Photography staging is traditionally adopted by photographers that shoot portraits, fashion, lifestyle, flora, product and boudoir etc. Staging is also common in some categories of competitive photography of which the photographer portrays specific stories, messages, scenarios or enactment.
Stage photographers do not feel required to follow a specific rule and sometimes use special techniques such as manipulating camera settings, photomontage or different lighting adjustments for staged photography, all of which can be manipulated further in post process.
Staged photography usually uses something like a storyboard in a cinema, whereupon the photographer draws the idea he/she has in mind entirely on paper to better understand the final design, after which it may take several times and repeating a photo to get the result you want (as seen in the video below).
The four main sub-categories of staged photography are:
- Designed self-portraits, in which the artists themselves play various roles (such as the works of Florence Knight, Jeff Koons, Pierre and Gilles, Cindy Sherman and Charda Sikima)
- Narrative paintings, in which live models or mannequins with photographic staging play roles inspired by social life, myth, and imagination (such as the works of Bernard Foucault, Joe Gantz, Nick Nicosia, Ian Sudek, Sandy Sagland, William Walkman, and Joel Peter Witkin)
- Miniature plays, which are similar to narrative paintings, but are depicted on a small scale with puppets, toys, and other miniature displays (such as Ellen Brooks, James Casper, Alan Fleischer, David Leventhal, Joachim Mugara, and Arthur Fear)
- Installations and photographs of sculptures, that are carefully arranged large-scale photographs of objects (such as Ariel Bunsen, Tom Draus, Fishley and Weiss, Jen Grover, and Pascal Kern)
However, there remains a murky world surrounding staged photography, that for some reason, has either gone unnoticed or blended into various sub-categories of landscape, nature and wildlife camerawork. Both wildlife model photography and macro-nature photography are considered staged too, but to what extent?
Wildlife model photography exists purely on captive photography game farms, where captive wildlife are bred and trained to perform for photographers and videographers. The majority of these animals are often caged for hours on end, with reports of animals being physically abused, neglected and exploited purely for a picture or video.
In addition, macro nature photography combines both genuine wildlife and nature camerawork, however, a minority of macro-togs involve themselves in the cruel manipulation and exploitation of small fauna to which they claim is necessary for the purpose of focus stacking. In this section of my study I focus primarily on wildlife model and macro photography.
PHOTOGRAPHY GAME FARMS
Similar to the game farms that offer captive wild animals for hunting, photography game farms offer captive wild animals for photos, the majority of which can be located in America and Southern Africa. Such farms are controversial, posing questions about both the integrity of the photography and the welfare of the animals involved. But they are also convenient tools of the trade for commercial photographers, whose images—in ads, documentaries, viral animal pictures, and even wildlife photography competitions—you’ve probably seen and maybe even shared, unaware of their origin.
Photography game farms are visited each year by many thousands of photographers from all four corners of the globe. Unfortunately, because such farms are controversial and considered private companies, official statistics regarding visiting numbers is often difficult, if not impossible to obtain.
Prices vary per farm ranging from £100 to £300 per hour to which photographers can snap images of one animal per shoot. Species of animal range from bears, wolfs, cougars, coyote, fox, beaver, bobcat, lynx, badger, fisher, weasel, or deer. While other workshops offer photographers the chance to get up-close and personal to mink, skunk, opossum, woodchuck, raccoon, or porcupine.
Some photography game farms offer two day workshops that vary in price from £740 to £1500, of which photographers and videographers have the opportunity to photograph or film a number of mixed species, such as predator cats, bears, and new born cubs for wildlife documentaries, front page magazine covers and advertisements etc.
Public records show that the most well-known US game farms don’t have great track records in animal welfare and security. In 2012, an animal trainer employed by a game farm called Animals of Montana was mauled and killed by a bear. Another Montana game farm, Triple D Ranch, was found by the USDA to have illegally de-clawed a two-month old tiger cub in 2013.
Back in 2017, Tom Littlejohns, a retired British hobbyist from Guilford, captured photographs of a grizzly bear fighting a pack of wolves over a deer carcass on the snow. News stories accompanying the photos, which were published online by The Sun and The Daily Mail, say the scene was spotted near “the Rocky Mountains of Montana,” but do not mention the fact that the animals were trained captives, or that the dead deer was actually placed there to stage a fight at Animals of Montana, says Quartz.
Some of the biggest and well-known names in the photography industry have also been seen to exploit animals for staged photography too. David Yarrow, who is arguably the most scorned person in conservation photography regularly takes advantage of captive mammals in this genre of camerawork. The image above (one of many hundreds) shot by David Yarrow, depicts a very real trained bear leaning up against a bar in a so-called ghost town in Montana.
However, what the viewer does not envision is how the bear was trained to behave like this. From a young age bear cubs are removed from their mother of which they’re repeatedly bullied and deprived. Bear cubs are chained by their necks and tethered to a wall (as seen in the image below). This forces them to remain upright, sometimes for hours on end, in order to train them to walk on their hind legs for human entertainment.
Whilst there’s no evidence to prove the bear in David Yarrows image has been brutally abused from a young age to perform for photographers. In recent years, animal welfare charities have conducted investigations concerning the cruel training of bears in Asia, America and Europe for human entertainment of which these methods of training were observed.
Furthermore, the bear in Yarrows image had been rented out from Animals of Montana, a photography game farm that was recently closed down due to multiple reports of animal abuse, exploitation, trafficking and poor animal husbandry.
Animals of Montana had a somewhat sordid history of recorded animal abuse stretching as far back as 2004 when Troy Hyde (seen below), owner of Animals of Montana, was convicted of illegally trafficking tigers and grizzly bears. Which begs the question, why did David Yarrow, a so-called animal lover, rent animals from a convicted trafficker and animal abuser? Allegedly, David Yarrow and Troy Hyde are “good friends.”
David Yarrow, whose black and white pictures of animals including elephants and lions fetch between £25,000 and £75,000, has no qualms about using trained wolves, bears and cheetahs despite coming under fierce criticism from fellow photographers, and wildlife protection organisations.
He argues that how we perceive these manipulations depends on whether or not a picture is framed as wildlife photography or art. “I am an artist. I make pictures rather than take them,” he says. “Nothing crosses the line in the art world. You can superimpose Krakatoa erupting in the background and Darth Vader coming over the hill.”
While David Yarrow claims to be an artist, critics on the other hand state quite the contrary. Several wildlife photographers and wildlife protection organisations allege that David’s work depicts very real captive animals, that have been trained to perform for the camera, often for hours on end. Critics also allege that David Yarrow, and his colleagues have baited and chased threatened species of wildlife for the sheer sake of a closeup image.
On the 12th October, 2021, I emailed David Yarrow asking him why he feels its necessary to exploit animals for staged photography. Furthermore, I also sought an answer regarding his relationship with convicted animal trafficker, Troy Hyde. At the time of publishing this study article, David Yarrow declined to comment. However, on the 24th November, 2020, David did make a joint statement with Saving the Wild where he declared: “And should I ever photograph a wild animal in the United States again, it will be a wild animal in the wild.”
David Yarrow works on the same principles to that of photojournalist Robert Capa, who eloquently once said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” However, Robert Capa was a war photographer, and not a wildlife cameraman. Addationally, Capa was able to communicate with his subjects and understood the boundaries and restrictions concerning his work, or so it was believed. On the 25th May, 1954, Robert Capa was killed when he stepped on a landmine during the first Indochina war. His passion for working within dangerous environments eventually got the better of him.
Animals are incapable of communicating with humans, they cannot tell us if they’re spooked, exhausted, intimidated, or if they’ve been brutally abused from a tender age to perform for humans. Furthermore, some animals have unpredictable behaviours of which close proximity photography or videography could trigger a captive animal to lash out. Hence why wildlife photography must be shot from a safe distance to avoid disturbance and a flight or fight response.
The consequences of fakery can be even more grim for insects, small reptiles and amphibians. “People do quite terrible things to small creatures, like putting them in the freezer [to slow their movement], supergluing them in place or attaching them to wires,” says US photographer Clay Bolt, The Guardian (2018).
It is not hard to find forums offering tips on keeping spiders and earwigs in one place by surrounding them with a smear of Vicks VapoRub, or temporarily immobilising dragonflies and ants by popping them in the freezer for 20 minutes.
To the untrained eye, the image that went viral in 2015 of a frog “riding” a beetle rodeo-style is eye-catching and whimsical. The photographer said his picture had been taken in a “natural but controlled environment – this shot was not prepared at all”. But for some conservationists, the image suggested cruelty: the frog is nocturnal, they pointed out, and its open mouth indicates extreme distress.
In recent years, macro photography has come under the spotlight concerning the exploitation and abuse of reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. When conducting my investigative study into this genera of photography, I was left feeling disconcerted at the lack of, if any, regulation regarding this category of camerawork.
Macro photography or (photomacrography) was proposed in 1899 by W. H. Walmsley for close-up images with less than 10 diameters magnification, to distinguish from true photo-micrographs. One of the earliest pioneers of macro photography was Percy Smith, born in 1880.
The first thing to learn about the history of macro photography is the definition of the genre. Macro photography is anything that is 10 times magnification and lower. Anything above 10 times magnification (usually captured through a microscope) is referred to as photomicrography. Why do I explain this? Because the history of these two types of work are inseparably intertwined and in fact, the development of the photo-micrograph led to the development of macro photography.
In the earliest years of macro photography and photomicrography, it was purely a scientific pursuit, one that allowed researchers to document things too small to see with the human eye so that they could be studied at length later on. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that macro photography started to become an art and even then, it was an art that served a largely educational purpose.
The interesting thing about macro photography is that early equipment did not look much different from the equipment that we use today, although a few advancements have been made and there are a few more pieces of gear that we can use nowadays.
Macro photography relied on equipment that we still use today, namely macro bellows and extension tubes. There were no true macro lenses for the first century or so of this genre, so photographers effectively modified the focal distance of the lenses they already had simply by increasing the distance between the lens element and the film.
In this way, photographers could focus at distances much closer to the front of the lens than they could without the use of bellows or tubes and they could also magnify the images, capturing detail that most people had never seen before.
“WHAT’S THE FASCINATION WITH MACRO-PHOTOGRAPHY?”
Small things such as waterdrops often go unnoticed or are taken for granted but freezing that moment in time can create spectacular images. When you start doing macro photography a whole new creative world is opened up providing a whole new range of subjects that were under your nose the whole time.
Macro images change our perspective of a subject to focus on the hidden details – taking magnification to another level. Macro photography can often introduce colours and textures not picked up with other types of shots. Taking extreme closeup photos of small subjects requires special techniques, tricks and equipment to get the best results, hence why so many photographers are intrigued about this genera of camerawork.
The vast majority of macro photographers utilize professional cameras, tripods, specialist lights, portable mini photography studios, diffusers, reversing rings, extension tubes, shooting tables, macro lenses, focus rails and focus stacking software, all of which can range from hundreds to thousands of pounds.
So, one would be led to believe that shooting closeup images of magnified subjects is somewhat straightforward? If only that were closer to the truth. Wildlife biologists and photography critics have voiced their concern regarding macro images that appear to portray small fauna staged in unnatural poses, while many other images clearly show distressed and exploited animals.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ETHICS IN MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY
The rules concerning photography ethics apply to macro photographers too, in that, the subject is more important than the photo. Macro photographers must abstain from disturbing, handling, displacing and collecting species of flora or fauna for the purpose of a photograph.
While the jury is still out concerning the use of flashes, strobes and LED lights. Photographers must seek advice from professionals concerning sensitive fauna that could be easily harmed by bright or flashing lights. Bright LED lights with white and bluish hues are capable of affecting local wildlife “as much as the midday sun,” scientists have warned, and are leaving some species especially vulnerable.
A (2018) Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology study has found that the light emitted from LED bulbs with white and bluish hues are three times more disruptive to local wildlife than LED bulbs with other hues such as amber, green and yellow. Nocturnal animals and migrating birds that have their predatory or breeding behaviour affected by these lights could now be protected as a result of the research.
The vast majority of macro photographers I conveyed with from (2021-2022) are quite contented shooting macro images of flowers, fungi, fauna and inanimate objects. However, there remains a large minority of nature and wildlife macro-togs that appear to work in another realm where anything goes.
The macro image above was shot by photographer, Peter Dransfield, back in May 2021. Peter claims he didn’t intend to illtreat the spider, instead, he tried slowing the spiders metabolism down by placing the invertebrate in the freezer for a few minutes. A process that’s known as chilling or (freezing), adopted by a minority of so-called macro photographers to temporarily immobilize a living subject during the process of focus-stacking.
One of the biggest drawbacks macro photographers experience when shooting live fauna is the inability to predict whether an animal is going to move during the process of the shot. While the majority of macro photographers prefer to sit-it-out and wait. A minority of impatient macro-togs have adopted several crude and barbaric techniques to immobilize living subjects (in the field or at home) during the process of their work in order to achieve that perfect still shot.
These techniques range from clamping, gluing, pinning, chilling and anaesthetizing to name but a few. Some macro photographers even go as far as buying dead or fake spiders and insects for general and competitive photography.
A small number of techniques adopted by macro-togs to immobilize spiders and insects are normally reserved for entomologists, that follow a strict code of ethics concerning their work. Furthermore, insects and spiders aren’t the only species that suffer at the hands of unethical macro photographers.
Reptiles, amphibians and rodents also share the same fate too. Amphibians and reptiles are often viewed in macro pictures striking unnatural poses similar to that of humans. Addationally, live rodents are used as bait to create fake viral-trending nature photographs (as seen in the image below).
Moreover, macro images of snakes illustrated in defensive or striking postures attract the likes of wildlife organisations, big tech, advertising companies, car manufactures, fashion, design, and the cosmetic industry etc, to which said images are used for educational purposes, and the promotion of major consumer brands.
However, several acclaimed photographers have cast doubt on the ethical approaches regarding how a number of these images are captured, of which its been claimed that snakes are routinely harassed and beaten with sticks in order to force them into coiled, aggressive or striking postures for the camera. In addition, captive and wild snakes are often overfed by macro photographers that are trying to accomplish an easier shot.
Snakes are one of the most commonly symbolised creatures throughout human history; and also across various cultures. Snakes are viewed as a status symbol too. In many cases, serpents are viewed as a symbol of healing, medicine, and even power. In others, they are the symbol of death, evil, and all of the dark assumptions one would likely make regarding snakes representing things in human life.
Snakes (like many animals) are used quite often in advertising and are very effective. They make an instant emotional connection with us as they remind us of ourselves and our pets. They offer warm relationships and empathy internationally.
Animals in advertising offer a huge advantage because they can appeal to all people unlike a particular ethnicity or demographic of humans. They are a great way to surround a brand with positive emotions and associations other than how much a product costs. Additionally, they evoke many different emotions in the viewer and can impact people to start making positive choices in their life.
With that said, extreme closeup images of snakes make a small fortune, all the more so when snakes are illustrated in an aggressive or defensive posture. The video (seen below) was captured by wildlife photographer, Kennie Pan, back in 2015 that illustrates two South East Asian photographers harassing and provoking a deadly pit viper.
“This was not the original perch the snake was on. Both photographers intentionally shifted the snake to an open branch as shown for an easier photo. During which, they were poking it just to get it into a position they wanted. As shown, the pit viper was tense and ready to strike out. This video only shows part of the umpteen times they physically disturb and poked the snake.” says Kennie Pan.
Apart from being utterly reckless to which the group of photographers showed a complete lack of respect towards their subject, the pit viper could have lashed out biting either one of them. Pit viper venom is highly hemotoxic, and when it’s injected into the bloodstream it causes tissue and blood cell damage which leads to internal haemorrhaging, organ damage, and eventually death if left untreated.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SMALLER THAN US CREATURES, AND WHY ETHICS IS PARAMOUNT IN MACRO..
..Contrary to popular opinion, smaller than us creatures are critically important for the survival of the human and animal race hence the importance of ethics in all aspects of wildlife and nature camerawork.
The most important role of insects is in pollination. Flowering plants are the main source of food and moisture for many of the planets insects. Whilst they are feeding they pick up pollen on their bodies and legs. When they move to the next flower they deposit that pollen and pollination occurs.
Predaceous insects and insectivorous vertebrates provide important environmental regulation mechanisms of various organisms, which include pest species. Often under-appreciated and viewed by some as a nuisance, insects are “lever pullers of the world”. According to National Geographic, there are about 1.4 billion insects for every human on Earth, and all of them play a crucial role in the ecosystem.
John Losey and Mace Vaughan, ecologists, based in the US, researched the economic contribution of insects in the United States and found it to be about $57 billion, not including the pollination. The value came mainly from wildlife, which is typically serviced by insects and forms an essential part of the food chain for birds, mammals and fish.
Insects are responsible for biological pest control that also accounts for an additional half-billion in value in the U.S. economy. Experts agree that the economic value derived from insects is, in some cases, unquantifiable. For example, it is difficult to calculate how much it costs to decompose plant life and dead bodies in the environment.
Moreover, frogs and toads play a vital role in ecosystems worldwide, as they form an integral part of the food chain, prevent disease transmission by feeding on potential carriers, and keep waterways clean. They also act as bioindicators for researchers and offer potential advancements in the medical industry.
Amphibious fauna are often heard and not seen, giving the impression that these little creatures fade into the background of our ecosystems. But, amphibious fauna are incredibly important to animals and humans worldwide. Their existence and continuation assist global health and balance in numerous ways.
Reptiles play an important role in the environment too. Controlling pests is one of the crucial roles that is played by reptiles. Most of the pests, including insects and rats, mice, and other rodents, are prey to reptiles. If the population of pests goes unchecked, then we are likely to have a severe infestation, which would mostly destabilise the food web due to the depletion of food at the bottom of the food chain.
To keep the aquatic ecosystem balanced and super healthy, the marine food chain must be appropriately balanced too. That’s the role that crocodiles and other reptiles in the wetlands play. They prey on fish, and this controls the fish population from overgrowing. If the fish population grows out of control, then it would deplete organisms they prey on, of which would eventually lead to fish starving to death. That would collapse the entire food chain in the long run.
Amphibians, reptiles, insects and spiders are also under threat, in a similar manner to most species of birds, mammals and marine life. Around half of amphibian and reptile species are in decline, while a third are already threatened with extinction. Habitat loss and degradation is one of the greatest threats to amphibian and reptile populations and occurs from a variety of sources, including urban/suburban development, aquatic habitat alteration from water withdrawals and stream diversions, water pollution, and off-road vehicle use in terrestrial habitats.
Meanwhile, insects and spiders are declining in forests and grasslands around the world, according to new research. Scientists have described the findings as “alarming”, saying the losses are driven by intensive agriculture, climate change, soil erosion and pollution to name but a handful of threats; hence the importance of ethics in macro photography.
“But they don’t feel pain, do they?”
Up until recently, it was widely believed that smaller than us creatures could not feel, or in some cases experience pain. Fortunately, advances in zoological studies have proven otherwise.
Many vets and scientists agree, there is little doubt that amphibians “experience pain and should, therefore, be treated with analgesics for situations that would be considered painful in mammals.” (Posner et al, 2013).
According to Varner (2012), frogs feel pain because they have:
- A Brain linked to nociceptors
- Nociceptors which send pain signals to the spinal cord and the brain
- Endogenous opioids that can create chemicals to dull pain or act as anaesthetics
Frogs also respond to pain killing medications, and exhibit a reflex action to avoid pain-inducing stimuli in the same way as human beings. Frogs possess the biological make-up necessary for pain transmission. For instance, frogs have sensory receptors and opioid receptors. They also exhibit protective reactions and learn to avoid noxious stimuli.
Some people still believe that reptiles cannot perceive pain. Unfortunately, it is more often that we do not perceive that they are in pain because the signs they show are often subtle and unlike mammals. Several scientific studies have shown that reptiles have all of the necessary neurotransmitters and anatomy to feel pain. It is likely that they have simply evolved to hide their pain to avoid predation in the wild.
The jury is still out regarding our eight-legged predatory spider friends. Unfortunately, there’s no scientific evidence that demonstrates whether spiders can experience pain and emotions. Interestingly, spiders can sense danger.
The rule of ethics still applies to spiders regardless of whether they can or cannot experience pain and emotions. Spiders help control the populations on many other household pests such as grasshoppers, aphids, cockroaches and mosquitoes. Spiders also help aid the decomposition of dead plants and animals by eating insects that prohibit the process of decomposition which helps to create fertile soil.
A 2013 journal of experimental biology study has shown that crustaceans can experience and feel pain too. The study revealed that the shore crab, a close relative of the species we use for food, responds to electric shocks and then goes on to avoid them.
Previous research has shown that prawns and hermit crabs also react to painful situations. On the 19th November, 2021, the British Government recognised lobsters, octopus and crabs as sentient beings of which they were included into The Animal Sentience Bill that was introduced on 11th May, 2021. The new bill replaces EU legislation which legally recognised that animals can feel pain and experience emotions.
New research conducted in 2019 has also revealed that insects can feel and experience pain too. A new study in the journal Science Advances shows pain lingers throughout the insects’ short lives well after an injury has healed.
A 2019 Smithsonian report stated:
“Over 15 years ago, researchers found that insects, and fruit flies in particular, feel something akin to acute pain called “nociception.”
When they encounter extreme heat, cold or physically harmful stimuli, they react, much in the same way humans react to pain.
Now, scientists have found that the nervous systems of insects can also experience chronic pain. A new study in the journal Science Advances shows pain lingers throughout the insects’ short lives well after an injury has healed.
Acute pain is generally short lived—like the pain from cutting your finger, which may last for days but eventually recedes.
Chronic pain, however, lingers long after an injury has healed and may even last the rest of an injured person’s life.
According to a press release, it generally comes in two forms, inflammatory pain and neuropathic pain, the type of electric shooting pain caused by overactive nerves.”Science Advances 10 Jul 2019
The image above shows the brain and ventral nerve cord (resembling the spinal cord in a human) of an uninjured fly showing nociceptive sensory neurons (green), stained with anti-GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter (red) and neuronal synaptic marker nc82 (blue).
“To understand whether insects also experience this long-lasting version of pain, researchers damaged one leg in a group of fruit flies, an injury which can cause chronic nerve pain.
After the insects were allowed to heal, the researchers then placed them in a hot room to see if the flies were more responsive to stimuli.
After the leg injuries, the flies would try to leave the room at lower temperatures, unable to withstand the heat as much.
In other words, the flies’ legs had become hypersensitive. “After the animal is hurt once badly, they are hypersensitive and try to protect themselves for the rest of their lives,” co-author Greg Neely of the University of Sydney says in the release. “That’s kind of cool and intuitive.”
To understand this sensitization, the team then examined how the process works on a genomic level.
The flies, they found, receive pain messages via sensory neurons in their ventral nerve cord, the insect equivalent of a spinal cord.
Along this nerve cord are inhibitory neurons that act as gatekeepers, allowing pain signals through or blocking them based on context.
With a catastrophic injury, like the severing of a nerve in the leg, the injured nerve floods the ventral cord with pain signals, overwhelming those gatekeeper neurons and changing the pain threshold permanently, a process known as central disinhibition. From then on, the insects are hypersensitive to pain.
It’s likely that a similar process causes chronic pain in humans as well. “Now that we know central disinhibition is a critical and core cause for neuropathic pain across phyla, we can start to develop therapies that target the underlying cause and not just the symptoms,” Neely writes on Twitter. “
This will lead to non-addictive pain management that our society desperately needs.”Smithsonian & Gizmodo
THE DARK SIDE OF MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY
Throughout my investigative study, I analysed thousands of macro images depicting exploitation and mistreatment of small fauna for the purpose of a photograph. Numerous images depicted frogs, toads and reptiles manipulated into unnatural positions often mimicking human behaviour. Furthermore, live rodents were seen to be trapped in stress positions inches away from their predator that had an unfair advantage over its prey.
In other images, dragonflies, moths and praying mantis etc, were seen to be either chilled or frozen, while spiders and beetles were visibly dead. Live and dead species of the Lepidoptera and Formicidae family were clearly clamped, pinned, chilled or glued onto foliage props. In addition, scores of images illustrated amphibious and reptilian fauna that had been anaesthetized, chilled, frozen or sacrificed for the sheer sake of a macro photograph.
When examining the photographers stories or methods that accompanied numerous images depicting exploitation and abuse, every narrative appeared identical to the next, for example, the photographer just happened upon a rare animal behaviour in their garden, or a creature just appeared out of nowhere in the wild behaving unnaturally. Addationally, all images were perfectly composed for a story to which the photographer just chanced upon.
The vast majority of these images featured in local and national press, photography magazines, and in wildlife and nature photography competitions too. Furthermore, many of these organisations that published said images, are spearheaded by the very people who strongly oppose animal abuse and exploitation.
On the 12th March, 2012, the Mail Online published a story about macro photographer, Shikhei Goh, 47, from Indonesia. The Mail Online published a few images (seen below) that Shikhei Goh claimed were real life crazy dancing frogs. Goh’s macro images also appeared in numerous photography articles around the world of which he was paid for.
Shikhei Goh claimed he just happened to be in his garden one day in Indonesia when he noticed these beautiful frogs jumping about, which caught his attention because one of them kept hopping off every time he tried to snap the frog.
While the frogs themselves are indeed authentic, the story and how the images were shot are far from it. The frogs seen in the Mail Online story, and on Shikhei Goh’s portfolio are endemic to the rainforests of South America, and not from Asia.
The frog pictured above is commonly known as the Red Eyed Tree frog, or Agalychnis callidryas, however, Goh claimed these frogs were wild and hopping about in Indonesia.
In addition to the somewhat perplexing story Shikhei Goh told the Mail Online, all the frogs seen in the news article, and on Shikhei Goh’s portfolio are striking unnatural postures, that herpetologists suspect were cruelly manipulated to acquire such cruel poses for the photographer.
When interviewed by the Mail Online, Heriyadi Sobiran said:
“I noticed the frog straight away and was surprised to see it striking some unusual positions.
I knew I was onto something unique when I saw the tiny frog waving its arms in the air.
It seemed to be having a great time and was more than happy to strike a pose for me. I’ve never seen a creature act this way before and probably never will again.”Mail Online
As with Shikhei Goh’s story, Heriyadi Sobiran, told the Mail Online that he noticed the frog straight away and was surprised to see it striking some unusual positions. Herry went onto state he spotted the frog “strutting its stuff” on a tree branch in Indonesia.
The frog that Herry snapped (seen above) is also a Red Eyed Tree Frog, endemic to the rainforests of South America. Furthermore, this species of frog is striking unnatural poses too, poses that herpetologists suspect are fake and unnatural.
A guest author and herpetologist, writing on behalf of PetaPixel, 2015, regarding these images was quoted as saying:
“I can’t stand these images. To someone very familiar with frogs, it’s really sad to see the poor frog in this situation. I don’t believe that these photos are of a naturally occurring situation.
To me, they appear to be highly staged, and there is evidence that the frog is distressed. Frogs are so amazing without being used as props, it’s upsetting that they felt it necessary.”Peta Pixel
“THE CAMERA CANNOT LIE”
Whilst many ethical photographers and wildlife biologists have questioned the authenticity of these images, to-date very little physical evidence has emerged concerning the cruel staging techniques that some photographers adopt for the purpose of staged wildlife photography.
Some photographers have protested that their macro images are genuine, depicting natural behaviour observed in the wild, and in many cases I researched those photographers were telling the truth.
Nevertheless, in recent years, social media platforms, national press and wildlife organisations have been inundated with suspicious wildlife macro-photography that’s come under much scrutiny from the public. Furthermore, many of these images have won prestigious photography accolades too.
On the 4th October, 2020, Discovery Channel celebrated Earth Day by posting three images onto their Facebook page (which have since been removed) for violating Facebooks community standards regarding animal abuse. One of those images (seen below) was snapped by Andri Priyadi, 36, from Indonesia. Andri Priyadi has been condemned in the past for staging macro images and cheating people out of photography awards.
There’s no denying the image above had been staged within a controlled environment, an allegation that Andri Priyadi denies. However, despite there being a lack of physical evidence regarding the cruel staging and manipulation of living subjects concerning wildlife photography, as Robert Louis Stevenson once said: “the camera never lies“
While the minority of macro photographers are somewhat unforthcoming regarding the various methods they adopt to manipulate fauna. There are countless tell-tale clues and pointers that raise doubts concerning their camerawork.
Therefore, photography judges, editors and organisations must be observant of the following before publishing images or handing out photography accolades such as:
- Portfolios and social media accounts that contain numerous images of rare and unnatural animal behaviours
- Dubious stories surrounding how the image was shot that sound rehearsed, unwonted, mythical or melodramatic. If it sounds or appears too good to be true, it usually is
- Near perfect environmental conditions, e.g. lighting, rain, shades, colours, scenery, background, reflection and shadows etc
- Nigh on perfect image composition, e.g. textbook symmetry, rule of thirds, lighting, depth of field, focus, shutter speed, exposure, aperture, lack of, if any subject streaking, motion blur and noise, not forgetting story telling
- Images depicting amphibians or reptiles with skin discoloration, bruising, drowsiness and distressed appearances are likely drugged, chilled, frozen or dead
- Pictures illustrating insects or spiders that appear cold, or have (water droplets) covering their anatomy should be considered chilled or frozen. Insects and spiders retreat to warmer or sheltered spaces when its cold, rather than remain in the open where predation can occur
- Images depicting arachnids with their abdomen in a lowered posture, legs curled up, or legs curled under their body should be considered dead subjects. This is not typical behaviour of a living spider
- Addationally, images depicting insects/spiders with forewings, hindwings, antenna and/or back abdomen in a lowered or flat posture, should be considered frozen, chilled, stilled, anaesthetized or dead. This is not typical behaviour of a living spider or insect
- Edited EXIF/METADATA or failure to submit EXIF/METADATA and/or RAW files should be considered suspect
- Heavily photoshopped images
With all of the above-mentioned, it must be empathised that only a minatory of macro photographers engage in unethical staging and manipulation techniques with wild captured animals, or pet shop bought fauna.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s an abundance of ethical macro nature photographers all around the world that enjoy shooting smaller than us creatures, and wouldn’t dream of hurting an animal for the sheer sake of a photograph.
Photographers who engage in unethical photography lack patience, are ill-equipped and lack a photography education. However, forensic psychologists believe that people who engage in unethical behaviour harbour more deeper problems too such as:
- Omnipotence, when someone feels so aggrandized and entitled that they believe the rules of decent behaviour don’t apply to them
- Cultural numbness, when others play along and gradually begin to accept and embody deviant norms
- Justified neglect, when people don’t speak up about ethical breaches because they are thinking of more immediate rewards such as staying on a good footing with the powerful
Throughout my study, I’ve encountered many hundreds of unethical photographers that harbour the above traits ranging from:
- Photographers that masquerade under the banner of science, research or conservation that believe the rules of ethics do not apply to them, therefore they’re more entitled than others to engage in what would be considered unethical practices by the majority
- Photographers that fail to recognise or judge what is right and wrong and act accordingly, often play along and begin to accept deviant behaviour such as visiting photography game farms, close proximity photography, and disturbing fauna for the purpose of an image etc
- Photographers that justify unethical behaviour e.g. live baiting using tanks don’t speak up for fear of being rejected by a group or losing footing with individuals or organisations of power
It is widely recognised that the majority of macro images depicting inconspicuous animal abuse and faked animal behaviours originate from South East Asia. Several wildlife criminologists and biologists I questioned during the course of my investigative study, claimed said images could be yet another form of wildlife crime, the proceeds of which could be funding the black market trade in illicit wildlife goods.
After concluding a thorough investigation of numerous South East Asian macro-photographers that engage in unethical photography, it was presumed that the majority are likely trading said images to fund lifestyles or to alleviate poverty.
However, the funding of the black market trade in illicit wildlife goods and exotics could not be ruled out because a large minority of images and photographers I investigated, originate from known black market trade hotspots.
Since the widespread poaching of threatened species of wildlife escalated from 2007 onwards in Southern Africa and Asia. Local and international law enforcement have cracked down on the black market trade in illegal wildlife products, the proceeds of which fund organised crime, people trafficking, money laundering, terrorism and prostitution etc.
As a result of widespread crackdowns concerning the trade in wildlife commodities, traders and traffickers have been forced to change tactics to avoid detection in order to generate new income. In the present climate, traders are now operating online, of which social media platforms tender these new markets.
While macro photography is not considered high on the agenda regarding the illicit trade in wildlife products. Staged and anomalous macro images depicting tropical wildlife, trade from hundreds to thousands of pounds per image, the majority of which originate from Jakarta, Shuidong, Guangdong, Kuala Lumpu, Laos, Ho Chi Minh and Mong Cai – cites that are well known for trafficking and trading illicit wildlife goods.
Furthermore, when the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic struck on the 17th November, 2019, the online wildlife trade skyrocketed of which an explosion of macro images depicting tropical fauna flooded the internet, the majority of which were posted onto social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Sina Weibo.
In addition, E-commerce, tabloids and social media help sell wildlife products (including wildlife photography) to tourists in Southeast Asia and across the world, to which they could be unknowingly furthering the revamping of the illicit wildlife trade, 93.2% of which is conducted online to the value of between £3.6 and £14.6 billion each year.
Until proven otherwise, there remains no evidence that indicates photographers are contributing to the illegal wildlife trade concerning the portrayal of small creatures in macro photographs originating from known Asian wildlife trade hotspots. However, while there remains no corroboration, there are far too many coincidences and red flags for enforcement agencies to ignore.
“NOTHING IS MORE CONFUSING THAN PEOPLE WHO GIVE GOOD ADVICE BUT SET A BAD EXAMPLE.”
American church minister, Norman Vincent Peale, once said: “Nothing is more confusing than people who give good advice but set a bad example.” Agree or disagree, if someone gives you sound advice about any subject in life, and then contradicts themselves, they are nothing but a hypocrite.
Whilst its generally accepted that the majority of macro images depicting inconspicuous animal abuse and unethical staging originate from South East Asia, this specific style of immoral photography is not confined to that region of the planet. In addition, the only way of preventing it, is by setting a good example and educating others in the long-run.
During the course of my study, I happened upon numerous acclaimed photographers that strongly oppose immoral wildlife and nature photography. Alberto Ghizzi Panizza is recognised as one of the best Italian photographers for landscape and leading the field for wildlife and macro nature photography. However, after conveying with several distinguished photographers, and conducting further rigorous research, nothing could be further from the truth.
Nikon Ambassador, Alberto Panizza, may be a phenomenal landscape and nature photographer, but, Alberto is also considered somewhat of a hypocrite and charlatan by a few of his own ex-colleagues that wish to remain anonymous.
Colleagues that worked with Alberto Panizza on a number of photography projects assert that Alberto callously manipulates living subjects, adopting methods such as anaesthetising, chilling, chemically stilling and killing subjects while claiming to always be in the right place at the right time.
Several zoologists that follow Alberto’s work are also claiming foul play too. For example, the vast majority of Alberto’s winged insect subjects are almost always snapped in near perfect environmental conditions, with nigh on perfect lighting, colour, vivid detail, composition and sharp focus.
Zoologists also argue that it would be somewhat difficult to snap such detailed images of wild damselflies and dragonflies because they’re easily frightened by humans and other animals, especially during the day when the species are most active.
Moreover, most dragonflies and damselflies are diurnal too. So, as the day comes to an end, most diurnal flies take refuge under leaves or grasses to avoid predation during their rest period. However, critics allege that numerous images of diurnal species appear to be shot in locations that insects wouldn’t normally take refuge in for fear of predation by fish, reptiles, amphibians or birds.
Experts also question Alberto Panizza’s ethical approaches too, of which its alleged that snails, spiders and praying mantis etc, appear to be manipulated into unnatural positions. Despite the fact that Alberto claims to never interfere, displace, stage or manipulate fauna for photographic purposes.
Questions have also been raised concerning images that appear to show Alberto Panizza in close proximity to captive fauna, that zoologists suspect have been taken in captive facilities, such as photography game farms, where animals are routinely caged, abused and exploited for paying customers. And finally, ex-associates also allege that Alberto blocks critics on social media that question his work.
There’s no denying that Alberto Panizza is an avid outdoor photographer supported by many thousands of people. Alberto has earned himself numerous photography accolades and works alongside several distinguished photography and wildlife organisations.
However, with all that said, there remains numerous unanswered questions concerning his work that Alberto refuses to answer. In addition, Alberto Panizza is also a volunteer photography judge for BugLife, an organisation that misled honest and hardworking photographers in the runup to Christmas last year.
Back in November of 2021, the judges of BugLife came under fire after it was revealed they had titled British photographer, Steve James, from Northampton, who drugs his subjects for his ultra-close-up photos, Bug Photographer of the Year (see image below), despite the image and how it was shot violating BugLife’s terms and conditions concerning stilling and manipulation, among other rules.
I reached out to Alberto Panizza and BugLife for further comment. Not surprisingly, Alberto did not reply to my message despite reading my email. Addationally, my comments were removed from the BugLife Facebook page of which I was banned and reported for “spamming” by the organisation.
On the 27th November 2021, BugLife released a rather “half-arsed” statement contradicting themselves whereby they claim the welfare of the invertebrates that are being photographed is of great importance to the Bug Award, their title, partners, sponsors and judges.
Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. What BugLife failed to recognise was that many hundreds of ethical photographers had worked hard to submit their art into a competition that they had paid for, only to find out later they had been scammed by a British conservation charity.
“It’s as if macro photography exists in some other realm of nature photography where anything goes.”
– Danae Wolfe.
Back in April 2021, several aficionado photographers alerted me to the website, Extreme Macro, administrated by Johan J Ingles-le Nobel, who judged for the British Photography Awards (BPA) between 2016-2017.
Critics also accuse Johan Nobel of exploiting the science of entomology to bend photography guidelines and ethics, while those who don’t study entomology, but, adopt similar methods are disqualified from competitions or banned from organisations for violating ethical guidelines.
As rumoured, Johan Nobel asserts himself as a wishful entomologist, however, after scrutinising numerous entomology qualification boards, organisations, and even Wikipedia, I found no entries linking Johan J Ingles-le Nobel to this branch of zoology.
That being said, Johan Nobel is an active trustee and director at the Wildlife Gardening Forum, and is an active parish councillor for Abinger Parish Council of which Johan claims to be protecting wildlife amidst the parcelisation of the countryside, and the encroachment of urban areas.
Furthermore, Johan Nobel claims to have been made an honorary Pentax Ambassador back in 2015. However, after contacting Pentax, the Japanese multinational imaging and electronics company denied these claims. With that said, Johan is listed on the Pentax artist gallery site.
Johan Nobel’s photography has featured in multiple press and media articles, and his website was nominated for a 2014 Webby Award. Johan also boasts a photojournalism scholarship and claims his next big ambition is a Fellowship at the Royal Photography Society.
By contrast, Johan Nobel’s credentials and résumé appear to have all the earmarks that most conservation photographers and wildlife biologists have. Johan claims to be driven by morality, boasting a good education, with a discerning understanding of the current threats facing Mother Nature.
Alas, nothing could be further from the truth, and like many so-called distinguished photographers I’ve researched, Johan Nobel gives every indication of being a clandestine pretender, that masquerades under the facade of wildlife sciences, to hoodwink other photographers into believing his work is ethically portrayed to avoid castigation.
Johan claims on his macro photography website that: “Freezing insects is one of several options available to entomologists seeking to preserve them for detailed preservation.” While this statement is completely and utterly accurate, photography organisations are not research institutes, hence why the majority prohibit this type of behaviour with regards to competitive, and all-round photography because its deemed inappropriate and unethical.
Addationally, apart from bending the rules concerning ethics, it can lead to other doors opening where the bar is set too high with respect to this genera of wildlife and nature photography. Therefore, giving those that practice this type of camerawork an unfair advantage over those who don’t or refuse for various cultural reasons.
Whilst browsing through Johan Nobel’s Extreme Macro website, I happened upon third party files concerning the use of various chemicals and traps, and an article written by Johan tilted: Chemicals and alternatives to preserve and kill insects for photography (see image below).
Entomologists may occasionally use the abovementioned chemicals to still, kill and/or preserve insects for scientific studies. Furthermore, these chemicals are often used in the laboratory and field of which entomologists follow a guide of ethics themselves. Addationally, some entomologists must undertake a number of practical and theory courses concerning the use of chemicals, which is a legal requirement in England and Wales.
As mentioned, I found no university qualifications linking Johan J Ingles-le Nobel to this branch of zoology, which raises questions as to why a wildlife director and photographer is educating people about the use of chemicals under the guise of entomology for the purpose of macro photography.
While Johan Nobel reminds readers that visit his website to demonstrate caution regarding this area of science and photography. To the ill-educated, untrained or amateur photographer, mistakes can and do happen. Nobel’s site lacks incident planning in the event of a chemical spill in the home or field. Addationally, there’s no assessment of risks to health from hazardous substances either.
However, in Johan Nobel’s words, he accepts no responsibility for any errors, omissions or misleading statements on his website, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on materials contained on his website, which in layman’s terms means, he doesn’t care.
The majority of chemicals listed on Johan Nobel’s website (seen below) are commonly found in medicines, anti-freezes, insecticides and anaesthetics etc. While other chemicals are used for fumigation, extracting gold and silver from ores, cooking, agriculture, acidity regulation, oil production, solvent making, fuel and dye manufacturing, antiseptics and explosives.
While some of these compounds are considered to be safe in exceptionally small quantities for humans and animals. Over exposure, accidental ingestion and inhalation can bring about a number of non-life threatening to life threatening symptoms in animals and humans. Addationally, ill-educated and untrained individuals are at a higher risk of accidental poisoning too.
- Ethyl acetate, overexposure to ethyl acetate may cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. Severe overexposure may cause weakness, drowsiness, and unconsciousness. Ethyl acetate can cause cancer in some animals and is used to stun/kill small fauna
- Ethyl alcohol, accidental inhalation of ethyl alcohol can irritate the nose, throat and lungs. Ethyl Alcohol can cause headache, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting and unconsciousness. It can also affect concentration and vision. Ethyl alcohol can cause depression of the central nervous system in animals too
- Isopropyl alcohol, accidental inhalation of isopropyl alcohol can cause bleeding, nausea, vomiting, dehydration and seizures. Isopropyl alcohol can be rapidly absorbed into the skin of dogs causing irritation and excessive dryness
- Ethylene glycol, accidental consumption of (EG) can lead to kidney failure, brain damage and death in humans and animals
- Chloroform, accidental inhalation of chloroform may lead to irritation and inflammation of the exposed area, and can cause systemic effects such as excitement, nausea, vomiting followed by dizziness, ataxia and drowsiness. Convulsions, coma and death may occur following overexposure. Chloroform is deadly to most animals
- Sodium cyanide, accidental consumption or inhalation of sodium cyanide can cause coughing, headaches, damage of the central nervous system, changes in blood cell count, nose bleeds, sores, unconsciousness and death. Sodium cyanide is occasionally used by pest controllers to kill insect infestations
- Ammonium carbonate, exposure to ammonium carbonate can irritate the skin, eyes, and lining of the lungs. Furthermore, overexposure can cause blurry vision, nausea, vomiting and chemical bronchitis. Ammonium carbonate can be dangerous when combined with other substances as well. Ammonium carbonate is used as a killing agent to kill insects. Ammonium carbonate was shown to be highly dangerous in several animal experiments. A 2011 experiment using dogs found that a 40 gram oral dosage of ammonium carbonate could induce vomiting and diarrhoea in the animals
- Acetic acid, exposure to acetic acid can be corrosive to the skin and eyes. Acetic acid can also be damaging to the internal organs if ingested or in the case of vapor inhalation. Few entomologists use acetic acid to relax insects, however, the substance is a known corrosive. Deadly to animals and humans
- Hydrochloric acid, exposure to hydrochloric acid can be fatal, corrosive to the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. Inhalation exposure may cause coughing, hoarseness, inflammation and ulceration of the respiratory tract, chest pain and pulmonary edema in humans. Some entomologists use hydrochloric acid to relax their subjects, however, it will kill them instantly. Hydrochloric acid is deadly to humans and animals if exposed
- Butyl cellosolve, accidental consumption or over-exposure to Butyl cellosolve can cause liver and kidney damage in humans and animals. This substance also irritates mucous membranes, including those in the eyes, nose and throat. Cellosolve is used to harden live/dead incest’s for macro photography
- Xylene, exposure to Xylene can irritate the eyes, nose, skin, and throat. Xylene can also cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, loss of muscle coordination, and in high doses, death in humans and animals. Xylene is used by insect collectors, rather than qualified entomologists that are seeking to study insects for a variety of reasons
- Naphthalene, commonly found in moth balls and insecticides, overexposure to naphthalene may damage or destroy red blood cells. Some symptoms include fatigue, lack of appetite, restlessness and pale skin. Exposure to large amounts of naphthalene may also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and blood in the urine. Naphthalene is a listed cacogenic and toxic to both cats and dogs. Naphthalene is allegedly used to relax insects, despite being a known insect repellent, it can kill insects too
- Phenol, phenol vapours are irritating to the respiratory tract and ingestion of phenol can cause corrosive damage to the entire gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Dermal exposure to phenol causes inflammation, erythema, discolouration of the skin, burns and necrosis. Toxic to all land mammals. Phenol is allegedly used to relax insects, however, its also known to kill them too
- p-Chlorocresol, over exposure to p-Chlorocresol causes severe skin burns and eye damage, is very toxic to aquatic life, is harmful if swallowed, causes serious eye damage, is harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects, may cause an allergic skin reaction and may cause respiratory irritation. p-Chlorocresol is allegedly used to relax insects
- Toluene, overexposure to toluene can cause irritation of the eyes and nose; weakness, exhaustion, confusion, euphoria, dizziness, headache; dilated pupils, lacrimation (discharge of tears); anxiety, muscle fatigue, insomnia; numbness or tingling of the skin and dermatitis. Toluene exposure may cause liver and kidney damage. Commonly used in the decorating industry, toluene is known to be toxic to all animal life. However, toluene is used to degrease dead insects for collecting and photography
- Paradichlorobenzene, over exposure to paradichlorobenzene, a fumigant insecticide known to kill most insects. Paradichlorobenzene is toxic to dogs and felines. The CDC state, due to the easy availability of this chemical, there is a considerable risk for accidental or intentional toxic exposure
- Triethylamine, acute exposure of humans to triethylamine vapor causes eye irritation, corneal swelling, and halo vision. People have complained of seeing “blue haze” or having “smoky vision.” These effects have been reversible upon cessation of exposure. Triethylamine is used by some macro-togs as an anaesthetizing chemical to aide easy focus stacking
- WD40, over exposure to WD40 is toxic and can be harmful, even fatal, if ingested; therefore, it is important to never use WD40 near food. In addition, WD40 cans have been known to explode, causing dozens of lawsuits over the years due to injuries from the volatile explosions. A minority of macro-togs use WD40 as an insect killing agent
- Propylene glycol, up until 1996 in the United States, propylene glycol was widely used in the pet food industry until it was banned under Sec. 589.1001 by the United States Food and Drug Administration due to feline sensitivity. Propylene glycol is used to trap, kill and preserve insects for scientific studies and macro
Nowhere in the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) Nature Photographers Code of Practice does it instruct or encourage photographers to use chemicals to still, kill or manipulate living creatures. However, when questioning the macro community back in 2021 concerning the use of chemicals for wildlife macro photography. Numerous macro-togs that practice this type of camerawork, claimed, that the above chemicals are a necessity to focus-stack their subjects in order to obtain a clear and sharp image.
Focus stacking is a technique that combines several images of an object shot at various focus points. This process results in a photo that is sharp from the foreground to the background. Focus stacking is common in macro photography, landscape, portraiture and architecture camerawork too.
Moreover, focus stacking enables you to see intricate details of tiny subjects i.e. insects and spiders to which many macro photographers claim cannot be achieved on its own unless their subjects are relaxed, pinned or euthanised.
However, the vast majority of photographers oppose this style of macro photography claiming its unethical, spurious, and does not meet the strict requirements of bona fide wildlife and nature photography.
Addationally, in recent years, numerous photographers have voiced their annoyance at camera clubs, organisations and photography judges that have awarded photographers great accolades for images that clearly illustrate fake wildlife scenes, animal abuse, and creatures that have been manipulated with wire, string or anaesthesia.
“It’s as if macro photography exists in some other realm of nature photography where anything goes.
The rules of ethical nature photography are forgotten when photographing insects, spiders, or other smaller-than-us creatures (I should note that amphibians and reptiles often share in this same unfortunate photographic fate).
Environments are manipulated. Habitats are destroyed. Lives are lost. But it’s okay, they’re just bugs.
The absence of ethics in macro photography is my single biggest frustration in photography.
Some photographers are receiving great accolades for “nature” images that are nothing more than artistic composites or manipulated natural scenes.
In his original photo submission, he claimed he was caught in a sudden downpour when he happened upon the dragonfly.
Goh later admitted that his friend sprayed water on the dragonfly to get the shot. He claimed that the original caption he submitted alongside the photograph had been manipulated for added effect.
Regardless of the truth, National Geographic angered nature photographers across the globe when it stood by its decision to award Goh the grand prize that year.
What’s even more embarrassing is that Nat Geo would later publish an article on their website about the importance of ethics in wildlife and nature photography.”PetaPixel
On the 29th April 2021, I gave Johan Nobel the opportunity to put his thoughts across regarding the controversial subject of chemical manipulation for the purpose of macro wildlife photography.
Johan claimed: “Essentially, it’s about individual conscience and perspective. i.e. I mow the lawn, have a greenhouse or drive a car, and 100s of insects die. I’ll use those, or found insects, and going around killing something just for a pretty photo isn’t something that rests easy with my conscience. But others may have different morals.”
When reminding Johan Nobel about the content on his website, i.e. articles that list numerous chemicals that photographers can use to anaesthetize and kill living organisms for the purpose of macro photography, Johan said: “Agreed it’s not everyone’s bag, as I said it’s a conscience thing, which I seem to remember I made obvious last time I revised the page, a few years ago. In fact it’s pretty standard in the specialism.”
While the majority of photographers will agree with Johan’s sentiment, in that, drugging, stilling or killing living organisms for the purpose of a pretty image “is not everyone’s bag.” The majority would also disagree with Johan’s opinion to which he claimed that such behaviours are ‘standard in the specialism’ of macro wildlife photography.
Johan Nobel didn’t seem too insouciant that his website, Extreme Macro, is indoctrinating fellow photographers to accept such behaviour as ethical. Addationally, when challenged about his role as a wildlife director and so-called Pentax Ambassador conflicting with the ethos of ethical wildlife and nature photography, Johan said: “I’ve been supporting the campaign against the Indonesians doing grotesque photos as you mention for years, and it’s actually led by us macro types who hate this stuff. Yes I’m transparent, open, I’ve frozen mosquitoes that I would have swatted, but take a good look at my site and you’ll see that even for example in the moth-trapping pages it’s about being considerate to wildlife.”
There’s no denying that Johan Nobel like many photographers I’ve researched is transparent concerning what he believes is morally and ethically correct. And while Johan does encourage people to demonstrate an ethical approach concerning the manhandling and manipulation of living organisms for photography, to go as far as saying he’s considerate to Mother Nature is an overstatement.
Johan Nobel’s blog, and his own beliefs concerning wildlife photography, conflicts with his role as a wildlife director and trustee for the Wildlife Gardening Forum. A British conservation charity that raises awareness of the importance of wildlife and declining species.
One of the biggest threats facing Mother Nature is that of large-scale declines in insects, while perhaps less dramatic, are by no means a thing of the past. New research conducted by scientists from Australia and Asia has revealed that 40 percent of all insect species are in decline and could die out in the coming decades.
Over the past four decades, more than 450 butterfly species have declined at an average rate of nearly 2 percent a year. Studies have also found the overall number of moths has decreased by 28% since 1968. The situation is particularly bad in southern Britain, where moth numbers are down by 40%. Many individual species have declined dramatically in recent decades and over 60 became extinct in the 20th century.
A third of British wild bees and hoverflies are also in decline too. Furthermore, of the 1134 beetle species in Great Britain, 13% are threatened. A significant decline in abundance of ground beetles was found in 75% of 68 species, and 34 of those species decreased by 30% each decade (1994–2008).
The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.
Habitat loss by conversion to intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, while agro-chemical pollutants, invasive species and climate change are additional causes too. While Johan Nobel is far-from-being the greatest threat to biodiversity, his site is carelessly encouraging and educating photographers to harm and kill threatened species for the sheer sake of a photo.
Some people could argue that Johan Nobel’s behaviour is marginal in comparison to others that stage and manipulate rodents, reptiles and frogs for macro. However, as the number of macro photographers that practice this type of immoral photography increases annually, it simply adds to the growing threats facing insects and spiders; a species that is declining by 2.5% each year, and a species that humans, and other animals rely on to survive.
Nothing is more confusing than people who give good advice but set a bad example. Unfortunately, numerous photographers and organisations I’ve researched throughout my study have done just that. When amateurs and budding young photographers take good advice from individuals and groups that also set bad examples, it often leads to the onset of further unethical behaviour, and the dissemination of misleading information concerning photography ethics.
Therefore, photographers of all grades are encouraged to seek out genuine ethical organisations, institutions and individuals that practice strict ethics with regards to all genres of camerawork, and if in doubt always ask questions and challenge everything. Asking questions is not a sign of weakness; in addition, individuals and organisations must be “red flagged” that chastise, condescend or ignore peoples genuine concerns regarding the ethos of photography.
“How do you shoot ethical macro?”
To begin with, its important to dispel a number of myths concerning macro photography, for example, its widely believed that macro photography primarily focuses on smaller than us subjects, e.g. flowers, insects and inanimate objects. And while the aforementioned is somewhat factual, there’s more to macro photography than this.
The macro image (seen above) snapped by Keith Cooper, of Northlight Images illustrates an up-close macro of testing metal failure. Keith Cooper, explains that: “Such macro images open up the world of tiny things and offer unique opportunities for design and advertising creatives.”
Addationally, there remains a wide misconception within the macro communities that subjects of a certain size such as birds, mammals, structures or even landscapes does not represent authentic macro photography which is not entirely true. The macro image (seen below) was shot by photographer, Gregory Basco, who used a 300 mm lens, 2x teleconverter, and a 25 mm extension tube, with a fill-flash to temper the rather harsh mid-day light of this alluring male green-crowned brilliant hummingbird.
There’s another side to macro photography too, that of abstract and creative. This involves capturing the exciting textures and patterns of an object and turning the small details of the object into the focus of attention. For example, this may include capturing the texture of a sliced fruit or the pattern from a stack of colour pencils or even the wrinkles on a person.
While there remains a significant difference between landscape and macro photography, images of the landscape with small eye catching subjects in the foreground can be achieved in the category of micro landscape camerawork. Ultimately its about using your imagination, instead of copying the norm.
Addationally, its widely believed that macro lenses are only good for macro camerawork which is not the case, as a matter of fact, macro lenses are great for portraiture. Furthermore, its often assumed that macro lenses are expensive too. Indeed, some macro lenses are expensive, however, there’s numerous cheap macro lenses available on the market from third party traders.
Most people believe that unless the aperture is wide open at f2.8, the lens isn’t good enough. A lot of photographers make this mistake. You don’t need this opening to produce attractive bokeh with a macro lens. You can do that even at f8. Some lenses, Nikons especially, don’t even use f2.8 unless there’s a certain distance between the camera and the subject.
Finally, most amateurs and emerging photographers stay away from anything macro until they buy a macro lens. In their view, there is absolutely no way to shoot macro photography without one. While it is indeed true that once you get serious about this type of photography you will need a decent lens, it doesn’t mean it’s absolutely necessary for “day to day” macro photos. There are cheaper, lighter alternatives such as close-up filters. They are basically pieces of glass with various magnification ratios and they reduce the minimum range between lens and subject.
So, how do you capture ethical macro photography? Simply put, amateurs and emerging photographers comply with the same rules, laws and ethical standards that all photographers working in all categories must conform to. Macro photography does not exist in some other realm of nature photography where anything goes.
The high standards of ethics that is expected from a landscape and wildlife photographer, are also expected from a macro nature photographer, regardless of whether you’re shooting living fauna or working in the field snapping flora; the subject is more important than the photo.
Maintaining a high standard of ethics in the genera of macro is paramount. Therefore, macro photographers (like all wildlife and nature photographers) must avoid and practice the following:
- Displacing, displacing wildlife often leads to stress, suffering and death. Addationally, displacement of fauna from their local ecosystem can lead to local extinctions, and other knock on effects to plants and animals that may depend on the displaced subject(s)
- Habitat destruction, when a habitat is destroyed, the carrying capacity for indigenous plants, animals, and other organisms is reduced so that populations decline, sometimes up to the level of extinction
- Disturbance, disturbance can influence wildlife behaviour, which can have implications for wildlife populations. For example, wildlife may be more vigilant near human disturbance, resulting in decreased forage intake and reduced reproductive success. Furthermore, human disturbance can significantly affect plant and pollinator species and the simplification of pollination networks
- Avoid going off trail, according to a growing body of research, even low impact recreation can harm wildlife. Addationally, passive recreation can startle or disturb wildlife too. Moreover, repercussions of widespread off-trail hiking include large-scale erosion, damaged vegetation, disruption of wildlife, and altered hydrology, not to mention widening and increased muddiness of trails
- Handling, handling wild animals such as frogs, toads and reptiles can lead to limb dislocations making them helpless, and sentencing them to death upon release. There’s also a significant risk of catching salmonella from reptiles and amphibious fauna too. In addition, handling species of Lepidoptera can lead to fatal damage if handled improperly. For example, the vein on the front wing of a moth or butterfly if broken will cause them to be flightless evermore
- Collecting, collecting living subjects can lead to stress, premature death and local population fauna declines. In addition, wildlife that depend on collected species could be forced to travel further for their prey, forcing them to burn energy reserves or experience stress too
- Exposing subjects to artificial elements, some macro photographers choose to create artificial scenes to make their photo more unique. However, exposing small fauna to such elements, such as, UV lights, chemicals and prop manipulation can lead to stress, injury and death. On top of that, because the scenes are artificial, it will most likely mislead others to think that such a scene is possible in nature. Placing predator and prey together in a scene, gluing, clamping, chilling, paralysing, freezing and fattening subjects for the purpose of a photo is unethical and cruel. Furthermore, such behaviour could even be illegal in some countries
- Seek permission, the U.K is home to thousands of SSSIs, over 200 nature reserves, 12 national parks, and over 500 National Trust sites. Nearly all of these sites are home to protected species of flora and fauna. Photographers must seek permission from designated land owners prior to commencing any form of photographic work, to avoid accidentally damaging and/or destroying protected plant and animal life
- Chemical luring, some macro photographers choose to use chemicals to lure pollinating insects such as alcohols, perfumes, colognes and soaps. Chemical lures can trigger a defensive reaction in bees forcing them to burn energy reserves or experience stress, furthermore, chemical lures can affect pollinating insects food intake levels and harms their natural food intake and activity
- Know the laws, many species of plant and animal-life are offered all-year round protection to prevent disturbance or death of a protected species. Therefore, all wildlife and nature photographers must respect the law
- The truth of the final image, a nature or wildlife photograph should convey the truth of what the photographer saw at the time. Fake wildlife photography might produce heightened expectations for what you can expect wildlife to do
If you have an idea on how to capture an image and you’re asking yourself questions about whether or not it is ethical, then it most likely isn’t. Putting wildlife first is of the utmost importance. An image is not worth the disturbance, or even life, of an animal.
Photographers who stray from this code of ethics may do so because of the draw of chasing a dramatic image. However, these ethics of wildlife photography are not here to hamper your photographic creativity. A good photographer will be able to produce incredible images safely within the confines of these ethics.
Throughout the Earth’s history, there have been five mass extinction events that wiped out huge portions of the species on the planet. Some researchers suggest we could be living through the sixth one right now. The last extinction event was sudden, known as the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction that occurred 66 million years ago wiping out three-quarters of the plant and animal species on Earth, with the exception of some ectothermic species such as sea turtles and crocodilians, no tetrapods weighing more than 25 kilograms (55 pounds) survived.
The fifth extinction marked the end of the Cretaceous period, and with it the Mesozoic Era, while heralding the beginning of the Cenozoic Era, which continues to this day, but only just. Today, we have the technology to warn human civilisation of an impending asteroid strike, that world leaders and organisations can implement to prevent a similar extinction.
Unfortunately, the sixth extinction, that scientists believe we’re now living through appears to be our own doing. Humans impact the physical environment in many ways: overpopulation, pollution, burning fossil fuels, and deforestation. Changes like these have triggered climate change, soil erosion, poor air quality, and undrinkable water.
There is no doubt that a vast number of animals and plants have gone extinct in recent centuries due to human activity, especially since the industrial revolution. The number of individuals across species of plants and animals has declined as well – in many cases severely – affecting genetic variation, biodiversity, among other issues.
All around the world, areas where humans exploit natural resources or undergo encroaching development all have the same outcome: a deteriorating natural environment. As a result of human action, ecosystems face threats such as unhealthy production and consumption; in today’s interconnected world, it doesn’t take much to see these unsustainable forces to take hold.
The number of animals living on the land has fallen by 60% since 1970. Marine animal populations have also fallen by 40% overall. Overall, 40 percent of the world’s 11,000 bird species are in decline. Animal populations in freshwater ecosystems have plummeted by 75% since 1970. Insect populations have declined by 75% in some places of the world. About a quarter of the world’s coral reefs have already been damaged beyond repair, and 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs are at risk from local and global stresses. Furthermore, it is estimated that humans have impacted 83% of Earth’s land surface, which has affected many ecosystems as well as the range in which specific species of wildlife used to exist.
When the world saw the very first photographs, the idea of being able to capture the world as we see it took off rapidly. In a relatively short period of time, film photography evolved from black and white to colour photography. From there, it made motion pictures possible, allowing us to see the world from our couches at home. When the first digital camera was invented, little did the inventors know that it would later revolutionise the world of photography and media in general.
Today, billions of images are captured and shared between people and the number of image recording devices is growing at a rapid, unstoppable rate. There are cameras literally everywhere – in our mobile phones, homes, computers, cars and even in wearables like eyeglasses and watches. Furthermore, the Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA) estimated that between 2017–2021, 3.1 billion camera units were sold worldwide. In addition, for the year of 2021, a total of 1.38 billion camera phones were sold worldwide too.
As mentioned throughout my study, the majority of photographers are disciplined and level-headed that favour ethical photography, and are by no means a threat to Mother Nature. However, photographers that participate in unethical occupations, whether it be with a cell phone or digital camera, carelessly add to the ever-increasing threats that Mother Nature is already experiencing.
Therefore, every man, woman and child that practices or partakes in wildlife and nature photography, must respect the code of ethics and uphold the law. Fake wildlife and nature photographers that masquerade under the pretence of animal biosciences must be opposed. Addationally, photography organisations, camera clubs, social media platforms, and the press and media must do more to prevent the widespread publication of immoral photography and media.
J. J. Williamson | The Norfolk Photographer
My name is Jon Williamson; I’m an ethical photographer and writer with fifteen years of experience in the industry. I shoot landscapes, seascapes, riverscapes, fine art, and portraits. I also run workshops, run tours, and offer one-on-one photography feedback.