach more closely.
The latter activity is called “baiting” and I am not alone in having real problems with that activity. Owls and foxes are not like chickadees with which we can interact without affecting their behaviour. Feeding predators makes them lose their natural fear of humans. Baiting wild birds of prey can even get them killed: Great Gray Owls have been hit by cars as they flew across roads toward live bait. Also, there is the point that releasing non-native animals (pet store mice) into the wild is not legal.
I’m not saying that I am holier than anyone else who owns a camera. But I do have a profound respect for (and well-founded knowledge of) all things wild, and do my utmost to avoid disturbing them or affecting their environment when taking photographs.
Not everyone gives wildlife their due respect, and digital photography has created new and significant problems for them.
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