A journey to conscious wildlife photography: oh, the mistakes I have made

By October 19, 2017Wildlife Blog

I saw the sharp points protruding from an elongated bowl of antlers, swaying gently back and forth among the rosy brush, the bearer of this elaborate crown nibbling on a feast of willows.  This was my first ever sighting of a large bull moose and my excited response was immediate, almost unconscious. I pulled over, left my vehicle and tripped my way into the valley, camera in tow, focused on capturing images of the beautiful specimen against a picturesque background. There was a voice, ‘Kerri, for god’s sake be careful!’, but I ignored it. I worked my way towards the moose and started snapping. There was no doubt he was aware of my presence, he looked directly at me, but luckily, the gentle giant did not appear to be too bothered. He continued to nibble away as I excitedly snapped photo after photo.

My first beautiful (and very tolerant!) bull moose, November 2013

After about 50 frames or so, I started coming to my senses. Equipped with a fairly powerful zoom lens, I was likely a ‘safe’ distance from the moose himself, but I was completely alone in the vast valley, at least 200 meters from my car, unarmed with bear spray, with virtually no awareness of my surroundings.

‘OMG what am I doing!?,’ I thought to myself as I scrambled my way back to the car. There are just so many things wrong with the actions I took to get photos of my first bull moose. In fact, if someone was filming this with a cell phone, I could see the video of me running into the valley towards a moose being posted online as an example of the ‘stupid things people do around wildlife,’ a barrage of comments highlighting the idiocy of my actions. Thank god this did not happen.

I do not like admitting to how stupid I was that day, back in November 2013, especially considering (while maybe the most dramatic of my mistakes) it is one of many. But I have a good reason for the admission. I have been asked by The Fur Bearers to join their 2017 Compassionate Conservation Webinar Series. My topic is Bear Jams and Beyond: An Exploration of Conscious & Respectful Wildlife Viewing. In preparation for the webinar, I have been examining my journey as a wildlife photographer in a raw and honest manner.

In recent years, I have been focused on the power of consciousness in terms of human/wildlife interaction. Ethical photography is discussed a lot, and it is very important. I am guided by my ethics – a strong love of animals and desire to have as little impact as possible on their well being. That means I would not purposely elicit an action just to get a good photo, like baiting an owl for a head-on flight shot. I do not find it difficult to take a stand against what I consider to be purposely unethical behavior. I do, however, find the subtle actions harder to control, the things I allow myself to get away with because I’m not always thinking clearly.  Getting too close and causing an animal to fly or run is a good example. I’ve done this many times, and while I maybe did not purposely mean to elicit an action, I always need to be conscious of my impact.

I believe the process of conscious photography starts with owning our mistakes, by admitting we are imperfect humans who are vulnerable to having lapses in judgement. In my case, these lapses are usually caused by overwhelming excitement and the desire to get a good photo. As analytical, critically-thinking humans, we have the ability to be intensely conscious of our actions in every encounter, to learn from our mistakes and strive to do better. We can pay attention to the subtle, excitement-related responses that occur within our minds and bodies and combat the compulsion to take actions that contradict our intrinsic respect for wildlife.

For me, the process has been a journey of constant learning. I recklessly entered the valley of the moose in November 2013, and I certainly have not been perfect since. But, I can confidently say, by focusing on being conscious, I now have far more encounters where I leave feeling good, knowing I approached the subject from a place of respect. My goal is to continue this trend, to ensure the ‘bad’ encounters continue to diminish, and the ‘good’ encounters increase.

In honour of this goal, here are some photos that I feel really good about:

American Mink, photo taken after a number of hours of waiting

 

Bull moose, photo taken safely from my vehicle, October 2015

 

Willy the weasel, going about his hunting seemingly unperturbed, photographed June 2017

 

Myself, and several other photographers, watched safely and respectfully from our vehicles as Banff grizzly bears 142 and 126 put on quite a show in July 2016.

 

The Compassionate Conservation Webinar Series runs from Oct 24 to the 27. The webinars are being offered at no charge, but registration is required and a small donation is suggested – please take a look at the line-up of amazing presenters here. (Scroll down to the bottom for my webinar)

Until next time, continue loving life and everything wild 🙂

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4 Comments

  • Douglas Mcqueen says:

    Well said Kerri, we all make mistakes, and I am no exception. I like to think I have learned from them.

  • Sharon Ferguson says:

    What a wonderful, beautiful journey of discovery this wildlife photography calling is taking you on! The words and the images combine to massively inspire and give one reason to believe the human species CAN evolve back to a place of respect and reverence for our fellow earthlings. I, for one, am all for this evolution. And will never shut up about it. Thank you Kerri for showing the world the beauty – warts, mistakes, and all. Will look forward to many more stories and lessons from you. And as many photos of beauty as you can manage.

    • Kerri Martin says:

      Thanks so much Sharon – I love these words of yours: human species CAN evolve back to a place of respect and reverence for our fellow earthlings – Thanks for that!

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