Stars around this planet

Tonight, the sky was exceptionally clear, especially for summer, and I trekked (well, drove) down to Jordan Lake to see what I could capture. Jordan Lake is about the only place in the area with largely unobstructed views and relatively dark skies, and that “relatively” is key – there are too many cities nearby pumping light up into the sky for really good night views.

Nevertheless, I managed to capture a first for me, believe it or not: a detailed stretch of the Milky Way. This picture has been enhanced slightly from the original, correcting the color cast a bit and increasing contrast, because digital doesn’t work as well as film on the night sky. This was also taking a chance, because I’m aiming mostly south here, which is not the best move from the Northern Hemisphere – the stars to the south show the most apparent movement, and smear across your photo frame more. This is a mere 26 second exposure and movement is still visible in the full res version. For further specs, this is ISO 800 at f2.8.

The stars at the bottom of the photo, curling around and upwards to the right, are the constellation Scorpius – look for the two pairs of close stars. The pair towards the middle of the frame are the “stinger,” and the other pair is the base of the tail leading into the scorpion body facing towards upper right. Portions of Sagittarius are peeking in from the left, which would make, I believe, the center of the Milky Way Galaxy appearing towards the top left of the frame. It isn’t apparent from our position, because too much dust obscures our view. And somewhere in there is a massive black hole.

One of these days, I’ll do a beach trip during good weather and get out on the shore during really clear nights. The Outer Banks has lots of areas well away from city lights, and of course, half of the horizon is ocean and free from light pollution. When I do this, I now know I’ll need some decent high speed film to get results like this. Alternately, I could construct a tracking platform that counteracts the rotation of the earth, tilting the camera slowly to keep the sky “unmoving,” which allows for very long exposures without star streaks. This plays hell with the horizon, of course, and for most of those shots you’ve seen where the horizon is sharp and the sky is intricately detailed, the horizon has been patched in digitally afterwards. Film and digital sensors just don’t handle the sparse light from the night sky in short exposures, and most especially without grain or noise. ISO 800 is far from ideal – I usually shoot 100 for detail and color rendition, and some films I use are rated at ISO 40 – that’s less than 1/16th as sensitive to light as ISO 800, and so the exposure time would have to be much longer: seven minutes! Yeah, you get some pretty heavy star streaks then.

At some point later on I’ll go into the trials of long exposures, pushing film, and reciprocity failures. Dim light photography has all its own body of knowledge, almost making it a specialty in itself. I’ll warn you adequately so you can skip it if you like ;-)

Planets around other stars

In a series of posts earlier, I talked about the possibilities of extra-terrestrial life, and in Part Three, I mentioned our findings of planets around other stars, usually referred to as “exoplanets.” Now, in that post, I was a bit misleading in the progress we’ve made, and while not exactly incorrect in what I said (which referred to finding Earth-like planets in the Habitable Zone,) it is accurate to say that I gave the wrong impression.

So I’m correcting that now. We have found a handful of planets around other suns by direct visual observation, instead of only (as I implied) by changes in the light levels of the star itself. This is quite impressive, and shows off just how quickly our astronomical knowledge is changing – only a few years ago this was not the case, and some of the planets we know of had been seen a few years ago, but not confirmed.

Bad Astronomy has more details, most especially if you read through the comments (yes, some blogs get comments, imagine that.) We’re still finding planets by the method I mentioned, more than by direct visual observation, but it’s neat to know that we can, on occasion, actually see them directly.

Right now, only two exoplanets are considered candidates for life, Gliese 581 C and Gliese 581 D, and we have not seen those directly despite being much closer. The one that BA is talking about is far, far too young and hot, and would probably never be a candidate in its entire lifespan – it actually appears to lie somewhere in the grey area between planet and star, according to some of the comments. What I said about the proximity of the Habitable Zone still holds true, too – while you can distinctly see the planet well away from the star (it took some time to determine that it was not a faint background star that only appeared close,) it’s a tremendous distance away from the star itself, about 300 Astronomical Units. Since an AU is the mean distance between Earth and our sun, and should roughly correspond to the Habitable Zone for any star remotely like ours (this one is not, not by a long shot,) you can start getting the impression of how close the zone might be, swallowed up in the diffraction around the star itself.

There are lots of variables in observing stars, and it’s not clear if we’ll be able to see an Earth-like planet soon, or ever – one would have to be fairly close to us in astronomical terms, and we’re whittling down the candidates steadily. Considering, however, that at least three moons around planets within our own solar system (Enceladus, Europa, and Titan) may have the ability to support life in niche conditions, it may not require planets in specific zones at all. We’re still working it all out., so keep your eye on the astronomical websites, because our media sure as hell can’t get it straight.

Sometimes I startle myself

I have been considering, for a while now, having a page on the main website that features recent photographs, just a showcase of pics. But there are times when I want to mention some small detail about the image or the process of obtaining it – nothing deep, just items of interest. So I really didn’t want to start adding pages formatted like the rest of the site, but idly wondered what I wanted to do.

And then, like the blinding flash of a firefly, I said to myself, “Myself, that’s called a photoblog.”

No, really, I was that slow on the uptake. I got it into my head that this blog was more for illustrations of topics that I examine in greater detail, and not simply showing off photos. Sigh.

Anyway, here’s a snail avoiding the heat during the day. It’s closed off the opening of the shell with a gossamer membrane that they can extrude, which I suspect also helps it remains stuck to the vine while keeping moisture inside. You can see where the snail itself has retracted back into the shell a short distance.

Hot weather tips

We just broke a run of over two weeks of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees F during the day here, so of course, now I’ll bring you a tip about shooting in hot weather.

Don’t do it. Seriously, just stay indoors.

Okay, if you’re dedicated or stupid, I suppose I can give something more useful. I’ve run into this problem quite a few times now, from shooting in Florida, butterfly houses and rainforest exhibits, and now for a couple of weeks in abnormal conditions for North Carolina. Your camera, of course, should be kept cool – film doesn’t handle heat well, and starts to decay towards color-shifting, but much worse, your lenses can be really messed up with heat. Many have a lubricant inside to keep the zoom and/or focus rings operating smoothly, and this can get a lot thinner as it gets hot. This can make it run onto the lens surfaces themselves, but much worse, onto the aperture blades. These are very light thin pieces of metal that have to snap open and closed very quickly, and getting gummed up with any kind of moisture, even when it’s supposed to be a lubricant, can cause your aperture to become erratic or stuck fast. That’s called a minimum $100 lens repair.

But keeping the camera cool, such as remaining in air-conditioning, leads to a problem when you take it out in hot, humid conditions – it acts like a nice cold glass of lemonade, especially the glass. The lens glass, and sometimes even the camera body, will attract condensation and fog up. Your best bet is to leave the camera in the bag out of contact with the humid air until it warms up closer to ambient temperature, but if you have a properly padded and closed bag, this acts like insulation, so warming up can take a while. Whatever you do, however, don’t uncap your lens, and most especially don’t switch lenses, which lets moist air into the insides of the lens and can cause fogging on interior elements. I did this once and it takes forever to clear. Bright sunlight can help bring the camera and lens up in temperature faster, and a faint breeze helps too.

Don’t try to rush things, but instead try to plan your shooting around such conditions. This doesn’t always work – several times these past two weeks I found a photo subject and fetched the camera, only to have to wait until it could be used. Don’t count on microfiber lens cleaning cloths to dry off the surfaces, either – they’re usually not very absorbent and only distribute humidity around in droplets. A small towel in your camerabag can help dry off the body, if you need it (and you should have one in case of wet weather and splashing water,) but don’t use it on your lens, because they’re bad about retaining grit and using that to scratch the glass. Patience can save you a few hundred dollars in replacing a favorite lens.

The other issue I encounter frequently is viewfinder fogging. This is made much worse because I wear glasses, so the extra glass surface cuts air circulation right around the eyepiece, and contributes to heat buildup. So does a hat brim, and while I recommend a good shady hat for outdoor shooting, they can contribute to fogging in rough conditions. I have yet to try those pith helmets with a fan built into the brim (I don’t mind looking a little goofy, but there’s a limit,) though this strikes me as probably an effective solution. Battery-powered little fans can be found in most department stores, but this leads to the problem of how to hold it and the camera, and adjust the lens at the same time. A simple sweatband, believe it or not, has proven most effective, if only because it absorbs some of the humidity from your own sweat that would be present near your eye.

Finally, a little tip to keep your camera looking good. With hot weather comes insect repellent, which is fine and often necessary. Just be aware that anything containing DEET will eat into the plastic of your camera body, lenses, binoculars, and so on. Even wiping your repellent-treated forehead and grabbing the camera can mark it. Keep that towel handy.


All right, it took me a couple of nights to get the image that I wanted, mentioned in the last post, but one of those nights was spent over at The Girlfriend’s place, so it doesn’t count ;-)

As you might have determined from previous posts (of course you’ve read them all,) I do a fair amount of poking around at night. I’ve been doing this for a long time now. It’s quieter, cooler, with no traffic, and the sky can get much more interesting. Social people might not identify with it so much, but for a hermit like me it’s a great time to be out. I’ve gotten reactions from people when I tell them I often hike down the roads at night, along the lines of, “Is that safe?” Night, to many, represents the time when things are dangerous, when villains are out and no one is around to help you. Alternately, others will say that there’s nothing in the dark that isn’t there in the light.

Both are wrong. I’ve never been the least harassed, or even felt on-edge, by anyone I’ve met on the roads at night – I usually don’t encounter anyone. Muggers have better places to lie in wait for people, of course. But nighttime definitely shows a distinct difference from daytime. You might be amazed at how much you hear moving around, and on occasion see, if you’re paying attention. I tend to carry a flashlight, not to see my way (my night vision is usually sufficient,) but to get a better idea of what I hear moving in the woods and underbrush. And fairly often, what I’m greeted with while I shine the light about is exactly what you see in the photo up there.

The first time this happened, it was even more dramatic looking than that. I was on a lonely, deeply wooded stretch of road close to a kilometer from the nearest house, and the flashlight only went so far into the woods. The trees got fainter and fainter with the distance, and at the limits of its range, deep in the darkness, shone two eyes, right at my own eye level.

I’m not superstitious, and I’m well aware of the critters in the areas I’ve lived, but I still couldn’t get past how creepy this was, a very powerful feeling. The rational part of my mind could not completely overrule the reactive part, which I find interesting. What I also find interesting is the fact that eyes reflecting at my own eye level are far more chill-inducing than eyes at lower levels. You could argue that eyes down low mean things like raccoons and opossums, which aren’t threatening, but that fails the rational test – eyes at eye level are invariably deer, and the most threatening animals around here, wolves and coyotes, are lower too.

That’s not to say that wolves and coyotes are threatening – they’re not, and while the media makes big deals out of any dangerous encounters, they’re few and far between. I’ve heard a pack of coyotes calling at night too, once again on a lonely road and only a few hundred meters away. I can only describe it as a delightfully spooky sound, just like the movies but awesome to hear nearby. Less than a week ago, as a jet passed overhead and produced a distant howl of changing pitch, a coyote answered it, confirming to me that I have some not too far away, so maybe some photos will be forthcoming soon.

The scariest encounter I’ve ever had at night, believe it or not, was hearing a fox calling. Go to this link, click on “call.wav” and tell me that doesn’t sound like a woman being beaten. Which is a really bad thing to hear a few hundred meters away in dense woods. Two close encounters with skunks and nearly being run down by a deer don’t compare at all.

The big point is, there’s a lot going on at night, and encounters to be had that you’re not likely to have during the day. The quiet and darkness only add to the effect. There is a whole other world of activity, and if you have any interest in nature, you need to be wandering in the dark. It doesn’t make photography any easier, true enough, but there are still opportunities. In the past week, I’ve had encounters with umpteen deer, opossum territorial disputes, a family of raccoons, owls conversing, and the coyote calling the jet. And who knows how many insects and spiders? And last night, my photo subject was curious enough to stay put as I crept closer to let the camera flash have better effect. To this whitetail, I was no doubt the creepy one.

Prediction (or obligation)

I’ve been wanting to do a post on nighttime encounters, but feel this would be better illustrated with some specific photos – which I don’t have. So, tonight I’m going to get them. Stay tuned.

(I’d have been smarter to post this after I got the photos, and it would look like I just went out and shot the photos I wanted on demand, la de da. Now I stand the chance of failing and looking like a doofus. I gotta work on my marketing skills…)

For happy carnivores only

What follows is my extra special beef rib recipe, because the subject came up on the Bad Astronomy blog. Bear in mind that I cook by eye, so these measurements are approximations and, should anything seem too much for you, adjust as you see fit. I don’t tend to write things like this down.

This is a semi-homemade recipe – obviously I do not brew up my own barbecue sauce, but hybridize it instead. What this means is I can have ribs ready in an hour ;-)

These are mildly spicy, less so than you might think from the ingredients, and reheat well. All spices are common supermarket powdered kind – feel free to substitute fresh, knowing that they’re probably a bit stronger that way.

* 4 lbs boneless beef ribs, cut into chunks (boneless ribs tend to be much meatier cuts and, of course, you’re not paying for bone)
* 1 cup Bullseye Original barbecue sauce
* 1/2 cup Aroma Chef Thai Sweet Chili sauce (oh baby)
* 1/2 cup chopped fresh onions (yellow, vidalia, whatever you like)
* 1/4 cup water
* 1 or 2 Tblsp worcestershire sauce, or soy sauce
* 1 Tblsp chili powder
* 1 Tblsp parsley
* 1 Tsp ginger (powder/ground)
* 1 Tsp curry powder
* 1 Tsp garlic powder
* 1/2 Tsp cayenne pepper (powder)
* 1/2 Tsp black pepper (ground)

Simmer rib meat in water just barely at low boil for approx 20 minutes, drain.
Mix all ingredients in small bowl.
Place rib meat in deep narrow dish, thoroughly coat with sauce mixture. The goal is for at least partial submergence, more like a stew – this keeps the meat from drying out.
Bake at 350 degrees (F) for 35-40 minutes, serve with bread or rolls on side, perhaps some nice chunks of seriously sharp cheddar.
Serves 4-6 hungry people.

The Aroma Chef Thai Sweet Chili sauce is something I’ve only found at WalMart, and is very tasty stuff. It’s responsible for the zing in this sauce, so substituting is not something I can walk you through, but possibly any kind of oriental sweet/hot sauce would work.

Give it a shot, alter as you see fit. Hope you like it!

Some people get to live in high crime areas

Finding myself in need of some supplies, I ran out tonight (okay, this morning) to the store, leaving my porch light on of course. But I think I’m getting broken of that habit, because the sheila above was waiting for me when I got home. Yeah, right smack alongside my door.

If you haven’t looked close (but of course you have! You didn’t immediately smash your monitor or quickly switch to ICanHasCheezburger or anything,) you may have missed that she is not alone. That’s the whole family on her back. Isn’t that adorable? Lookit all dem widdle cute-ums! You just wanna boop! them all on the nose, don’t you?

The funny thing is, this is the third time this year. A few months ago, I found a female towing her egg sack, and about a week later, one of similar size (I suspected the same one) appeared with her abdomen decked out with babies. But it’s happened twice more since then, too far apart for me to believe it’s the same one – the young should have grown and left her in the intervening time. Yes, I appear to be living in an arachnid megalopolis. Well, I suppose if anyone should, it should be a nature photographer who likes macro work…

While I can certainly get some really closeup shots, making this spider seem more impressive than she really was, I can provide proof of scale – yes, that’s my own forefinger in the pic. Now, there’s a photographers’ trick called “forced perspective,” where a high depth-of-field can be used to make two radically different subjects appear similar in size. I’ve used this to make people appear to stand taller than lighthouses, for example. But here’s the thing: if I had used it here, my finger would have to be a lot closer to the camera than the spider, and thus appear much larger than reality. The spider herself would have been even larger in comparison to my finger. Faced with that thought, the idea that this is an accurate pic is a little better now, isn’t it? And yes, I got that close – most spiders are actually a bit shy, and I had to keep her close with nudges from a stick to get these pics. It gave me the chance to try out a softbox flash diffuser, which worked pretty well actually.

Even so, maybe I’ll leave the porch light off from now on to avoid attracting my neighbors. Then again, it might simply mean I’ll be walking up on them in the dark. Hmmmm…

Just chock full of analogies

Some days back, I made an offhand note about trying to get some lightning pics, and decided the revisit the subject (and springboard from it) for a new post. Lest I give you the wrong impression, no, the image above isn’t recent, but actually a composite of two frames, taken minutes apart, from Florida a few years ago.

Lightning photography is a tricky thing. In theory, it’s actually not hard. The idea of shots like this is, you find a storm and lock the shutter open – this is what the “B” setting of the camera is for. It stands for, believe it or not, “Bulb,” which is how, 540 years ago, you could hold the shutter open as long as you wanted (I’m being facetious with that number – it’s a little less than 400 years.) Anyway, you open the shutter, and it stays open, exposing your film/sensor until you close it again. This would make a terrible mess of your image unless you a) use a tripod, and b) pick a dark area to be aimed at. Sometime while that shutter is open, however, lightning cooperatively strikes right inside your frame in a vivid manner, and you can then close your shutter with a nice photo of lightning all captured inside.

Yeah right. All photography is easy, you just point the camera and click! The devil, of course, is in the details. A storm that gives you a good view of its approach, or better its retreat, is the first part. The second part is it doing this at night, when conditions are dark enough to leave the shutter open for a while. Having some kind of landscape that gives you an unimpeded view of the storm and some foreground interest helps a lot, especially foreground interest that stands up under the dark conditions.

Then, you make a best guess as to where the lightning will strike, and wait. Most fronts are fairly wide and present a large area for lightning to appear within. So it’s hard to frame the image the way you might for most other subjects, and shooting with a wider angle lens provides the best chances, unless you get really lucky and have a small, active thunderhead that you can zoom in on – I’ve had this happen once, and it can be seen in the header images eventually (refresh the page for a new one.) The thing is, a wider angle lens makes everything appear smaller, which can reduce the dramatic impact of the lightning bolt itself, especially if you’re maintaining a safe distance from the storm.

That’s a crucial bit, by the way. Not only keeping yourself and your equipment out of the rain, but too often when attempting this your best vantage point is out in the open. Lightning can strike well ahead of the apparent front, so protecting yourself should be at the front of your mind, and I heartily recommend trying for retreating storms.

Then, of course, there’s the lightning strikes themselves. Cloud-to-cloud strikes, inner-cloud strikes, weak wandering bolts – these are all common and can expose your frame while not giving you anything photogenic. A few inner-cloud strikes can dramatically light up the puffy thunderheads, and I’ve done plenty of shots like this, but they’re not the same as a nice clear bolt. Too many things like this mean that, if you leave the shutter open to wait for the nice bolt, you end up with far too much light in the sky and everything becomes kind of muddy. Remember that the clouds are often moving while your shutter is open, so repeated inner-cloud strikes don’t provide nice detail from the clouds, but instead overlaps them and smears details together. If you’ve had three bright inner-cloud strikes without a clear bolt, you’re going to have too much light and should simply close the shutter and skip that frame for a new one.

You would think that timing a strike would be completely random, but here’s something funny: in my experience, lightning actually follows a loose timing pattern. When you see a bright bolt, start counting until you see the next one in the same area, and use this as a baseline. Then, about ten seconds before you reach that count again, open the shutter and wait. Lightning seems to follow a pattern of building the charge, and this rough timing gives a little bit of an edge. I said “in the same area” above because different portions of a front can have their own timing – a bright strike here every forty seconds, a weaker strike over there every thirty, and so on. I’ve even seen alternating weak and strong strikes. It’s not guaranteed, but I’ve seen this pattern too often not to use it anymore.

Camera settings are a hard thing to recommend, because they depend on your foreground subject and lighting, as well as how active the storm is. This is a photo subject that digital helps with, because you can review a rough idea of your results (I have yet to see a preview LCD that gives an accurate rendition of exposure.) As a starting point, I can say ISO 100 (for color rendition and detail,) aperture set at f8. Lightning strikes are brief enough to act as a strobe and light up your landscape at times, but this is difficult to count on. A strike that gives your foreground enough light will blow the bolt itself out into low detail most times, which is why reflective water works pretty well – you’ll notice in the pic above, not much land detail has been captured. The storm itself, though appearing over the land, is actually miles beyond the narrow barrier islands that make up the land in my composition, so they’re actually backlit. All of the cloud illumination comes from within, but a hint of it, at upper right, actually comes from a full moon making an appearance – you can even make out a couple of stars above the clouds. The orange glow in the upper right corner is from low-lying clouds reflecting the city lights out of the frame.

Location, of course, can help a lot. Florida is the world leader in lightning, because of its unique weather conditions as a narrow peninsula with warm air masses driven across from the gulf. In summer, violent thunderstorms late in the day are very common. We’re starting to see this same trend here in NC this summer, but the land is not as flat and the storm fronts not as distinct, which means so far, I’ve not gotten a decent shot at one recently. Lakes can provide a nice setting and good view of the storm, but this also puts you and your tripod out in open space, making you more of a target for a strike. Be careful. Scouting out areas ahead of time, with the knowledge of how most storms move through your area, can only help – this applies to sunrise/sunset pics as well. Do you think most dramatic pics from the pros just happen? Chances are, they spotted the conditions for the image long before they came back at the right time to capture the pic with that kind of light.

But, given all these tricks, it is still (pardon the expression) hit-or-miss. And this is where the analogies come in, because all of nature photography is like this. You can do your best with knowing the conditions and preparing ahead of time, and knowing habits or tendencies, and knowing what settings it can take to get the best results. And a lot of your success will still be dependent on that lightning strike, the moment of drama that you capture in an instant. You increase your chances by knowing as much as you can, but you’re still subject to random factors that can make a photo expedition virtually fruitless (I have thrown away more failed lightning frames than I can count, to say nothing of all of the other subjects I chase.) The best way of dealing with this is to let it roll off your back and try again later. You’ll get another chance, and that time, you’ll have the experience you gained through failure. Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can, though – you won’t succeed without trying.

All the world’s a stage…

A month ago I made a post asking some questions about wildlife photography ethics, most especially the how, when, and why of staging shots using captive animals or controlled conditions. Audubon Magazine decided to one-up me on this topic and posted their own article, naturally going into a little more detail than I did (but I brought mine in under a much tighter budget, so there!)

To their credit, they exposed the dubious practices of some game farms, which are places that maintain a selection of animals to be used for (in these cases) photographic purposes. The animals are in no way wild, have usually been captive since birth, are fully habituated to humans, and in some cases trained to perform. And nature photographers are the prime customer.

Some nature photographers. This can in no way be considered universal among photographers, any more than any other practice. Most of the photographers I know (myself included) don’t think much at all of the practice, and most especially consider the misrepresentation of such photos as contemptuous.

Now, you should feel free to question what the difference is between game farm shots and, for instance, a zoo. For the most part, not very much. A key point is that zoos exist for a much broader purpose, and most strive to maintain very high standards in animal care. Photographers aren’t a target customer of the zoos and aquariums – they’re aiming more for education, and often for endangered species support. This can be argued too – does it work better leaving the animals out of it entirely and using only films and photos for education? Is captivity even ethical for any purpose?

I’ve had that discussion before, and it really is a matter of opinion. I’ve also had the discussion of vegetarianism and veganism, too, and remain a blatant omnivore. Your opinion is all up to you. We can, of course, make distinct efforts to maintain standards for any animals under our care, and this should certainly hold true for game farms. It’s unfortunate that the regulation of such tends to fall under individual states and even counties – federal level laws govern only endangered/threatened species, trafficking, and animal fighting in the US.

But there’s another aspect of this, akin, believe it or not, to drugs in this country: if there’s a market, it will be exploited. And this is where the Audubon article fell a bit short. It seemed quick to blame photographers for the brunt of it, and the game farms close behind. But this is a bit of a disingenuous face for a magazine to put on, especially one that purchases wildlife photos. I touched on this in my own post, and am reiterating it here: the provenance of the photo is rarely, if ever, a factor in the editors’ purchases. There is no price difference between staged and honestly wild photos to the vast majority of editors and publishers, and few that stipulate that they want only wild images. To be fair, the article made it clear that Audubon itself, as well as several other major magazines, made distinct efforts to buy genuinely wild photos. But, as they admit, they’re a small share of the market. Should I be doing this for a living, the occasional sale to those particular magazines isn’t going to cover the bills.

Let’s look at it from the market point of view. I am an editor, and I have a new article in my hands about a disease hitting brown bears. I have three days to get to press, and it needs an illustrating image. Moreover, the layout of the magazine requires an image that works well as a vertical composition, a certain size, and facing to the left – graphic layouts really do require such things, and many more besides. Note that the article is not about brown bears in a certain area, habits, populations, or anything specific – I just need a bear. The photographer I’m going to call is the one who has the best selection of brown bear shots so I can find one that fits my intended layout quickly. One-stop shopping. I have no reason to care if it’s actually a wild shot or not.

The photographer who has camped out in the wild, shot from blinds, and spent weeks of discomfort and sometimes outright danger to get the long shots of a bear family can lose out to the game farm photographer, who has 200 photos from one afternoon, nice and tight and sharp. Moreover, even if those wild shots sell, they sell for the same price, and nature photography, seriously, is on the low end of the photographic payscale! Shit, why bother? Ethics? That’s all well and good. Here I am, ethical photographer – do I get my camera equipment cheaper because of it? My utilities, housing, travel expenses? Don’t make me laugh. As nihilistic as it sounds, in these cases ethics are good only for an individual’s piece of mind. Sometimes, that’s enough, but it’s silly to think this should apply universally.

So are the photographers to blame for the market? Please. Which makes the point repeated throughout the article, as well as the blatantly accusatory tagline, rather offensive. And their point is really far too scattered for a magazine of their caliber anyway. They talk about photographers, editors, documentaries, calendars, and posters, even going back 100 years! Disney, Wild Kingdom, even David Attenborough! Okay, fine, it’s a common practice, only now receiving some strictly voluntary ethics. How did photographers get to be the baddies?

Using the illustration example above, what’s unethical about it? It really is a brown bear, and no one said it’s in the wild. The article makes no mention of that bear, only studies of an illness. So? Illustration does serve a purpose, and frankly, if an article mentions capybaras, and I have no idea what a capybara is (we’re making pretend for the sake of argument,) am I being disadvantaged or misled when the image is of a captive capy? Do I even care? Should I?

Audubon’s article made a big deal out of the intentional misrepresentation of some images, and yes, it does happen. They’re more capable of tabulating this than I, but a few examples isn’t exactly an epidemic. Especially when, pardon me for pointing this out, they’re asking for contest images from the general public and using them without fees. Hey, you get what you pay for! It’s not particularly hard to determine if an image is genuine or not – good photographers usually have a whole sequence of images that can show the conditions, as well as the receipts for their expenses, even journals of their expeditions. Determining authenticity, and making it important, is the responsibility of the publisher. The photographers have only moderate control over end usage, and may even lose out on credit lines. If Audubon decries the practice and wants better standards, blaming the photographers is a shitty way of going about it.

Yes, it's wild - and that's momma's tail in the foreground

Here’s an even harsher point. As I mentioned above, ethics isn’t really a paying concern. Should I, however, make the effort simply for pride and piece of mind (check the site,) this article failed to even reward me for that by making a distinction between types of nature photographers. The only credit goes to the few publishers who have finally set long overdue standards. Wow, thanks for that!

[If I seem overly defensive to you here (“the lady doth protest too much“,) I apologize. While I would love to do this for a living, the nature of the market makes that extremely difficult, and this has been dictated by the publishers themselves. To then see one trying to defer blame is more than a bit irritating.]