Ted Williams’ – Wildlife Fauxtography

Ted Williams exposes the seamier side of “wildlife” photography, citing examples of different game farms catering to photographers looking for a “nature” shot. He cites Animals of Montana, Inc. as one such farm. Check out his article. It’s unfortunate that glory seekers do this, both photographers and hunters/fishers. How many “amazing” fish shots have actually come from a pay-n-catch river? I can say that I have not faked any of my pictures on this site (who needs to fake a 12″ cutthroat).

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14 comments for “Ted Williams’ – Wildlife Fauxtography”

  1. Interesting Scott. This kind of thing has made big headlines lately. The London Museum of Natural History sponsors one of the most coveted and prestigious yearly contests in photography (Wildlife Photographer of the Year). The 2009 winner, Jose Luis Rodriguez, was recently stripped of his title when it was discovered that he used a trained, captive wolf as his subject. The winning image is stellar, but contest rules were specifically centered on WILDlife.

    Photography is a medium where the artist chooses what to exclude from an image as much as what to include. I think integrity is paramount. Some major contests, like that of the National Wildlife Federation, allow entries from zoos, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and so forth.

    Definitely muddy waters.

    Posted by Brett Colvin | April 15, 2010, 4:26 pm
    • Brett,

      I’d forgotten about that Rodriguez shot, but as soon as I clicked on the link and saw it, I immediately remembered the kerfuffle over it. I think Williams does a good job of addressing the two problems: 1) photographers who shoot faux “wild”life shots and the ethical treatment of animals at game farms. Have you ever received solicitations from these places? I’m just wondering if they actively promote themselves, or if they wait for people to come to them. Do they show up at photography venues and shows?

      Posted by Cutthroat Stalker (Scott) | April 16, 2010, 11:17 am
  2. Interesting. There is a very well known photography couple based in my neck of the woods who publish photo essays in, for example, GSJ. Many of the pictures come from a creek on which they have “exclusive access” and contain shots of very large trout that have no rightful place in such a small creek. I have to admit to being extremely peeved to see another one of their photo spreads in “my” GSJ for what is, to all essential purposes, an advert for their stretch of water as much as it is for the artistic merit of their work, a merit which declines precipitously in my opinion once the origin of the subject matter is surmised.
    I wonder too whether angling photography, even with the e-zines devoted to it now, will soon reach something of an impasse in how often “pictures of fish” can continue to impress. However artfully these pictures are framed is there a point of saturation where we go “hmm, ‘nother fish?” Just wondering,

    Posted by Eccles | April 18, 2010, 10:39 pm
    • Eccles,

      I’m not familiar with GSJ. But yeah, when I know a fish has come from a fish farm, it does seem to diminish the “Wow!” factor quite a bit.

      I think there is a growing contingency of anti grip-n-grin posers. I don’t have my picture taken with fish anymore. And I try not to take them of others unless they specifically ask me to. I’m trying to lean toward the “fish-as-art” composition that displays the form, color and texture of the fish. (Brett Colvin does a nice job of this with his photography.) This moves away from the “big pig you stuck dude” comments to “that’s a beautiful fish.” I guess moving the focus away from the angler and onto the fish. Maybe it’s an age thing? The older we get the more we realize it’s less about us? I still see plenty of those shots on the “extreme” angler’s websites and in magazines.

      Posted by Cutthroat Stalker (Scott) | April 19, 2010, 8:07 am
  3. GSJ = Gray’s Sporting Journal.

    I wasn’t really thinking about the grip-n-grin “oeuvre,” though many lodges and outfitters still tout their wares this way, more that fishing photography, again thinking of the kind of shot that appears in Catch Magazine and publications of that ilk, is beginning to have the same repetitive nature as the grip-n-grin portrait. I wonder whether the development of fishing photography is reaching a bottleneck and the next step is that photos will imitate art more(and whether it is art already is another subject). For example, and thinking just of fish images, are photographers moving towards representations such as those by artists like Derek De Young? The corollary of course is that artists are producing photographic representations – look at the fishing art on I don’t really know but it seems to me that leafing through photographic collections the number of images that makes me stop and go “oooh” is diminishing in proportion to the number of photos that show another bonefish underwater with a clouser in its mouth – or any other number of increasingly familiar photographic images. I wonder, what’s the next step?

    Posted by Eccles | April 19, 2010, 10:35 am
    • Eccles,

      Gray’s – ah! I am familiar with GSJ.

      You’ve got a great point that there are a limited number of looks to get with angling photographs. And only a certain number of treatments you can give the photo in post-processing. Even though I’m trying for more of an “artsy” look, so is everybody else. Somebody sees something they like, they copy the look, then everybody’s looks the same. You’ll see that in many of the current “styles”: HDR, over-saturation, fake lomo, the “300” look, grunge, etc. So you’re going to get a lot of photos that have the same look as other photos.

      I guess it’s tough in angling photography when you basically just have four “subjects”: gear, the river/location, anglers and fish. How many ways are there to make it new and fresh? I don’t know. But most anglers taking fish shots are shooting the pictures like snapshots–the kind you used to put in the photo album. They’re not out selling them for money, just trying to make them look better than a snapshot. So, in a way, it’s pretty amazing that there is such high quality shots going on. Albeit, a lot of copycatting.

      Plus, another problem is that the fish needs to be in water as much as possible. It makes it tough to pose the fish for different kinds of shots.

      I’m seeing a lot more of the “representational” shots you’re talking about, as far as a photo can be representational. At least I guess that’s what you’d call the close-ups that isolate a particular part of the fish.

      What’s the next step? Someone will come up with a new angle, a new twist. It will look great for awhile, then everybody will being doing it and it will get old. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

      Maybe it’s in the absurd and outrageous, like the “Piss Christ”–someone will start mangling fish innards and draping them over a giant hook. Or photos of a person biting the head off a fish.

      Maybe that’s part of the impetus for so many folks moving into movie-making instead of still photography. But I’m sure you’ll eventually find the same problem there.

      Maybe it’s in the storytelling–using pictures to tell a story. It takes a much more accomplished artist to do this, no matter the medium.

      As always, you provide great fodder for rumination.

      Posted by Cutthroat Stalker (Scott) | April 19, 2010, 12:01 pm
  4. I have never been solicited by a game farm personally, and it would be interesting to know if some of them target photographers as part of their business model.

    More than likely photographers themselves are seeking out these opportunites in a general sense.

    For example, let’s say an editor contacts you and wants a photo of a trophy bull elk for their September issue. Do you travel to an area where general season hunting makes the animals nearly nocturnal and spend 3 weeks trying to get a shot that will pay out $300?

    As an alternative, do you go to Yellowstone where the elk are accustomed to tourists and allow you to approach them with relative ease to a distance of 50 yards?

    Or, do you visit a game farm where hormone-enhanced feed causes the tame animals to grow massive, non-typical anters and then use photoshop to remove the ear tag in post processing?

    I think personal ethics and integrity come heavily into play, and the key is never to misrepresent the subject matter to your audience or customers.

    Posted by Brett Colvin | April 19, 2010, 12:46 pm
    • Brett, Great points you bring up. It’s good to have some ideas from a different perspective. I can certainly understand why someone would opt for the easy-access shot over the hard-to-access one. Misrepresentation is probably the key: go ahead and photo shoot the zebra at the game farm in Texas, just don’t pass it off as a shot from Africa. But there’s still the whole ethics thing about keeping the animals like that and feeding them “enhancers” in the first place.

      Posted by Cutthroat Stalker (Scott) | April 19, 2010, 3:18 pm
  5. There was just an article in the March 2010 Wyoming Wildlife magazine about this topic. Chris Madson wrote the piece and it was nicely done, questioning what is “The Ethical Image”

    Posted by wyoflyfish | April 20, 2010, 1:59 pm
  6. I agree completely. If you can guarantee a shot of a wild animal, that takes away the magic of happening upon it and getting the photo against all odds. Thank you for posting this topic.

    Posted by Deidre of Images By Deidre wildlife photo | July 29, 2010, 9:00 am
    • Deidre, thanks for stopping by to comment. “…getting the photo against all odds…” is certainly the magic of a lot of the viewing pleasure for me when it comes to wildlife photography. If it was just about the animal, just swing by the zoo to do your photographing.

      Posted by Cutthroat Stalker (Scott) | July 29, 2010, 1:39 pm
  7. I’m a wildlife enthusiast, and advocate. I like taking photos for my pleasure, and use them to promote conservation. This year I decided to take classes to refine skills. My eyes have been opened. I’m disgusted with the deception, greed and stupidity of so many. Thank you, keep up the good words and work!

    Posted by Karen Suarez | July 10, 2012, 3:04 pm

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