As a macro photographer, one would undoubtedly face the issue of ethics and responsibility in the field. I will explain more about this, as well as my personal views in this page. Hopefully, this will allow more macro photographers to understand the importance of good ethics, and exercise good individual judgement about ethical and responsible behavior in the field. This is a must-read for anyone starting out on nature macro photography.
At some point of time in my macro journey, I have broken some of these rules myself and have come to regret them. I am learning the importance of these mistakes through the hard way. I hope other macro photographers do not repeat the same mistakes, and learn to make better judgement calls when out in the field.
Welfare of Subjects
- Touching subjects with prey
In the wild, many living things only eat once in many days. Some spiders have to use up a lot of silk just to get 1 prey. Be mindful that touching these subjects or stressing them may lead them to drop their precious prey and essential food for the week.
- Handling subjects with your hand
It requires many years of training to be able to exert the precise force in handling any tiny subject without causing any injury or death. Attempting to handle them directly is strongly discouraged. It is NATURAL for subjects to run about. Forcefully holding a subject's leg to prevent it from moving is CRUEL and not acceptable, and often leads to permanent injuries to the subject.
- Displacing subjects
Avoid putting subjects in unnatural environments just to take a good photo. There may be exceptions, but exercise good judgement on this. If any subject is displaced from it's natural habitat due to your presence, it will be your obligation to return it to it's original position. You would not appreciate a giant being ripping you out of your home to take a photo of you, and then discarding you in a remote island, would you?
- Collecting subjects
Do not collect subjects home or away from their habitat. Some people do that to shoot in a studio environment. It also means almost certain death for the subjects. The only exception to this is for specific scientific reasons, when you are an entomologist or working for one.
- Exposing subjects to artificial elements
Some photographers choose to create artificial scenes to make the photo unique. I am categorically against such methods because of the tremendous amount of undue stress and potential injury imposed on the subjects. Some of the methods are listed here as examples, but the list is definitely not limited to this. Before praising the photographers for their artistry, please consider how the shots were made.
- Spraying water to create artificial rain - unnatural rain means the subjects may not know how to escape from it
- Artificially placing 2 or more subjects together
- Exposing terrestrial subjects to water mass and possibly drown them, often used to create reflections and additional drama
- Forcing subjects into extreme unnatural poses, sometimes using strings or wires to control the subjects like a puppet
- Gluing or clamping subjects in place to stop them from moving (most cruel of them all)
- Refrigerating subjects so that they are incapable of movement - it leads to potential tissue damage and over-freezing til death
- Equality of life
Learn to appreciate every life form with equal importance. A simple common cricket or ant can be shot beautifully too. I vaguely remember the birth of a certain royal baby recently that had a tad more attention than other babies.
- Learn to stop
Recognize when a subject is completely stressed out and time for you to stop trying to coax it into position to get the perfect shot.
Conservation of Habitat
- Habitat damage
Refrain from cutting/plucking any leaf. Leave your scissors at home where they belong. A solitary leaf could be the essential cover for an insect against predators. I used to think that cutting a random leaf in a jungle causes no harm, but I have witnessed examples where bug nests were exposed and invaded by predators after some leaves were conveniently cut just because they were "blocking the view". It caused the death of entire families.
- Publicizing photos of rare subjects
Before posting photos of the rare subject that you have just shot, stop and consider the potential impact on the creature's habitat. Poachers may get excited on seeing your photos and go on hunts to the common spots to collect the subjects for sale. Eager macro photographers may also come in hordes to photograph the subjects. Once, photos and location of some rare bugs were posted and shared, and it led to many shooters "invading" the area in large numbers. The area was actually a farm, and the macro shooters flattened the crops. Eventually, angry farmers decided to uproot the host plant altogether to stop the unwelcome crowd.
- Publicizing locations
Other than the obvious reasons stated in the previous point, this is especially important for places outside of Singapore. Never reveal exact locations, as they are usually very remote and may attract robbers to stalk you or your group. Expensive camera equipment is actually a big lure and very dangerous.
As obvious as it sounds, take nothing but photographs and videos, leave nothing but footprints.
- Shooting priority
As a general rule, the one who finds the subject gets to shoot it first. If you are not part of the group, it is basic courtesy to ask before joining in to shoot.
- Queuing to shoot
In a group, it is common to find a subject and have everyone take turns to shoot. Use some common sense and do not go straight to maximum magnification and potentially chase the bug away, ruining the chance for others to shoot. You can always "re-queue" and shoot at higher magnification later.
When someone else is shooting, do not obstruct their view and do not stand behind the subject as you may become the photo's background.
- Stand downstream
When others are shooting subjects under the water, such as a stream or shore during low tide, never stand upstream. Doing so will kick up murky water to where the subjects are.
Noise and sudden movement can scare away skittish bugs. Watch where you step and be quiet when others are shooting.
- Red-face test
If you find yourself embarrassed or uncomfortable when questioned about something you are doing, you probably should not do it. Of course, this does not mean that you can do whatever you want if you have a thick hide. ;)
If you spot others engaging in any unethical acts stated above, be tactful in informing them.
Online EthicsSharing of photos online is commonplace. These are scenarios that one would face sooner or later, either as a photographer, website owner or internet user.
Subject identification and descriptionAdding identification and meaningful description to the subjects to our photos is great, but not when it is wrong, unverified or copied without citation.
- Internet is untrusted
Do not wholly trust what you see on the internet. Another webpage tagging a specific ID to a photo does not mean it is correct. This includes my blog as well. This is the most common way how wrong IDs are spread.
- Identification and description credit
If you publish an ID, copy a description or derive any text from another person, website or book, please include the ID credit. Proper identification can sometimes be complicated work, so credits should be due. ID credits also allows others to follow up with discussions with the correct person who made the identification. If the identification is wrong in the first place, remember that you are taking the "credit" too.
- Be vague
Avoid stating the full species of any subject unless you are absolutely certain or have consulted an expert who is certain. Identification is based on a specific set of characters and NOT simply based on visual similarities on photographs. Subjects that appear "identical" in photos to an untrained eye should not be assumed to be the same species. Conversely, subjects that look radically different can actually be the same species but different gender or morph. Most scientists will refuse to identify based on a photo because they need to examine the specimen under a microscope to accurately determine the defining characters.
- Internet is untrusted
Caption AuthenticityAlways be authentic in providing a caption to your photos. Never lie or deceive your audience about how you created your shot. It is easy to be exposed.
- Studio shots
If it is a dead subject or studio shot, do not proclaim that it was found and shot alive in the wild. This is especially true for many high magnification stacks which are not realistically possible for live subjects in the open.
- Artificial scenes
Strongly discouraged to start with, but if subjects were artificially coerced into certain behavior or positions, state so. Some scenarios are biologically impossible.
- Found in the wild?
If the subject is not found in the wild but purchased or obtained via other means in captivity, state so. Many species are only recorded in certain parts of the world.
- Studio shots
Image/Photo DistributionAlways assume that the photographer of any photo is the copyright owner, and that it is NOT OK to:
- Upload a copy of the image to your own website/page without explicit written permission from the owner.
- Resize, crop or manipulate the original image in any way not explicitly permitted by the owner.
- Remove or replace any existing watermarks. Handling of watermarks should only be done by the copyright owner.
What if you wish to upload a beautiful image that you found online with no watermark or hint of the owner?
- Locate and contact the image owner
Do a reverse image search to find other sites hosting the image. READ the content of the sites to find out if they specified the owner of the image, and look for the photographer's contact. The photographer put in a lot of effort and money to produce the image. You could easily spare a few minutes to do this. "No time" and ignorance is not an excuse.
- Avoid wrongful credit
NEVER credit "Google Images", image aggregators, nor any news agency. They are definitely not the owners of the images.
- Pass when in doubt
If in doubt, do not use the image. It does not kill you to pass up on a pretty image, but can land you in trouble should you misuse it. Ignorance is not a valid excuse.