The Nature Photographer's Code of Practice

King Penguin Courtship taken by David Osborn in the Falkland Islands

King Penguin Courtship taken by David Osborn in the Falkland Islands

Our new exhibition Wildlife of the World will be going on tour next month and in the meantime we thought you might be interested in some handy advice that will help you be more responsible in your quest for capturing the perfect wildlife shots. The following tips are a small selection taken from the The Nature Photographers' Code of Practice which is produced by The Nature Group of The Royal Photographic Society.

"There is one hard and fast rule, whose spirit must be observed at all times. The welfare of the subject is more important than the photograph."

  • Photography should not be undertaken if it puts the subject at risk. Risk to the subject, in this context, means risk of disturbance, physical damage, causing anxiety, consequential predation, and lessened reproductive success.

  • The photographer should be familiar with the natural history of the subject; the more complex the life-form and the rarer the species, the greater his/ her knowledge must be. He/ she should also be sufficiently familiar with other natural history subjects to be able to avoid damaging their interests accidentally. Photography of uncommon creatures and plants by people who know nothing of the hazards to species and habitat is to be deplored.

  • It is important for the good name of nature photography that its practitioners observe normal social courtesies. Permission should be obtained before working on private land and other naturalists should not be incommoded. Work at sites and colonies which are subjects of special study should be coordinated with the people concerned.

  • Photography of birds at the nest should only be undertaken by those with a good knowledge of bird breeding behaviour. There are many competent photographers (and bird watchers) who lack this qualification.

  • A hide should always be used if there is a reasonable doubt that birds would continue normal breeding behaviour otherwise. No part of the occupant should be visible from the outside of the hide.

  • Hides should not be erected where the attention of the public or a predator is likely to be attracted. If there is any such risk, an assistant should be in the vicinity to keep potential intruders away. No hide should be left unattended in daylight in a place with common public access.

  • Visits to a site should be kept to a minimum to avoid damage to vegetation and the creation of new tracks or pathways. The site should be restored to naturalness between sessions.

  • Hibernating animals should never be awakened for photography.

  • When micro-habitats (e.g. tree-bark, beach rocks, etc.) have been disturbed, they should be restored after the photography.

  • For cold-blooded animals and invertebrates, temporary removal from the wild to a studio or vivarium (or aquarium) for photography is not recommended, where practicable field photographs are to be preferred.

  • A nature photograph should convey the essential truth of what the photographer saw at the time it was taken. No radical changes should be made to the original photograph, nor additions made from any source, whether during processing in the darkroom, or through digital/electronic manipulation. The removal of blemishes and/or distractions is permissible.