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on Jan 29, 2010 in Friday Thoughts

This Unsettling Thought Might Bring Some Comfort

We’re sitting at our favorite coffee shop in Bozeman taking care of some work before heading out to the airport. In between emails and blog posts, we stop to sip our coffee and reflect on our weeks up in Yellowstone. It is such a grand place, and we’re so lucky that in the past, others have thought so much of it to preserve it just for us to enjoy. I always take comfort in knowing that it was a photographer, WM Henry Jackson who came, shot and shared his images with congress that got protection for Yellowstone in the first place. It’s with that thought that I’m often saddened when I see the actions of other photographers.

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In all honesty, it’s just a damn photograph! I don’t know how many times I’ve said that yet we still see photographers do things that common sense in the very least says not to do, all in the efforts of getting that one photograph. On two separate days, we saw two different groups of photographers way too close to a group of bull Elk. We even had a talk with a ranger who stopped to watch one group, very interesting his take on it and why he didn’t write them up. We heard from a wolf biologist how another group of photographers chased a wolf through a forest, technically a Federal crime. All of this in the name of a click?!

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Oh yeah, there are times when I feel the pressure of the click. When I was the first and only photographer permitted to go in and photograph the Palos Verde Blue Butterfly that had been rediscovered after it was thought of being extinct for a decade, I felt pressure. Especially since I was stupid enough to not have a “macro solution” in the bag to function in the two-hour window I had to get the photo. I was working on a secure military depot and only 3 male butterflies had been seen. My solution, get the biology of the PVB from the biologist and camp at one food plant in hopes it would fly by. Trampling down the habitat chasing a butterfly is pretty stupid, camping out at least didn’t hurt any habitat but up until the last minute, seemed just as dumb. As it turned out, I got the shot and within two weeks it had been published 110 times. Even with the pressure, common sense kicked in and said not to harm the habitat, don’t risk the species. That ain’t going to happen with an elk photo from Yellowstone and not with a wolf photo either. The photo won’t change the world or be seen by thousands within weeks. So then why the pressure, why the risk?

With the Palos Verde Blue photo, at least there was an end need. But the efforts some people go through into getting a photo just to add to their collection is why in some National Parks, photographers are not looked upon with the same high regards as they were just a decade ago. Ever ask yourself why that is? Ever stop a ranger in Yellowstone or Yosemite or Grand Canyon or any other busy national park and ask why they watch photographers now with suspicion? I do, I want to know, I don’t want to be part of the problem! You hear a story from a ranger in Grand Canyon tell you about talking to a group of elementary kids about the need to stay behind the fence so they don’t fall over the rim only to then have a photographer do exactly what he warned against right in front of the kids, go over the fence and you can start to understand the distain for our profession at times.

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Sharon & I were just sitting back, watching bighorn sheep this past week. I wasn’t up with the mass of shooters on the edge of the road keeping the sheep from crossing because not only was that potentially dangerous for the sheep, it’s clearly against the rules. We were just watching the sheep and the chaos when a shooter who recognized me came up and asked why I wasn’t shooting. When I replied the shot wasn’t worth the price, he just scratched his head and wondered off. Didn’t ask what I meant, just took it as weird and left. A minute later, he was part of the mess adding to the problem and not being the solution. Why, what the hell was he going to do with that photo that made it so damn important?

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I often don’t put the camera to the eye, I don’t rush out to get the shot because I know my actions could possibly lead to the endangering the critters welfare. I passionately believe that NO photograph is worth sacrificing the welfare of the subject. Period! And there is no need for it. Heck, just in the free pages on this site you can garnish enough biological trivia to prevent this from happening. But more importantly, when did the damn click become so damn important?

For nearly an hour with the 600mm mounted to the tripod, Sharon & I stood in 9 degree temperatures just listening to wolves announce they were so happy to be fed and alive one more day. Even if a wolf or the whole pack appeared, would a single click, video clip or full-length feature movie capture that moment? I doubt it so why even try, why not just take it in and let it enrich the soul? I mean seriously, why don’t wildlife photographers just simply take comfort and peace in the moment, and not have the silence be broken with the sound of a camera shutter? There are always plenty of moments when the slam of the shutter should be heard and must be heard and those images captured shared with everyone. But there are those moments when the silence is golden. It is very possible that not shooting is the right shot for that moment, letting the experience be forever engraved on the thin emulsion of your mind and in the pulse of your heart. Is it possible that for most photographers, this unsettling thought might bring some comfort?