A short note about ethics

Last week I took this photo of a jumping spider, Phiddipus insignarius, and although I consider it a good photo, it is not a photo I am proud of.

Female jumping spider (Phidippus insignarius) displaying

Female jumping spider (Phidippus insignarius) displaying

I believe I pushed it a little too far here.

By the time you are reading this, you may have seen photos of jumping spiders floating online. They are charismatic, inquisitive, and intelligent little arachnids. Their big eyes and cutesy appearance make it possible to open a door for communication between spider enthusiasts and people suffering from arachnophobia. This photo is a little different. This is the face of stressed spider. Jumping spiders have a habit of exploring the world around them, but they usually avoid confrontation. They have a typical threat display that they use when they are annoyed or feel threatened, by raising their forelegs and exposing their chelicerae. At this point they are no different from a wandering spider warning to back off. And if not left alone, they will strike. The female Phidippus in this photo was clearly fed up with my attempts at stalking her, and wanted to show me that she had enough.

Photographs of small animals can be a great tool for communication and education by revealing the hidden beauty of overlooked creatures. However, we tend to forget how things are from their perspective. They do not like to be cornered or pushed around. The last thing they expect is a giant being trying to manipulate them to pose in a certain way. Ethics in nature photography is an important topic that should be brought into the conversation. And yet almost no one talks about it (see Nicky Bay’s fantastic resource on the topic). Paul Bertner posted a lot about it on social media during his assignment last year (as well as on his own website), sparking some of the best discussions I have seen on photography ethics and what information should be disclosed with a photo (he later coined the term EE – Ethical Exif, information that is incorporated into his photos). I would like to see transparency and compassion for the living subject becoming the standard in nature photography. Every nature photographer I know is longing for a “perfect” subject – one that displays an interesting natural behavior but also does not move too much. Yet we forget that many times photography is just another type of disturbance to animals. At the end of the day, we must ask ourselves – was this really necessary?

In the case of the spider here, I got the message loud and clear and left her alone. She was clearly not interested in playing. I will get back to photographing her some other time, maybe when she is in a better mood.

The female Phidippus insignarius is much more charming when she is relaxed.

The female Phidippus insignarius is much more charming when she is relaxed.

2 thoughts on “A short note about ethics

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about this. They are both wonderful photographs, but I get your point. When I am gardening or just sweeping up around the house, I am mindful of the disturbances that I am creating for the unseen insects…. I really try to respect their space and try to be reasonable about where I won’t tolerate them. (ummm, my bedroom, for example!) Thanks for making them more approachable through your photographs!

  2. Great reminder!! I’m guilty of pushing the photo op envelope with Phids. Your article just reminded me that my love and goodwill toward these little sweethearts is bigger than my desire to get that perfect shot! Thank you!

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