Fritz Plking

"Pleasure in the real thing"

If you bring a product onto the market that does not meet the expectation of the buyers, a declaration is needed. That is what the lawmakers say.

Whoever produces butter without milk but other ingredients instead, has to call the product "margarine".

Whoever produces marzipan, but uses peachpits instead of almonds, has to call the product "persipan".

You cannot call "champagne"" champagne" if you do not produce it in the region of Champagne.

If you publish a fictional story, you call the result "novel", not "non-fiction book".

Whoever makes a movie of these, calls these "feature films", not "documentaries".

Up to now there is still no declaration of authenticity needed in nature photography.

I can take a picture of a trained bear, who was given the command to raise up on his hindlegs in the middle of the Wyoming landscape, and publish it so that the people think it was a picture in the wilderness of Yellowstone.

I can construct feeding bins and take pictures of animals fighting around them and have people believe this was happening in the untouched nature.

Well, I guess that nature photography must not be so very important to have the lawmakers require a declaration for either real, arranged or made-up nature photographs.

But, there is no reason why we cant have our own point of view: "sincerity is our contribution to the civilized minimum standard" and implement a voluntary declaration on and of our own.


Genuine nature photos are those, where the photographer has not interfered with the subject in any way, shape or form. The premium class of nature photography which gives you the "pleasure in the real thing".


Arranged nature photos are those, where the photographer interferes by working with feeding, enticements (recordings, calls, noises, etc.). Where he either removes or adds twigs or leafs, builds landing sites (on winter feeding stations, with bee-eaters) and so on.


Made-up nature photos are those, where the photographer uses a double exposure, copies two slides to make one and of course all of the digital products, where you can delete small details that bother you with the retouch brush, or the 5 copies of one animal in order get one picture, etc.

Now we nature photographers could say, if we wanted to, that: The third millenium will be the millenium of unambiguous wildlife and nature photography, and starting with 2001 we will clearly mark the status of a nature or wildlife picture.

This would be my suggestion:   

Every time a nature photographer has not interfered with the subject or motif in any way, shape or form, to use this written statement on the frame of the slide:

- A  nature document not arranged nor manipulated.


For all pictures of free-living animals, plants as well as landscapes, where the photographer uses feeding or enticements, directs animals to more photogenic locations or relocates them himself, works with calls or sounds, adds or takes away leafs and twigs, and so on, to mark it with

- Wild and controlled.


For all pictures of tame, domesticated or captured animals the international title

- Captive


For all pictures that were not made with only one exposure of the camera, meaning double exposures, sandwiches, digitally changed or digitally created pictures, to use the caption

- Montage


The GDT ( Union of German Wildlife Photographers) and the NANPA ( North American Nature Photographers Association) have thankfully made a start a few years ago and published guidelines, but which are in need of revision by now.

Here an example:

Fly agraric


 Fly agraric and frog

                                            To the left the genuine document of nature as it really looks like out there.

To the right the result after the photographer has interfered. It still looks pretty much like a nature photograph, but in reality it only gives the appearance of it and which does not exist in reality. It is, so to say, a "potemkian dummy".
If I keep a watering can about this, and feign intense rain, I get the perfect 'nature photo' to win photo competitions.
Should something like this be offered  without a  declaration?

If we "improve" nature, we do not photograph her she is, but the way we would like to have her. Does the beholder of the photograph have a right to know this?

Another interesting question is: what sense is there in taking a photograph of something that does not exist in nature without our interference?

Nature photography is an independent medium and an independent type of art. Nothing is comparable to it, nothing comes close and nothing can take the place of it if it is truthful and remains sincere.

If it is manipulated, arranged or digitally changed it turns into something exchangeable.

Changing and arranging is something that every painter or designer does. That is the reason why there is so little interest in painted nature pictures. Every one knows, that whatever the painter portrays is certainly not the way it really is or was.

That is the reason why the 99% pictures you see in leading nature magazines are nature photographs and not painted or digitally created. The people if they are informed - do not want to see made up pictures, but genuine ones, that show how it really is or was.

As a genuine document of nature, nature photography is totally unique. She is able to do what no other form of art or medium can do: she can record a realistic moment in nature. We should not give up something so unique by loosing our credibility through throwing genuine wildlife photos into the same pot with arranged or computer-made pictures, without clearly stating whether they are genuine or substitute wildlife or nature photographs.

In the end it is not the nature photographer, but the picture editors and lectors who decide if there is to be a labeling or not. Only if they are aware of the responsibility toward the readers and of informing them about the status of a picture, thus requesting a labeling from the photographer, will they assert themselves in the long run.

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