The Ethics of Feeding a Photographer

by valrac4_a3kqdy
My friend, who was a director of a library board, asked me to make a portrait that indicated that office. It was far more efficient to do this in studio than on location. Because the library is a foreign location, does this misrepresent the integrity in the photo?

My friend, who was a director of a library board, asked me to make a portrait that indicated that office. It was far more efficient to do this in studio than on location. Because the library is a foreign location, does this misrepresent the integrity in the photo?

Well that didn’t take long. Last week I made comments regarding the baiting of wildlife and made reference to several incidences, both personally observed and reports through various news media.

The same day that post appeared, I received a personal email indicating how hypocritical I was. In the current print issue of Photo Life, I had presented a feature article on shooting subjects on a green screen and then using digital post-production techniques to composite those series of photographs into one final presentation.  In my own opinion, misrepresenting the “validity” of a photograph was little different that photographing a wildlife subject in a non-natural environment. How “disingenuous” could I be?

Normally I wouldn’t respond or even pay any heed to a writer who declines—by his or her own omission—to attach their moniker to the correspondence. However, in this case, I do believe my phantom friend has unwittingly raised a very good point.

What are the ethics surrounding the making of a photograph?

Personally, I don’t even see how it is possible to compare baiting wildlife with compositing elements to create an image where no harm was delivered to anyone or anything.  I also know there are incredible wildlife photographers who bait raptors with pet food raised mice to get that perfect in-flight shot. Their argument that they only bait the bird once is a fair defence—once will not alter that bird’s natural ability to hunt. But if a different well-intentioned photographer says the same thing the next day, and another the day after that, soon the cumulative effect will create one lazy and well-fed bird.

The reason I have been creating more composite images using existing backgrounds, or licensing a more appropriate background, is a matter of commerce. First and foremost, I am a commercial photographer. I long for the days when a client would phone me and send me to some really nice location. In tow would be an assistant or two, the client, an art director, and…oh yes, let’s not forget the person we are to photograph. The reality is: that ship has sailed.

Gone are the days of big budget shoots where you worked until you got the shot. More often than not, if I am to take an executive portrait today I will be given access to the executive for about 5 minutes—15 minutes would be a luxury. In the business buzz-word world in which we live, it is all about improved efficiency—loosely interpreted to mean more economical. The reality is that it is more economical for my client to pay my fee to complete the post-production work than it is to move the “shop and stock” to the desired location, which would tie up the executive’s time.

So, no, I do not see how compositing an image of an executive portrait can be considered unethical. All parties are well aware in advance of the shoot what the process will be. I have not injured the executive during the shoot and, despite invitations, have not yet had an executive feel compelled to feed this photographer.

However, I suppose, some wildlife photographers do not imagine their baiting practices to be unethical. At the end of the day, we are all individually responsible for our own actions…and ethics.

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