Honoring Wildness

This article was written and published on 12/26/11.  Every once in a while I like to bring back a page from the past.

The job (as I see it) of a nature photographer is to share the wildness of the natural world with others.  Telling nature’s story and displaying her art is our way of accomplishing that.  The responsibility of a nature photographer is to honor and respect that same wildness.

All types of people of varying backgrounds, can and do make great nature photographers.  Whether you are (or were) an electrician, doctor, housewife (or house husband), hunter or butcher is irrelevant.  The attitude that you carry into the field is however, very relevant.   Your subjects need to at least be as important as your pictures.  Throwing a few peanuts to a squirrel or a chipmunk probably won’t cause those populations to decline, but baiting a fox or a coyote will likely cost them their life in the future.  Those that insist on this activity either do not care what happens, or they simply rationalize it in their mind.  What harm can it really cause?  I actually had one photographer tell me that if you make great pictures it is okay, if not, it is a waste.  Tell that to the fox.   I actually know of a location where foxes made dens annually for several years.  Eventually those photographers who love to bait their subjects (prey) made their way to this location.  I am sorry to admit that it was I who drew them to this spot.  Lesson learned.  As time went by a small number of those fox kits that were fed, returned as adults and started mooching food from visitors.  In fact they were especially persistent when they would see a tripod of any sort.  The local wildlife management was forced to trap and remove those foxes, and put a stop to the denning of foxes in this area.  A few greedy photographers ruined it for everybody.  A similar situation 150 miles from here forced officials to destroy two healthy adult foxes.  A few greedy photographers ended the lives of those foxes.

I have always enjoyed sharing with other photographers the locations of what I find in nature.  For many years I shared everything that I found with anyone who was interested.   In the last few years of my photography I shared only some of my finds with people whom I trusted.   I implore you to be very careful with what info you share and with whom you share it.  There are zoos and wild game parks for those photographers who want a sure thing when they make pictures.   For those of you who live for the wild experience, and care deeply about the “wildness” of nature, again, please choose wisely who you share information with.

The condition that nature is left in is equally important.  I think nature photographers are pretty good at this but every so often a story pops up about the photographer who destroys some wild flowers so nobody else in the area will photograph them.  I have seen photographers leave behind refuse, but it is thankfully very rare.   I have always believed that if you are a food photographer you should love food.  If you are a sports photographer it should matter what happens to the sports that you cover.  A nature photographer should care about nature.   Honor nature and her wildness just as you would honor a member of your family.


Can hawks read?  Immature Rough-legged Hawk, Bong State Rec. Area, Wisconsin.

Anytime I get an opportunity for a daytime shot of Skunks, Opossums or Raccoons, I am pretty happy.  I enjoyed this “masked bandit” for quite a while before it wandered off into the water portion of Horicon Marsh NWR in Wisconsin.

Horicon is certainly the Upper Midwest’s best location to photograph most wading birds.  Opportunities for clean and simple shots exist, but there are always excellent chances to make attractive habitat pictures as well.  The first photo below is a juvenile Great-blue Heron, and the second is a mature Black-crowned Night Heron.

I found this Armadillo in southeastern Texas near the Gulf of Mexico.  These guys do not have the best eyesight and if they are busy using their nose and ears to find ants or termites,  having them walk close to you is highly likely.   I do not leave the area when wildlife comes close to me.  I also try not to interact with them.

I have made thousands of pictures of bees on flowers.  I don’t believe I have ever had one published, or sold a print, yet I have never been able to stop myself from making “just one more” shot.

A message for stock photographers.  It can be easy to ignore nature’s most common birds. If they happen to be somewhat plain in appearance, it becomes even easier.  If getting published is your goal never ignore the birds that are most frequently seen.  They are usually also the most published birds.  Many stock photographers have little or no stock on these common birds.  This male Greater Scaup fits well into the common bird category.

This Red Fox kit lived in an area frequented by people.  He has little fear of people but also has no interest the human element.  A person eating a sandwich got off a boat and walked past this fox and it didn’t even look at the person. In other words he has not been baited with food, yet he is comfortable with people near by.  I started photographing him at a distance of about 150 feet.  I let him come my way.  I did not bait him or move towards him.  I think this is pretty much close enough for a picture.  It is amazing how patience and an “I am just a part of your environment” attitude can benefit you.

The wild world is vast and exists everywhere.  If you live in the city, that park on the corner, or the tiny pond down the street has a wild element.  Empty lots are filled with nature’s tiny creatures.  Enjoy and experience “wildness” whenever and wherever you can.

I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas, and that you find 2012 to be both kind and prosperous.

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1 Response to Honoring Wildness

  1. Pingback: Lessons Learned | Wayne Nelson's Earth Image's Blog

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