Daniel Dietrich | One-Upmanship


December 07, 2015  •  13 Comments

Barn Owl in FlightA barn owl flies through a pine forest in Point Reyes National Seashore.

It's natural. You see an amazing shot of a wild animal doing something unique. You are wowed. You think about that shot and how you would be able to get something similar. But in today's photography world, things are different. It is more competitive. Capturing what someone else has just captured is not enough. It has to be better. Why?

Social media has obviously changed things in a big way. We chase likes, comments and shares. We chase retweets and page views. It is an indicator of our 'success'. Social media has put a currency on those measurements, and we have to be bigger, better, faster to reach those higher levels.

But it is not just social media. The big nature companies, their magazines, newspapers, websites and photo contests have created a whole new demand for one-upmanship. And photographers are responding in a way that puts wildlife in danger. What was once creativity is now yielding to compromised ethics. What was once patience is now yielding to the 'how do we get the shot quickly and move on." What was once wild is now captive.

Those that know me know I am opposed to feeding wildlife for photography. But it is the way many photographers are responding to meet this increased pressure and demand by those that publish these images. Photographers are purchasing pet store mice and throwing them to owls to get their shots. It is so successful that "Snowy Owl Workshops" are popping up all over the world. A guide buys dozens of mice, takes a half dozen photographers who pay thousands of dollars for the workshop out into the field, they throw the mice out to the owls and the photographers get the money shot of an owl grabbing the prey. The market is now SO saturated with these images, that the once EPIC scene caught on film by a patient photographer is now a dime a dozen. Most of these images you see now are baited. It is a rare photo of an owl flying at you that is captured through patience and persistence. 

A recent "Wolf Photography Workshop" just popped up. In the description of the workshop it talks about how amazed you will be when you watch the wolf approach the deer. My assumption is if you are in a blind for a workshop and a wolf approaches a deer, it is a dead deer that was placed there by the workshop leaders. So now we are killing deer and putting it in a field so we can get a picture of a wolf?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. It isn't bad enough we chum the water to draw in great whites for photography. Now boats pull rubber seals along the top of the water to get sharks to breach while chasing them. I've heard cases of feral cats and bunnies being tied to trees and injured to bring in animals for photography. The list goes on and on.

So how does this play out for the next generation of photographers? I am very fearful for them. Right now, the pressure on them is enormous. They see the images taken by today's professionals and feel they have to do one better. They have to be more creative than the unethical photographer. Perhaps that barrier to entry is too high for the ethical photographer. Perhaps we will loose out on a generation of photograhers who truly care, who are patient and persistent, who really want to capture nature as it unfolds without influence. The next generation of photographers may only be after one-upmanship and will do whatever it takes to make it.

My hope is there is a reversal of this trend. My hope is the next generation of photographers are rewarded for their ethical choices. My desire is for the big magazines to stop rewarding the unethical photographer by not considering printing images they capture using bait. My hope is that photo contests disqualify entries that are have been captured using unethical means. And my hope is that the public becomes more aware and educated on this topic. This way we can stop wowing, liking, sharing and retweeting images we know have been captured in a way that puts our wildlife in danger.




Sahil Arora(non-registered)
Great stuff! this is really a good article because you always post a great related content and very informative information with powerful points. Just like the article I was looking for to read the article I found on your website. thanks for sharing this article on this website.
Daniel Dietrich
Hi Tony,

Thank you for the kind words. I appreciate that very much.

Tony Joyce(non-registered)
Probably one of the best things I have read in a long time Daniel. From the heart, accurate and disturbing at the same time, kudos to you. Frustrating at times when I see this behavior I want no part of it, pack up my gear and leave. I share your concern with what the next generation will be doing... Good for you for speaking you mind and stating your concerns that many of see daily.
Keep up the great work and you are a great voice for your local wildlife.

Tony Joyce
BC Canada
Daniel Dietrich
Hi Greg,

Thank you for your comment. The barn owl shot is not taken with a flash. I never use flash, ever, when photographing any animals. I 100% agree with your comments.

Greg Dysart(non-registered)
I agree with your concerns Daniel, but is'nt the Barn Owl shot taken with a FLASH? Using flash should be on the list of concerns, especially night shots with owls, shouldn't it?
No comments posted.

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