Ethical Field Practices

BCJ Photo Guide Russell Graves on-location in Katmai National Park, Alaska. See his work at

We are the guests.

As nature photographers we are all desirous of the “best” shot. We envy it, perhaps even placing it upon a proverbial pedestal. We work hard, travel distances, awaking at pre-dawn hours to head out into more often than not less than pleasant elements.

All just for the chance to get that best shot.

In this pursuit, however, we should constantly remind ourselves that we do all of this in someone else’s home. We set up shop in the natural world, amongst the creatures and critters that reside within it. Sometimes in National Parks and other protected areas where conservation and protection are not only good practices, but also law.

We are the guests.

As we subscribe to a set of ethics in our day to day lives, we must also do so while shooting photography in the wild. We accept this responsibility in order to help protect the environments in which we are operating, and the animals we photograph. And to respect ourselves as well as others around us.

But, what do we mean when we say “ethics?” We can define the word, but what does it truly mean as it applies to nature photographers? Perhaps it depends on what we are doing with our work.

Today we’ll discuss aspects of ethics and how they relate to a nature photographer’s behavior in the field. We’ll address additional topics in a future blog post.

So, say that we’re heading out together on a Backcountry Journeys tour to Yellowstone National Park. Let’s take a moment to look at what should we know before we go.


The following information is taken from a memo posted on The North American Nature Photography Association’s (NANPA) website. NANPA is North America’s preeminent nature photography organization, and is a critical advocate for the rights of nature photographers on a wide range of issues, from intellectual property to public land access for nature photographers:
“…these principles will encourage all who participate in the enjoyment of nature to do so in a way that best promotes good stewardship of the resource.”


-Learn patterns of animal behavior so as not to interfere with animal life cycles.
-Do not distress wildlife or their habitat.
-Respect the routine needs of animals.
-Use appropriate lenses to photograph wild animals.
-If an animal shows stress, move back and use a longer
-Acquaint yourself with the fragility of the ecosystem.
-Stay on trails that are intended to lessen impact.


-When appropriate, inform managers or other authorities of your presence and purpose.
-Help minimize cumulative impacts and maintain safety.
-Learn the rules and laws of the location.
-If minimum distances exist for approaching wildlife, follow them.
-In the absence of management authority, use good judgment.
-Treat the wildlife, plants and places as if you were their guest.
-Prepare yourself and your equipment for unexpected events.
-Avoid exposing yourself and others to preventable mishaps.



Treat others courteously.
Ask before joining others already shooting in an area.
Tactfully inform others if you observe them in engaging in inappropriate or harmful behavior.
Many people unknowingly endanger themselves and animals.
Report inappropriate behavior to proper authorities.
Don’t argue with those who don’t care; report them.
Be a good role model, both as a photographer and a citizen.
Educate others by your actions; enhance their understanding.


It’s certainly a laundry list. However, these principles should be considered important, and followed as we strive to be unnoticed by the animals we are photographing. We want to leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs and kill only time.

We want to see and record what is going on out there, yet never influence it.

As you set out on your next photographic adventure, we ask that you remember to have all of the pieces of the puzzle come together. Don’t catch yourself sacrificing ethics in order to create an image. Get the best shot, but do it ethically, using the above list as a guide.

Remember, we are the guests.

Kenton Krueger







Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks as well as in the Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, newspaper photographer and writer. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.

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