Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

February 20, 2009

Ethics of Nature Photography

Filed under: Birds, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, ethics, favorite places, technique — richditch @ 7:44 pm
Bell's Vireo nest exposed by pruning

Bell's Vireo nest exposed by pruning

I have two strong beliefs that I try to follow in my nature photography:

  • Nature photos should be natural
  • The photographer should respect the subject and the habitat when taking photos

I’ve touched on the first point throughout the posts on this blog, but not the second, so I’ll focus on that topic here.

This Bell’s Vireo nest is an example of what photographers should not do in order to get a “better” photo. I came upon this nest one day at one of my favorite locations, Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, AZ. I was surprised to have such a clear view of the nest and could not imagine why the adults would build a nest where it was so exposed to view and to the hot Arizona sun. Then I noticed why – the small branch to which the nest is anchored and that should be providing shade and leaf cover to the nest has obviously been trimmed just beyond the attachment point. Nothing else on this shrub appeared to have been trimmed, so I don’t think this is the result of some gardener. It most likely is the result of a photographer who wanted a clean shot of the nest and decided that the photo was more important than safety or survival of this family of vireos.

Here’s how I summarize on in my article on bird photography:

Ethics of Bird Photography

Simple: the Bird and the Habitat are more important than the Photo.


  • don’t stress birds by getting too close
  • don’t trim around nests
  • don’t create a path for predators to follow to a nest
  • don’t keep a bird from feeding or tending to young
  • don’t force feeding birds to fly
  • don’t habituate a wild bird to feeding by humans anywhere but your own back yard

I cannot understand a person who would call themselves a Nature Photographer who would do such a thing. Nor can I understand anyone who would alter the habitat to make an image “better,” and I should add that as another bullet to my list of ethics.

Bell's Vireo fledging

Bell's Vireo fledging

I took this shot on the other side of the shrub hosting the nest, and assume it is a fledging from the same family. My hope is that all the chicks were old enough to get out of the nest and avoid the sun and have a chance at survival.



  1. I agree that we should never invade the sanctity of nature just to get a photo.

    However, the realism that you captured with the shot and the nest really pops off the page.

    I like the perpective you got with both of these shots.

    Comment by ForestWander — February 20, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

  2. Stupid birders! This makes me angry. Did the birds survive?

    Comment by Nancie Petersen — January 27, 2018 @ 12:00 pm

  3. I do not know the outcome of this. But it was likely bird photographers rather than birders who removed the covering leaves and branches from this nest in order to make their personal photography easier.

    Comment by richditch — January 27, 2018 @ 12:47 pm

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