A Guide to Ethical Bird Photography

Posted on 15 May 2019

bird photography
There is nothing like the exhilaration you feel when you capture that perfect shot of a bird in flight or a predator swooping in on its prey. But a good bird photographer is an ethical bird photographer.

We’re going to go over a few ways you can engage in ethical behavior while aiming for that perfect picture. A good general rule of thumb is to always consider the safety and well-being of the birds and their habitat before your shoot. Sometimes, this may mean sacrificing a shot, but a patient, ethical bird photographer with perseverance will be rewarded with both great pictures and the respect of colleagues, fans, and birders everywhere.

Respect Private and Public Property

First, only use private land with permission. Be mindful when viewing birds on private property. Just because you can see the property owner does not mean you can photograph him or her. Always make sure you have permission before making that first frame.

When using public property, be respectful of the rules governing the space, such as hours of operation and designated walking trails.

Zoos, Sanctuaries, and Rehabilitation Centers

Zoos, sanctuaries, and rehabilitation centers can be great places to get experience shooting birds, but some places are more ethical than others. You can do your part to put unethical operations out of business by being conscious of the practices at the places you plan to visit.  

– Avoid zoos that are not accredited with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

– Avoid sanctuaries that are not accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

– Avoid shooting at game farms. Photos from them are banned from all the leading photography contests, and many magazines, for a reason. If you must shoot at a game farm, be sure to indicate on your cation that it is a “captive” situation and not a free bird.

Avoid Causing the Bird Unnecessary Stress or Disturbances

In all cases, when shooting birds in their natural habitat, you do not want to disrupt their habitat. Being aware and respectful of your surrounding is essential. Here are some tips to remember:

– Avoid trampling through vegetation or disturbing other wildlife.

– Respect the laws of the land, and adhere to minimum distances for approaching wildlife.

– Do not use drones.

– Never try to make a bird fly or encroach on its territory; this disrupts their natural processes.

– Use a telephoto lens in order to maintain enough distance to observe the birds natural behavior in its habitat.

– Avoid flash as much as possible, and never use it on nocturnal animals as it may disrupt their ability to hunt for food or avoid dangers.

Take Extra Precautions With Nesting Birds

While shooting birds that are nesting, you should take some additional measures, including:

– Never use drones.

– Take care not to disrupt the leaves and branches surrounding the nest that are providing careful camouflage and support.

– Avoid drawing the attention of predators by repeatedly walking back and forth to the nest.

– Keep your distance and use a telephoto lens of at least 400-500mm to make sure you have created enough space.

When in doubt refer the North American Nature Photography Association’s Ethics of Field Photography.

Join Us for a Photography Adventure in 2019

– Southern Colorado High Country – July (2 spots left)

– Oman – Late Fall 2019

Visit our Workshops & Photo Tours page to tell us which trip you’re interested in, and we’ll send you more info!  
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