The best bird photographers are ethical

KolkataBirds has compiled a very interesting showcase of the best bird photographers in India. There is a disclaimer at the bottom of the page that brushes aside all criticism or opinions one may have of this list and the methods employed to compile it.

It’s a bewildering list – some are unknowns, some are known schmoozers, and others merely photographers because they own some fancy equipment. But among this motley crowd are some real stars – Sudhir Shivaram, Kalyan Varma, Joanna van Gruisen – photographers whose work reveals more than posed portraits of the bird’s appearance. Through their pictures they offer a revelation of rarity, of poorly known and little studied birds, as well as insight into their behaviour, habit and habitat.

Dhritiman Mukherjee
offers glimpses of two rarely sighted birds – the Blood Pheasant and the Himalayan Snowcock. Joanna van Gruisen’s remarkable picture of a male Pheasant-tailed Jacana (the best picture of the collection) with an egg – probably not its own – in its mouth is a revelation of extraordinary and probably undocumented parental/ territorial behaviour. Kalyan Varma’s wonderful picture of Wreathed Hornbills in flight offers little by way of detail but plenty in terms of behavioural insight.

These are pictures worth a thousand words or more. Many of the others are just showing off their lifers.

Today, photographers have better access to great equipment and many have the money and means to travel. This means that more and more shutterbugs interested in getting a great photograph and earning peer respect are travelling to forests, deserts, grasslands and other habitats on photographic safaris. What is the impact of their frequent visits on these fragile and sensitive habitats? Are their means ethical?

Some of the most reputed photographers of our time were known to be absolutely callous to the plight of their photographic subjects – disturbing nesting sites, exposing nests and chicks and resorting to trickery with recorded bird calls and suchlike.

With the best equipment, even a fashion photographer can photograph birds in the wild. But wildlife photographers are not merely artists and wildlife photography isn’t art for art’s sake. They are pilgrims in nature’s great shrine, their methods are acts of prayer, and every photographic opportunity is a blessing.

POSTSCRIPT: Gopi points out that Kalyan Varma’s picture of the Wreathed Hornbill offers rare insight into the flocking behaviour of this species and that flocks can be quite large for a bird of this size. He also ponders the question if the increasing interest in bird photography is actually leading to increased conservation of birds – or is it just leading to more disturbed habitats.

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