Tuesday, September 23, 2014

All the World's a Stage

Have you ever thought about whether there is anything ethically wrong with using props to try to make a photograph more attractive? Do props make the photographs less interesting because an attempt was made to stage an animal?

I had never considered using props until a pine tree fell in our yard, narrowly missing the back deck. Since it was in close proximity to the bird feeder, it didn't take me long to realize how much better the birds looked when they were perched on a branch of the tree waiting a turn at the feeder. I ended up leaving the tree where it had fallen for several months over the winter and not removing it until spring. I probably would have left it longer but I didn't want the neighbors to think I had completely lost it.

So, was there anything ethically wrong with taking photos of birds and other animals in that tree? It wasn't like I purposely staged it. If you take a picture of a lion at the zoo and there is no evidence within the image to suggests it was taken in a caged environment, are you ethically required to tell every viewer the big cat wasn't roaming the savanna?

Notice how the Ruby-throated humminbird has a bandit
mask similar to a raccoon when you look at it straight on.

My own take on staging is that as long as you freely disclose the fact that something was staged or you do not attempt to actively deceive someone with the image, it is perfectly all right to use props. How would it have changed the images if, say, I had dragged the tree to that spot as a prop?

Using the driveway as a background resulted in a much different look. 

You may have noticed a rope in some of the pictures of the hummingbirds. It came about from past experience. Knowing that I would need high shutter speeds if I was going to freeze the wing motion of the hummingbirds, I knew I would need more light than I could get by filming the feeder hanging on the porch. Also from past experience, I knew that the trees in the woods at the edge of the yard made a good background, but I needed to have the flexibility to use areas where the sunlight was giving the ambient light a boost. That meant being able of move the feeder around rather than have it rigidly tied to one spot.

Hummingbirds are very aggressive in guarding a feeder as their own. You
seldom see two tolerating each other unless it is parent and offspring.

So, I ran a rope from the porch to a basketball pole across the yard which allowed me to not only hang the feeder, but also move it to any location I wanted to take advantage of the current lighting conditions. I also hung the Mandevilla next to it so that when the birds came in, they also had the opportunity to check out the flower. I needed to be able to align the feeder, the camera and specular sunlight in the background to have nice pleasing light. So the images were highly staged and little was left to chance.

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