On the 28th of November I am part of a three person panel discussion on modern day trends in wildlife photography with specific referance to trip and remote control photography. The event is hosted by the National History Museum London and led by Matt Swainey of the BBC Wildlife Magazine. Partaking in the discussions will be Louise Tomset – Senior Curator, Mammal Group, Natural History Museum that uses camera trapping to support her research. The second member of the panel is Will Burrard Lucas – a dynamic young photographer specialising in utilizing remote control systems in his own photography and selling the correct hardware to photographers and researchers that have a need for remote control photography systems. The third photographer then is myself – a dynamic old photographer, some will say purist, who still prefers to slog it out behind a camera and relishing the oppertunity to be in control of everything photography wether I am using a telephoto or exteme wide angle lens to capture intimate images.
The NHM needs to be commended for taking the proverbial bull by the horn by putting this thorny photographic issue in the public domain and I truthfully hope that the panel is able to reach common ground and that I will be able to share with you some constructive ideas. Without pre empting the outcome of the discussions I am inviting wildlife and nature photographers to share their ideas with me before I fly out to London. To my mind some of the burning issues that will need answering is the following:
a) If a person sets a camera trap system and leaves the scene and a bird or animal breaks the beam and triggers a camera while the person is having a beer with friends in a remote village can that person be righty called a photographer – keeping in mind that this person actully never even saw the specific specie. Should that person not rather be called a photographic technician ?
b) Does the honour of being called the photographer not only belong to the person that sits behind a camera , wether remote controlled or not, makes in situ decicions on F Stops , composition ,exposure etc but more importantly then fires the shutter in a very calculated way ?
c) Are photographs taken with a mobile remote controlled devise not photographically over rated ? Surely it is just an intimate image of the subject in the same vain as that taken with a long telephoto lens or a handheld camera with and exteme wild angle lens. In other words a remote controlled devise is just another tool that allow us to record nature and wildlife behaviour and that images taken that way does not belong to another genre like we are sometimes led to believe.
d) Do photographers that uses remote controlled devises in general get away too easily with sloppy photography under the banner of the new tool that they use ? Is depth of field control , carefull composition and correct exposure suddenly of less importance because a remote control devise is used ? In fact should the reverse not be true. Should we not be less sympathetic to the technical quality problems with extreme wide angle close up images taken remotely? Acquiering the right depth of field and enough shutter speed is so much more complicated if one wants to take a intimate portrait with a long telephoto lens than with a wide angle remote controlled devise ?
e) In the same vein should extreme wide angle hand held images taken under potentially dangerous situations for the photographer not be rated photographically higher than the same type of image taken from the safety of a remote contolled camera?
f) On the ethical side two burning issues accompaning remote controlled photography needs to be addressed. I have witnessed how a large herd of elephants went ballistic when a photographer send a drome in the herds direction and secondly there is deffinate evidence that the mal practise of baiting accompanies the work of a lot photographers using remote controlled devises. When scientists use bait in the process of studying their subjects there can be no debate about the fact that in this instance baiting is used to the end benefit of specie researched. This can hardly be said about most photographers using baiting. It is rarely to the benefit of the specie but mostly to satisfy the self interest of the photographer.
A final thought. Should remote contol photography not just be seen as another way to get up close and personal with a specie in its under ground den and teach us more of its behavior etc and giving us a sense of place as is the case of the following images taken up close handheld with wide angle lenses:
An old bull elephant leads a procession of bulls to dietry heaven after crossing the Chobe river in flood.
Bull elephants killing time before they enter the water of the Chobe river to cross to Namibia from Botswana in search of food in the dry season.
Photographing from a mere two meters away with a 14mm lens handheld a young bull elephant throws a lump of sand on me for daring to suggest that he should consider taking a bath!
Portraits taken with extreme wide angle lenses hardly ever can match the capabilities of a telephoto lens to allow wildlife to tell their stories through their eyes. The most portaits taken handheld with a extreme wide agle lens pushed in the face of wildlife show species ( normally apes) wide eyed but emotion less and either half frozen from the cold or virtually asleep. A telephoto lens allows breathing space for both the photographer and specie!
A elephant bull watches me carefully while slowly moving past my photography boat.
A sleepy hippo bull slips into his under water world.
These hippo bulls shows strong territorial aggression.
Hippo bull agression
These wide eye buffalo shows exteme anxiety while swimming in the Chobe knowing the danger crocodiles hold for them and their young.
So let the debate begin ! Photography greetings. Lou Coetzer