Nature photography vs. Nature conservation

Last sunday I found this Ruby Whiteface on a track in the Fochteloerveen during a photography workshop. As it was really cold (colder as the last Christmas day…), the dragonfly couldn’t really move, let alone fly to a better place. For me this was a great opportunity to show these nice creatures to the participants of the workshop. I found him a nice branch to sit on, one that we could use to take nice pictures. While we did so, less as a meter from the path, a ranger passed us and demanded our permit to leave the tracks… Apparently frustrated by the many “nature photographers” who leave the tracks and go anywhere, even into very vulnerable habitats in order to take their pictures. You see I write nature photographers between parenthesis, as I don’t consider them true nature photographers. A nature photographer puts the interest of nature always before his own interest. In the analog era there were only few true nature photographers. Few could afford the large lenses and the large amount of rolls of film that are often needed for this kind of photography. These photographers spent a lot of time studying nature before they started to take pictures. Now, in the digital era, nature photography seems to be at everyone’s doorstep. I think this is a great thing, as nature photography is a great way to experience nature. You get to look really closely at nature and can see some spectacular behavior. And you make something that you can show others, giving them the same insight in nature. However, this large number of people going into nature don’t always have the knowledge those early nature photographers had. Due to this lack of knowledge they sometimes unknowingly disturb fragile parts of the ecosystems. Another problem is that for some people pictures of rare animals seem to be a sort of trophy, one that they got to have and have to show to others. These collectors often put their prize above the interests of nature.

Ruby Whiteface

Knowing all this, I could understand the reaction of the ranger. However, we were practically standing on the track and during our workshop we always tell above story and teach them that one way to make better pictures is to gain more knowledge of your subjects. This also leads to better protection of the subject and its surroundings. After a little chat, the ranger turned a little and we had a nice conversation. It turned out he was a photographer too and they indeed had many problems with photographers going to places they shouldn’t. All understandable, but if his first approach would have been a bit nicer, the feeling of the group would have been a lot better towards him… I think if photographers and conservationists work together we can both help to protect nature and make sure people can enjoy it!


  • Many thanks for this post. This is a very frustrating, sad, and unfortunate issue that you’ve clarified with insight. I’m often stunned at the lack of respect — and simple knowledge — of some “nature photographers” I encounter on the less cumbersome trails. Outside of a lack of knowledge, which can be a learning process, understandably, I’ve seen too many disturbing the wildlife, literally frightening them to no ends to *get the shot.* As you say, it’s a TROPHY; they couldn’t give a flip about their surroundings or the animal in question (and believe me, I’ve had the misfortune to listen in on too many conversations). Access to digital photography opens many wonderful worlds, for the greater good of humanity — but the safety and security of these animals, and the natural environment at large, should be the *primary* and utmost concern. Thanks again for raising this issue…

    Liked by 1 person

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