Nature photography; are you a reporter or an artist?


When I talk with fellow nature photographers we often have a debate about the ethics of nature photography. Of course we all agree that we do not disturb the animals and will allow them to express a normal behavior in a territory. There is also no debate about preserving the ecosystem. But when it comes to showing what we have seen and recorded in nature on social media or websites, a debate will start about what you are allowed to improve or change in an image. Purists will advocate that the use of photoshop or any photo-editing software should be kept to a minimum. They will allow only minor improvements of lighting, contrast and sharpness, and maintain the essence of a shot as it was recorded. The composition ideally is done in the field. Also in photo contests you will see this line of thinking for nature photography in the guidelines for participation.

I can understand this puristic line of thinking about nature photography when you see yourself as a reporter of observations you have done in nature. But .. and there is a big but. It is not always possible for a nature photographer to set the ideal composition in the field or have the correct lighting, contrast and sharpness or appealing color settings. Sometimes the action evolves so fast, for example when taking shots of flying birds, that you have to take the shot with the settings you were using before and are left with no other alternative than to improve the image with photo-editing software later. To do so it is advised to save the images in a RAW format because that allows most editing possibilities for a shot.

How far do we go editing images? Depends on how you see yourself as a nature photographer. Want to be a reporter or an artist, or combine both? I see photography as an art form and therefor advocate an artistic representation of what I have observed in nature. That does not imply that I compose images but it allows me to take image editing, adjusting for example color settings and composition, to the maximum improvement possible. In this way I get the best and most appealing quality out of an already good shot; it should be a pleasure for the viewers to study fine details of an image that I have made. This qualifies me as an artistic nature photographer

Artistic nature photography is important, not to report about what we have seen, but to show the beauty of nature and wildlife. An appealing shot catching the eye of the viewer a bit longer than it normally would, will in effect create awareness for nature conservation and, I hope, in that way contribute to combatting climate change.