Jumping Monkeys; There's More to it Than Meets the Eye...

The Streak Goes On…

Seven of the IPT leaders and participants (along with Pat and Alan Lillich’s daughter Meagan) are on the train to Kyoto for a few days of travel and nature photography and for the seven of us, some much needed rest. I am finishing this post at 6:45pm Japan time on Wednesday, February 26, 2014. That is 4:45am on the same day in Florida or in New York. We will likely get to the Best Western Kyoto at about 9pm tonight.

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This Snow Monkey image was created on what was effectively the last day of the Japan in Winter IPT with the Gitzo 3532 LS carbon fiber tripod, the Mongoose M3.6 head, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender (with the internal extender in place at 311mm) and the Canon EOS-1D X. ISO 800. Evaluative metering +2 1/3 stops off the ice: 1/1250 sec. at f/5.6 in Manual mode was a slight over-exposure. Color temperature: AWB.

Central Sensor/AI Servo-Surround/Rear Focus AF totally missed the monkey but kept on tracking. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Jumping Monkeys; There’s More to it Than Meets the Eye…

We pretty much wrapped things up on February 25, with our second full day at the Snow Monkey Park. Both Denise and I enjoyed meeting fellow professionals Ben Cranke and Wim van den Heever of South Africa who were also co-leading a photography safari. They kindly invited our group to join their group for an afternoon jumping monkeys photography session.

After they had their group positioned up front with short lenses we chose our spots. Folks with longer lenses like Zorica, Denise, and me stayed well back while the others took peripheral positions. The regular monkey feeder began his rounds with large numbers of Snow Monkeys following him up the hill. Then he walked down the hill towards us on the other side of the river and continued feeding. The idea was to concentrate the monkeys on the far side of the small stream and then feed them on our side of the stream and have them jump across the rocks. At about 3:40pm the final phase of the operation began while Wim and Ben’s Japanese guide sat on the board that the animals usually use to cross to prevent them from doing so.

Results were sporadic at first. A few monkeys jumped across to the desired spot where a bit of food had been placed. It was difficult to get in tune with the rhythm of the jumping monkeys and framing the images was even more difficult. Then they simply quit for ten minutes. Then along came what looked like the head maintenance guy in his green coveralls. He shooed most of the monkeys to the opposite side of the stream and then began to toss small bits of special food to the perfect spot on our side of the river. The monkeys responded quite well. When he quit tossing the special tidbits, the action slowed to less than a trickle. After ten minutes without a single jump I decided to fold up my tripod and pack my gear. Immediately four monkeys took flight and shutters fired. I headed back to a much worse spot than I had had.

After five more minutes with no action, I decided once again to leave. I walked up to the spot where Ben and Wim were seated and asked each for a business card. Within seconds a stream of about 10 monkeys came jumping across the stream. Totally defeated I stood by with no camera and no lens as everyone fired away nonstop. Talk about bad timing….

I was, however, happy with the image above.

Truth in Nature Photography

Thirty-five years ago when I first began noticing great nature photography images, it was only natural to assume that each and every image was in fact an image that was created in a totally natural situation. Today, those boundaries are tremendously blurred. Songbirds are fed and enticed to perch on branches selected for their character and beauty. In many areas the taped calls of songbirds are often used to attract a variety or species into photographic range. Cabella’s Owls are mounted atop Radio Shack antenna poles to draw in migrating raptors. Herons, egrets, pelicans and eagles are baited with fish. Snowy and Great Grey Owls and other raptors are routinely baited with live pet store mice. Prey items are killed with a shot gun and hung in a tree to attract raptors. In Finland and other locations, carcasses are placed in front of photography blinds to attract bears, Golden Eagles, and other raptors.

And let’s not forget outdoor studio lighting, camera traps, and remote triggers.

Don’t get me wrong; I am simply playing Devil’s Advocate here. Heck, at the Jigokudani Yaenkoen Snow Monkey Park the animals are called in with a whistle, fed several times a day, bathe in a man-made onsen (naturally heated pool), and can even be coaxed into jumping across a small river…

Feel free to let us know your thoughts on the current state of nature photography.

Note: as many of you know, I have used several of the techniques described above to help me make better images. I always make sure to let folks know the situation.


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Images copyright 2012: Denise Ippolito & Arthur Morris. Card design by Denise Ippolito. Click on the image to enjoy a spectacular larger version.

Holland 2014 7 1/2-Day/8-Night: A Creative Adventure/BIRDS AS ART/Tulips & A Touch of Holland IPT. April 17-April 24, 2014: $4995 Limit: 12/Openings: 5

We still have room for 5 more flower photographers on this great trip.

Join Denise Ippolito, Flower Queen and the author of “Bloomin’ Ideas,” and Arthur Morris, Canon Explorer of Light Emeritus and one of the planet’s premier photographic educators for a great trip to Holland in mid-April 2014. Day 1 of the IPT will be April 17, 2014. We will have a short afternoon get-together and then our first photographic session at the justly-famed Keukenhof. Most days we will return to the hotel for lunch, image sharing and a break. On Day 8, April 24, we will enjoy both morning and afternoon photography sessions.

The primary subjects will be tulips and orchids at Keukenhof and the spectacularly amazing tulip, hyacinth, and daffodil bulb fields around Lisse. In addition we will spend one full day in Amsterdam. There will be optional visits the Van Gogh Museum in the morning and the Anne Frank House in the afternoon; there will be plenty of time for street photography as well. And some great food. On another day we will have a wonderful early dinner at Kinderdijk and then head out with our gear to photograph the windmills and possibly some birds for those who bring their longs lenses. We will spend an afternoon in the lovely Dutch town of Edam where we will do some street photography and enjoy a superb dinner. All lodging, ground transportation, entry fees, and meals (from dinner on Day 1 through dinner on Day 7) are included. For those who will be bringing a big lens we will likely have an optional bird photography afternoon or two.

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2014 Tanzania Summer Safari, 14-day African Adventure/leave the US on August 9. Fly home on August 24: $12,999.

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33 comments to Jumping Monkeys; There’s More to it Than Meets the Eye…

  • avatar Kurt

    Beg to differ, sir. Owls have followed people for considerable distances at Sax-Zim after having been habituated even though these people did not have anything to give them. The birds have been conditioned, much as the previous example of the fox and the bell where the fox was attracted to the bell because it had learned to associate the sound with food. As for legality, the MN DNR is debating the very issue as we write. Are we discussing legality or ethics? :)

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Ethics are personal. The law is the law. I have never used live bait on a Snowy or other owl species. But I do not condemn those who do. My understanding of the biology of irruptions is that these movements mainly involve birds that will likely starve during the winter. artie

      • avatar Kurt

        In some years, yes, many birds perish. That is not the case with this irruption. I don’t condemn those who bait either, (with the exception of those who tease the birds with lures flung from fishing rods), I am merely stating my reservations concerning the practice. It’s something I choose not to do. That’s all.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      I am with you on all counts :) artie in Japan

  • avatar Kurt

    It’s currently a hot topic in Minnesota this winter with the influx of Snowy Owls. My discomfort stems fro the habituation of a very visible bird that would not, in all probability, be able to distinquish an ambitious photographer with a free meal from a bored teenager with a 22 rifle. Then again, there are those who use fake mice cast with fishing rods. Don’t even get me started.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Either it is illegal or not illegal. Your argument about the teenager with a 22 rifle is totally irrelevant–the owls are attracted to the mice not to the photographers :). artie

  • avatar Ar

    I think photographers are much more aware of conservation and our photos help educate others. I prefer to find the subject naturally but I’ll photograph in a controlled setting or with props rather than harm animals or invade their territory if it will be detrimental to them.
    I saved the life of a fox with mange by feeding it chicken for 6 months (got the meds from a wildlife rehabber). She came to my whistle every night. When she improved, I hid the food in bushes so she would relearn how to hunt. If that’s meddling, I don’t regret it one bit. I’d do it again.

  • avatar David Policansky

    Hi, Artie. Wonderful question and comments. As you know, I think bird photography is analogous to fishing in many ways, with the major difference that most of us who photograph birds would be shocked if we caused the death or injury of a bird. But anglers choose specific methods; some use live bait, some only barbless hooks, some only flies. I think within the bounds of what’s generally and individually considered ethical, most choices are OK, both for angling and for bird photography. As an example, I don’t use flash for hummingbirds in the southwestern United States. Partly it’s because the birds obviously dislike the flash but partly it’s because I like the challenge of using natural light. But I do photograph them around feeders and around the plants in gardens that were planted to attract them. I recently saw a stunning photograph of a snowy owl flying toward the camera and was so envious; then someone commented that the photographer had baited the owl. Most of my envy dissipated, because it had been focused on the wonderful opportunity that I’d thought was completely natural. Had I been there, though, you can bet my camera would have been at the ready. And if I spook a bird by approaching too close, as long as I don’t think I was greedy or careless or ruined someone else’s shot, I don’t beat myself up. Recently I got some good shots of sandhill cranes flying across the full moon. I got them because I understood the environment, planned carefully and long in advance, and put in a lot of time. There’s a special satisfaction in that, which I think would be diminished if bait had been used. But would I take an opportunity to photograph a baited Pel’s fishing owl or a hyacinth macaw or a Steller’s sea eagle? Yes, I am pretty sure I would. It’s not black and white, it’s a continuum. I continually re-evaluate how I feel about it and related matters. Thanks for asking.

  • What about using fill flash to enhance bird image. I do use it at times and many of my friends don’t because they think it harms the birds. I do photograph birds around feeders, use a owl decoy to get close to some raptors and a wildlife call to call in birds and owls. If I felt any of these processes would harm birds I would stop immediately but to this point I see no harm to the birds and use the photographs I take to educate people as to the beauty of all wildlife.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Good points well made. How about the simple act of walking through the woods and scaring away the birds and wildlife in your path….

  • avatar John Haedo

    Great image. The monkey looks like he is gracefully and deliberately diving at a specific spot in the water… and if he was jumping to eat something deliberately placed within his reach by the hand of man, I hope he got it!

  • avatar Kylie Jones

    I think there’s a black and a white to this issue when it applies to wildlife, and a whole heap of grey in between. Most people here agree that photographing in zoos or by baiting and not disclosing it is unethical. Some people think photographing wildlife in zoos isn’t right. Some people think baiting is ok because most people throw bread or chips to seagulls or swans or have a bird feeder. And the odd person thinks none of this is ok and wildlife should only be photographed in the wild in natural situations. I will likely be unpopular in my view.

    In my part of the world in Central Queensland, Australia, bird feeders are quite uncommon and much discouraged by birding experts as it concentrates many species into one spot, which allows faster spread of diseases, and it also increases reliance on humans, who may not be able to continue such feeding forever. Instead, people are encouraged to plant their gardens with bird and insect attracting plants that belong to the local area. If you get it right, you are rewarded with visiting birds and it provides natural food and shelter. Even bird baths are discouraged, as its more natural for birds to drink from a stream where each species may choose different perching spots, and avoid congregating and unnatural disease concentration. Where humans have covered streams for housing, bird baths are conceded as providing water for the birds. So bird feeders aren’t the norm like in USA.

    I personally prefer photographers to apply their skill in getting shots with no artifice and baiting, be it from good knowledge of nature or joining a tracker or tour where someone else has that experience. As Nancy stated, there are places where animals are habituated to humans and provide better photographic opportunities. For animals that are hard to photograph without artificial feeding/baiting, then there’ll be less photos and so the great shot will be all the more special and sought after. I think this’d give more value to specialised tours who could take people to spots with better chance of seeing a particular bird, due to their experience.

    Being a bird/wildlife photographer doesn’t entitle us to get the shot by any means. People who want to get the easy shot can choose to take photos of other subjects, such as buildings. By choosing wildlife, I believe we have an ethical responsibility to not unduly disturb or create harm to our subjects. If an ethical scientific program is occuring involving feeding of wild animals, and if we have a great network that allows us to be nearby and photograph the animals are close, good for us.

    Having said that, I have photographed Hummingbirds in Ecuador at bird feeders, and white tailed eagles in Norway being thrown fish, and albatross in the Southern Ocean being fed from a boat, and while I was filled with joy at seeing the animals up so close, I also felt uncomfortable that I wasn’t photographing true nature.

    If we do feed or bait wildlife, we have a responsibility to provide a proper balanced food source. If this can’t be done ethically, it shouldn’t be done. Bread has never been a natural food source for any animal, I would love to see that practice replaced by feeding bird pellets specifically designed for the species being targetted. My view puts the welfare of animals before my desires for enjoying or photographing wildlife.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for stopping by and for your thoughtful response. But, you seem to want to have your cake and eat it too…. Since you have admitted to have partaken of the poisoned fruit and enjoyed it as well, I am having trouble understanding what you mean by this: “Being a bird/wildlife photographer does not entitle us to get the shot by any means.”

      • avatar Kylie Jones

        Yep, that’s the dilemma Artie, I guess we all face to some degree. I think for me I’d prefer avoiding those situations in future as I do feel uncomfortable with it. I reckon I’d get far greater joy in seeing an elusive animal in the wild without bait, even though it’d lessen the chance to see it.

        You posed a great question for us all to ponder on!

  • I much prefer to photograph habituated birds and animals when possible. Truly wild animals should be fearful of people and to chase them with a camera is causing them additional stress. There is still plenty of challenge to obtain lovely images with habituated animals & birds and I am much more comfortable and at peace with myself for not causing additional stress.

    Artie, I am most appreciative of all these blogs and images! You do not let any moss grow under your feet!

  • Great question for us to concentrate on. Early on i questioned every one of these practices except bird feeding at home. Now I use all to get a more pleasing photograph as long as no harm comes to the subject. I try to use common sense in that I will not use calls in a heavily birding area such as popular birding boardwalk.I still enjoy the “free wheeling” walk-hunt for a free range subject but my old 600mm and my old bones are beginning to object ! As long as I freely divulge technique used I feel justified ,but have to admit i have twinges of guilt sometimes that it is not real!

  • avatar Joanne

    To me, a great photograph is a great photograph. It doesn’t matter what you did to get there. Whether you bait wildlife or not, you still need the right skills to create an amazing image.

    Since I am for preservation and protection of wildlife, I am against killing an animal for the sole purpose of photography, though.

    And as an amateur wildlife photographer, I go in the bush and trails all the time in the hopes of seeing a moose, lynx, bear or even a bird that I could photograph. I go home empty handed all the time. And like Doug, I find the thrill of finally getting that shot a fantastic feeling of pride and joy. But I also have to admit, I am a bit envious of photographers who are lucky and fortunate enough to be in a setting where there are perfect “set ups” for great photographs. Maybe one day!

    I love your work and learn a lot from you. :)

  • avatar Ron Gates

    Does it bother me that birds are fed in order to capture photographs, the answer is no because people put out feeders in their backyards on a regular basis to attract songbirds for their viewing pleasure. If they invite a photographer friend over to take some pictures of these birds isn’t unnatural…the birds gotta eat. I guess it’s a matter of degrees. If I don’t mind it for songbirds should I mind it for raptors or snow monkeys. If anything, it gives me hope that I can create that kind of photograph. I have looked at many of your photographs and the work of other photographers and have seen a variety of birds with fish in their beaks and thought, “wow, that’s great shot. How fortunate that photographer was to have captured that action”. Maybe he/she was lucky but maybe that bird was attracted by the bait so the photographer could have the opportunity to make that photograph. It doesn’t take away from the quality of the image. I guess my question is, do I have to be a member of a tour group to get the zoo keepers to come feed the monkeys or do I as an individual photographer have the same opportunity? Now I realize I have the same chance to make that image if I can get someone to feed my target bird in a protected reserve. Now, all I have to concentrate on is having the right lens, setting the correct exposure, keeping the bird in focus and framing the shot properly. I love your images, Artie. I look forward to each of your posts.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Ron. As for your question, I am not sure how it was arranged. Others joined in the fun, some respectfully, others by simply standing in front of someone else. They heard from the crowd :). I will strive to learn the details and set this up for my 2016 group. And yes, even at set-up the best photographers will make the best images….

  • avatar Loi Nguyen

    I used to view baiting as cheating, but my view has changed. We human impact the natural habitat so much that some species couldn’t survive with a little help from us. The California Condor is an example. The US Fish and Wildlife still needs to haul in carcasses to feed then especially when there are chicks and trap them every 6 months or so yo monitor for lead poisoning. So taking photo of a California Condor is amount to baiting, albeit the baiting is done by the government. I read that the Japanese cranes were on the brink of extinction until the local folks started feeding them. So that is baiting too. My experience with baiting was with Snowy Owls. Someone else provided the live mouse and I took the photos. This snowy owl was a happy one since she was baited multiple times a day. The alternative is to let these beautiful critters starve to death or get shot by JFK authorities!

  • For me, respecting the law of nature is very important especially when one is in the wild. Am strongly in favour that nothing is done to disturb the bird/animal in the wild just for the sake of a photograph or an award winning image. To use any baits, recordings, etc should be done away with. There may be some very careful to not cause distress to bird/animal but most would not care. It is very difficult for a large majority to be caring as I have personally experienced. Quite a few photographers would not care if the bird/animal was stressed even though pointed out by those who understand bird/animal behaviour.

    I would visit often, wait long for an image and would get lucky now and then – though this is not ‘luck’ for me as is for a few others who are ‘lucky’ to get an image without pain.

    Let us just enjoy these birds/animal as they were made to be in wild and as ‘nature’ wanted these to be.

    Cheers.

    Anand Arya

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for commenting? Do you have a bird feeder in your backyard? Ever toss a crust of bread to a pigeon? artie

      • No, I do not have a feeder. But, may have one someday. Yes, I have fed Pigeons. But, just that. And in a City where there is a shortage of food but the birds do exist. Such Birds/Animals for me are more ‘domesticated’ than wild though free. I understand where you are going with the question. Feeding in wild for a purpose other than providing food where not available, is a lot different than ‘luring’ a bird/animal in the wild for an image. The latter sounds a little unfair – more so when the bird/animal, like these Monkeys, forced to jump by blocking the path. I love to see the birds at nest but then have given up getting any where close and sharing the location lest I lead not just the predators but predatory photographers to disturb the birds at their most critical phase of life. Have experienced first hand how some people would seriously stress the birds just for an image. Even though I have an 800mm + TCs and a hide (including using car as a hide), I do not get too close that the birds feels stressed. In any case, each to his/her own code of conduct.

        Regards.

        Anand Arya

      • avatar Ralph

        Surely feeding birds in times of hardship for them is an altruistic act for the benefit of the bird?
        Baiting and feeding for personal gain is exploitative IMO.

  • avatar Doug

    For the most part I only care that the photo show natural behavior in a natural environment.
    I would object to a photo of a heron in the middle of the Death Valley eating an Alaskan King Crab.

    With that said, I do object to killing an animal just for bait but I don’t have an issue using live bait or carcasses from natural death or road kill(unless you intentionally run over something to use it as bait). If a hunter takes an animal legally and removes the meat and any trophies for personal use, I would consider this a natural death. I prefer live bait be locally wild caught so it has street smarts and a fighting chance but alas, if you’re a pet store feeder mouse or rat your life is pretty much going to end badly. I’d rather it end in the talons of a free Snowy Owl than the grip of a captive python.

    The concern I have with live bait is the possible introduction of invasive species.

  • avatar Sheila Sargeant

    If photographers intend entering competitions in the Nature Category, Natural History, baited images are not usually permitted.
    Sheila

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      In the BBC WPOTY competition, using dead bait is permitted (where it is legal to do so). They just ask that you be truthful with the remarks that accompany each entry.

  • A bird or mammal in its natural habitat is still a beautiful thing to me, even if it has been lured in. To take this idea to its extreme, one could make the case that it is unnatural to protect animals with National Park boundaries that keep humans out.

  • Well Artie You asked an interesting Question. 50% will be against any baiting and 50% do not care. I have been in both situations, and feel comfortable with both. Baiting by a small subset in area with a large group of other photographers or birders and baiting for owls will cause great commotion. I was in Costa Rica where wild macaws were feed on a regular basis and which allowed great flight shots that we would not have gotten any other way. Personally I do not mind baiting we do it all the time with passerines
    Regards
    Myer

  • Except in the realm of photojournalism, which has specific criteria, my thought is just be honest. For example, if you create images of birds landing near a feeder, or at a zoo for that matter, don’t say otherwise.

  • Me, I don’t care if the subject was baited or not, wild or
    captured, etc. As long as I’m up front with everybody on
    what’s happening behind the scenes and other photographers
    do the same, I have no problem.

    But…there’s nothing that gives me a rush more than going
    down a trail I’ve never visited, not knowing if I’m even
    going to see a bird, scoping out an area and trying to come
    up with a best guess on where one might land, waiting and
    then being rewarded with an image.

    Doug