Ethics of a photograph containing a baited animal

kirispupis

EOS 7D MK II
Oct 4, 2011
461
12
www.calevphoto.com
Recently I went on a boat tour to see eagles, and the guide lured several in by throwing fish in the water. The eagles would then swoop down and catch the fish not far from our boat. Below is one shot from this trip. Note that the lighting was terrible, so I'm aware of issues in this shot.

So far, my belief is that this photo (or a better retake, since it's easy to take the tour again), should never go into my portfolio because the animal was baited. Also, the fish used is not native to this river and it was floating on the surface, so the splash pattern is not natural. I'm sure, though, that many photographers have similar shots that they pass off as completely natural.

Therefore I'd like to ask your opinions. Is it ethical to include such as such in a portfolio of wildlife photography, or does it taint my ability as a photographer to find and display truly natural phenomena at minimum impact to my subjects?

Note that I'd like to focus the discussion solely on the act of including it in my portfolio, and not on the boat operator doing this in the first place.

Baited Eagle by Joseph Calev, on Flickr
 

Don Haines

Beware of cats with laser eyes!
Jun 4, 2012
8,232
1,843
Canada
There will be lots of opinions expressed on this one......

There are three different ethics at play.

First: Was the animal harmed? Since it was not, then that portion of the question is ok.

Second: Was the situation mis-represented? If you are honest about the conditions that the picture was taken under, then there is no problem. If you leave the impression that this was an unscripted encounter in the wild, then you are telling a lie. If you take a shot in a zoo and pass it off as wilderness (or say nothing) then you have been deceitful.

Third: Is baiting ethical? You will never get agreement on this one. Baiting covers the gamut from throwing live mice out to get owl pictures, to planting berry bushes in the back yard to attract songbirds. Everyone has a level that they are comfortable with, and many hold extreme positions.

oh yes, nice picture!
 

Skywise

EOS T7i
Apr 12, 2013
82
2
I think it depends on how you present your portfolio.

If you're saying your portfolio is 100% natural where you camped out for days on end getting the right shot - yeah that'd be unethical.

But if you're up front about it and say here's some nature photos I took, this one was part of a boat trip to photograph eagles. I see no problem with that.

I do post processing all the time with my photos where I'll do things like saturate the colors and "boost reality" sometimes to bring out the colors in birds feathers, other times to just make things look more like the way I remember them. In a way that's quasi-ethical too - but that's also the nature of art.
 

CanonFanBoy

EOS 5D SR
Jan 28, 2015
4,327
1,936
Irving, Texas
This is just for me:

1. The bird is a real bird.

2. The fish is a real fish and I'd bet money the birds react the same way to fish floating in other locations... naturally.

3. This would make the splash pattern natural.

4. The bird was paid for his work. ;)

5. The bird is in the wild and you got an excellent shot.

6. Flash use is common in macro work (and much other work). So is focus stacking. I don't see that as deceitful or unethical.

7. We tend to wait around places that are baited naturally to get shots. People baiting animals is natural too. It's been done since the beginning of time.

8. Follow your own conscience. That is what matters most.

9. Beautiful shot of a bird doing what a bird does... looking for a meal and taking it.
 
As others have said, it is how you represent it. I think putting it in a portfolio is no problem at all. The only time disclosure might come into play is if a publisher is doing an article on wild eagles and wants to use it, then you would need to let them know.

I do a lot of zoo photography and have no problem posting those on my web galleries, but if someone wanted to use one of them I would never pretend it was taken in the wild.

The issue of whether or not the eagles should be baited in the first place is a separate discussion which you have said you are not interested in on this post, so I will not comment.
 

Mikehit

EOS 5D MK IV
Jul 28, 2015
3,253
454
You say specifically

I'd like to focus the discussion solely on the act of including it in my portfolio,
That is totally up to you and I am not sure there is a single person who would object if you did. I am puzzled why you say "so the splash pattern is not natural." Like a majority of raptors, most of their food comes from carion not fresh kill so dead fish on the surface are likely a common food source and the splash is perfectly natural in that respect.

I would have this in my portfolio for reasons of image quality as much as anything - well tracked, sharp, well timed...who would want anything more. If I had such opportunities regularly I may start to prefer shots arising from 'wild' bird spotting - tracking the animal, waiting patiently for the right opportunity etc...the full monty. But a photo such as this would still remain in my portfolio. I would enjoy people saying 'lovely shot' and getting a zillion likes but I would still get more satisfaction from a marginally lesser quality that I 'earned' from hard graft.

We had a local kingfisher and spending many (many, many!) hours on the riverbank waiting for it and getting merely a handful of images I am quite proud of (among the hundreds/thousand I actually took) I cannot drum up the enthusiasm to pay to go to these hides where the landowner baits them heavily and it becomes queue for buggin's turn. Just as I am totally unexcited by gong to a studio shoot where the the professional sets everything up and I am reduced to the role of a glorified remote trigger.
 

kirispupis

EOS 7D MK II
Oct 4, 2011
461
12
www.calevphoto.com
Thanks for the replies. In my particular situation, since I stress that my portfolio is natural, I have chosen to not include this shot. I probably will include shots from the same tour of eagles flying around (not near the water), since they would've done that regardless.

This shot has generated a lot of contemplation for me. After thinking about it, I also removed several other shots from my portfolio that I felt were also baited, though it was a very close call. Those particular ones were of possums in Queensland at a resort where everyone's encouraged to feed them. Again, I'm not debating the quandary of feeding them - but as presenting their photos in a wildlife portfolio.

Of course, one can argue that almost any photo of a hummingbird is of a baited animal, even though I have plenty myself that I plan to keep. Similarly, one of the most popular places near me to photograph eagles - Mosquito Lake Bridge on the Nooksack River - is technically baited. Fisheries release the salmon, then other photographers deliberately place the fish in photogenic spots.

So, I believe this is a very grey area. In my particular case, my portfolio includes shots of truly wild lions and cheetahs that I spent a lot of money to reach. It also contains jaguars that I found by chance. I therefore cannot risk having a photo like this taint my work that is truly wild.

Note that in terms of the splash pattern, my belief that it's unnatural stems from:
- It's a herring, which isn't natural to this river
- It was frozen and drilled with a hole to float. Live fish will be at a different depth/density.
- The dead fish eagles eat are typically washed to shore. The eagles then land and grab them (or in the case of salmon eat them right there since they're too heavy)
- The dive pattern of the eagles was much different than I've seen from truly wild encounters. The eagle glided along the water then reached out with its talons. From wild encounters, the eagles seem to do more of a sudden dive. I'm not an eagle expert, but it seems like the eagles know the fish isn't going anywhere.
 

dak723

EOS 6D MK II
Oct 26, 2013
1,141
434
I see absolutely no reason not to include this in your portfolio. This is in nature and not a zoo. I think you are creating an ethics question where none exists. Just my opinion, of course.
 

AlanF

Canon 5DSR II
Aug 16, 2012
5,980
3,649
I got my training in bird photography from the mods in www.birdpix.nl. Man, are they tough on IQ, noise and sharpness as well ethics. Here are their criteria for baiting: https://www.birdpix.nl/faq.php?sid=e2e46ac67347e909de866e7c8dff1384#11

"No pictures of birds on feeders, bird tables or purposely placed bait.
In nature photography it is not unusual to alter the truth to the photographers benefit.
Pictures of birds on feeders, bird tables etc. are relatively easy to make and are therefore of substandard quality. Such pictures will end up in the temporary album (= rejected). They are however unavoidable if the food is kept out of the picture.
A commonly used method for photographing raptors is to use bait. This can be an previously found carcass that was kept in the freezer until needed or day old chicks. If the carcass is of an under the Dutch Flora and Fauna law protected species you are in violation of that law. Unless taken at a more or less natural site (i.e. a vulture-restaurant), these pictures will not be placed."

So, these pros say no baiting allowed. I tend to agree with them. Personally, I don't like seeing photos of caged animals or birds in zoos or in falconry sites as I both don't like seeing imprisoned animals and they are just too easy to photograph. The skill is taking photos in the wild.
 

ahsanford

Particular Member
Aug 16, 2012
8,064
637
I'll open with I don't shoot wildlife, BIF, etc. but I have some feelings on this.

If this is for your own personal enjoyment, a special memory on a trip, or something you have been paid to get on assignment with no strings / conditions attached (i.e. they would not object with baiting, perhaps a less 'untouched nature' corporate client than your Nat Geos and Patagonias of the world)

AND

You aren't doing anything injurious to the environment (live bait of an invasive fish species, for instance)

AND

You aren't doing this too often / too much as to create a dependency on the subject on your bait

...one would think you are good to bait away. But if not, don't.

Also, if baiting is used to create a reputation of being a great nature photographer, that sets me off. This guy has popped up a number of times on photography sites I read, and it curdles my blood. He's building a rep built on the back of many things -- including some considerable talent, in fairness -- but one of them is the use of bait.

For whatever reason, the minute things cross from just capturing a moment to 'Look what I just did, world -- I did that', I feel the bait is a very slippery slope to encourage others to do the same.

- A
 

Don Haines

Beware of cats with laser eyes!
Jun 4, 2012
8,232
1,843
Canada
kirispupis said:
- The dive pattern of the eagles was much different than I've seen from truly wild encounters. The eagle glided along the water then reached out with its talons. From wild encounters, the eagles seem to do more of a sudden dive. I'm not an eagle expert, but it seems like the eagles know the fish isn't going anywhere.
The ones that I have watched catch fish (and a goose) dropped down steeply from above.... The baited ones that I see just wait in a tree for the buffet to be spread out...... If you really want to see unnatural behavior, check out "Eagle Watch" in Nova Scotia, Canada....
 

Skatol

EOS 80D
Oct 30, 2013
161
0
www.richardsonphotographic.com
kirispupis said:
- The dive pattern of the eagles was much different than I've seen from truly wild encounters. The eagle glided along the water then reached out with its talons. From wild encounters, the eagles seem to do more of a sudden dive. I'm not an eagle expert, but it seems like the eagles know the fish isn't going anywhere.
Eagles are opportunists like any other creature. The splash pattern is identical to ones I have witnessed at a favorite location on the East Coast. This is the location of a hydro-electric dam where stunned / dead fish pass through the generators and float along the surface. Eagles fly down from perched positions from the trees and electrical towers and glide along the surface as your image shows. The eagles show up every year at the same time (food supply is frozen over in the north) and take advantage of the situation. It is a natural behavior of the eagle and you captured the moment, very well I might add.

As for including the shot in your portfolio, I tend to agree with you. I won't go into the ethics of baiting per your request.
 

unfocused

EOS 1D MK II
Jul 20, 2010
5,138
1,617
66
Springfield, IL
www.mgordoncommunications.com
I've started to respond several times, but after reading other comments, I wasn't seeing an opportunity to add to the discussion.

However, there are a few comments I do want to respond to. Not trying to pick fights, just showing an alternative viewpoint:

ahsanford said:
...if baiting is used to create a reputation of being a great nature photographer, that sets me off. This guy has popped up a number of times on photography sites I read, and it curdles my blood.. .
I'm not sure why this gets you so upset. He is taking portraits of animals, not attempting to pass them off as natural behavior, but rather trying to show a connection with other living things.

How is this any different than National Geographic Photographer Joel Sartore's Ark project? Sartore takes the animals into the studio for portraits. This young man is going to their environment to get portraits. Clearly it takes incredible patience, skill and talent to produce those photos. Perhaps you are not interested in animal portraits, which is your right. But, he's not pretending to be anything he isn't -- which is a pretty talented portrait photographer focusing on animals.

AlanF said:
I got my training in bird photography from the mods in www.birdpix.nl. Man, are they tough on IQ, noise and sharpness as well ethics. Here are their criteria for baiting: https://www.birdpix.nl/faq.php?sid=e2e46ac67347e909de866e7c8dff1384#11...

"...A commonly used method for photographing raptors is to use bait. This can be an previously found carcass that was kept in the freezer until needed or day old chicks...Unless taken at a more or less natural site (i.e. a vulture-restaurant), these pictures will not be placed."

So, these pros say no baiting allowed...
Well, that doesn't seem to be quite what they are saying. Instead it sounds like they are saying that it can't be obvious that bait is being used or if you use bait it has to be already dead or a "day old chicks" (Not sure what kind of mental gymnastics it takes to say no baiting but okay to feed helpless live chicks to predators).

AlanF said:
...I both don't like seeing imprisoned animals and they are just too easy to photograph. The skill is taking photos in the wild.
Not sure I would make such a sweeping statement. Taking an outstanding and memorable portrait of a captive animal isn't that easy. Again I would reference Joel Sartore's work. I would agree that taking a picture of an animal in a zoo and passing it off as in the wild is unethical, but I'm certainly willing to entertain the thought that a really good portrait of a zoo animal can be challenging and artistic.

BeenThere said:
A fish was killed for this photo.
Nature is all about big things eating little things. Some little things get their revenge because they are toxic to the big things.

Still, I would say that I am a bit uncomfortable with the circumstances described in the original post. I strongly suspect the operator/operators are feeding the eagles frequently enough that the behavior has become predictable and the feeding expected. The OP asked that we not debate the ethics of this type of baiting, but rather the use of the photograph, so I won't send the discussion off the rails...but still...
 

Graphic.Artifacts

EOS 7D MK II
Aug 1, 2017
485
303
It's a wild eagle behaving in a natural way. I've seem them pick a fish up off the surface of the water just like this a couple thousand times. I wouldn't worry about the fact that somebody threw a fish to it. That assisted you in seeing and photographing the behavior it didn't create the behavior. It's not like it's a grizzly bear riding a unicycle. What if it naturally caught an invasive species of fish? Oh no! Hit the trash button.

If you were to enter a contest or post it on a website then you'd be ethically required to follow their agreed upon rules otherwise I don't see anything to fuss over. I wouldn't worry about what the self-anointed purists think. You'll never please them no matter what you do and why would you care. Those are the people who take pictures of Yosemite Valley from tunnel view and present them as if they've discovered some previously unseen wilderness.

All life on this planet is interconnected and "wildlife" is constantly reacting to and modifying their behavior based on our activities. It's silly to pretend otherwise. One of the things that I admire most about birds in their ability to adapt themselves to our environments.

Its a very nice picture in my opinion. I wouldn't worry about the rest assuming you felt as though the outfitter was behaving in a responsible way.
 

kirispupis

EOS 7D MK II
Oct 4, 2011
461
12
www.calevphoto.com
unfocused said:
One last comment/observation though: I'm not sure that people who take safaris and bring back great shots of African wildlife are, in all cases, exhibiting that much greater skill than those who shoot captive animals. The tour operators know exactly where the animals are and make it their duty to get the tourists to the animals. It sounds like great fun and I'd love to do it, but I'd feel like I was in a bit of a glass house if I were to throw stones at others.
I've spent time on safaris, and this isn't really the truth. On most occasions, the guides don't know where the animals actually are. They just know that a certain pride or specific leopard lives on an extremely large tract of land. We spent a great deal of time driving around trying to find them - even with a guide and tracker. Other vehicles will often spot animals and call you in for a view, but a number of animals (rhino, leopard, and wild dogs) in our case took several days to collectively find. Of course, behavior that may make your shot stand out (such as a hunt) requires a lot of luck and enough skill to capture the fleeting moment.
 

Skatol

EOS 80D
Oct 30, 2013
161
0
www.richardsonphotographic.com
kirispupis said:
......Of course, behavior that may make your shot stand out (such as a hunt) requires a lot of luck and enough skill to capture the fleeting moment.
I think this is what it really boils down to. Study the subject enough to understand the behavior. I do not agree with creating a dependence of the animals on the baiter for a food source. In several cases I'm aware of, animals have been euthanized due to illnesses directly related to poor diets.

Sorry, derailed.
 

unfocused

EOS 1D MK II
Jul 20, 2010
5,138
1,617
66
Springfield, IL
www.mgordoncommunications.com
kirispupis said:
unfocused said:
One last comment/observation though: I'm not sure that people who take safaris and bring back great shots of African wildlife are, in all cases, exhibiting that much greater skill than those who shoot captive animals. The tour operators know exactly where the animals are and make it their duty to get the tourists to the animals. It sounds like great fun and I'd love to do it, but I'd feel like I was in a bit of a glass house if I were to throw stones at others.
I've spent time on safaris, and this isn't really the truth. On most occasions, the guides don't know where the animals actually are. They just know that a certain pride or specific leopard lives on an extremely large tract of land. We spent a great deal of time driving around trying to find them - even with a guide and tracker. Other vehicles will often spot animals and call you in for a view, but a number of animals (rhino, leopard, and wild dogs) in our case took several days to collectively find. Of course, behavior that may make your shot stand out (such as a hunt) requires a lot of luck and enough skill to capture the fleeting moment.
I'll defer to your experience. My intent was not to criticize those who go on safaris. As I said, I'd love to do it. I apologize if my comments came across as too harsh or judgmental. My intent was simply to suggest that there is a wide range of experiences and talents needed to produce great photographs. We all do our best to improve our odds of getting memorable shots and ultimately I think it is about being honest with yourself and with others.

Upon further reflection I've deleted that last paragraph from my earlier post, as I don't think it really added anything to the discussion.
 

RGF

How you relate to the issue, is the issue.
Jul 13, 2012
2,816
35
will some explain baiting to me.

toss a mouse, fish, etc for a bird is baiting

What about a feeder?

What about a man made water hole?

Is setting up a perch near a nest site equivalent to baiting? Or a perch near a water hole (either natural or man made)?

I could go on

I find the topic confusing - reminds of Talmudic law.
 

kirispupis

EOS 7D MK II
Oct 4, 2011
461
12
www.calevphoto.com
RGF said:
will some explain baiting to me.

toss a mouse, fish, etc for a bird is baiting

What about a feeder?

What about a man made water hole?

Is setting up a perch near a nest site equivalent to baiting? Or a perch near a water hole (either natural or man made)?

I could go on

I find the topic confusing - reminds of Talmudic law.
It is confusing and I don't think we're going to reach a consensus. It's one of those questions where many are passionate, but the entire thing is really a grey area.

In my particular case, I've come to the conclusion that I need to ask three questions concerning the event.
[list type=decimal]
[*]Was the animal harmed in any way by the activity in which I participated? This is of course subjective itself,
but say someone pulled a sea turtle out of the ocean and let it flap around in the boat for an hour while people photographed it. For any cases like this, I shouldn't even be there.
[*]Was the animal restrained from its natural course in any way? For example, is the animal in a zoo or any other enclosure? In this case, I may take photos but not include them in my portfolio.
[*]Was the animal's behavior changed in any way, compared to how it would behave were we standing still, just to obtain a photograph? Photos in this category also don't belong in my portfolio.
[/list]

So, based on my personal limits:
- Tossing a mouse - not allowed. I'm changing its behavior.
- A feeder - for standard garden birds, allowed. Garden birds have grown used to this, so no change in behavior.
- man made water hole - allowed. Animals don't care that it's man made, and they're not changing for me.
- setting up a perch - allowed. Similar to a water hole.