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Manipulation of subjects for the shot.


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#1 Drew

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 03:59 PM

A recent thread complaining of photopros manipulating subjects brings back this very heated subject of manipulation of subjects. I've seen seminars at Dive Shows where photographers illustrate how they moved a frogfish to a spot for better background etc.
I often see subjects in unnatural backgrounds (boxer crabs on a sponge etc) or unnatural behavior (benthic creatures in the water column etc). With these shots with obvious manipulation or possibly freaky good luck, there will always be many 'I gotta have that shot too' photographers who then 'have' to make the animal behave to get a similar shot.
I've seen photographers who are responsible and barely touch anything in the sea. Then there are those who don't do too much damage but they don't mind poking and prodding a bit to get the animal to behave for the shot.
Many shots look great and only a marine biologist or knowledgeable person would know it's unnatural. Back in the 70s and 80s, the few pro photographers didn't hesitate breaking a bit of coral or poking things around because 1 person's damage on the reef is negligible.
However, with the advent of cheaper travel, the digital camera revolution and the growing interest in scuba, every Tom, Dick and Mary is now a photographer and the reefs and animals can't handle 30-300 divers doing what 1 diver did 20 years ago.
I thought it'd be a good idea to see where the underwater photographer's sentiment is on this very controversial subject.

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#2 TheRealDrew

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Posted 22 December 2007 - 04:57 PM

I lean very heavily to making sure I do not touch the animals or otherwise harrass them (not only touching, so there could be another item in the harrassment question). Much prefer to get lucky when something happens that is special. Took me a long time to get a Moray shot because they always seemed to be in places that were just a bit too tight and I did not want to touch any coral.

But it pays off. My wife actually got a photo last trip that she described to the dive masters that she happened upon. They all said no way, the animal never is found that way. Ever. Until we showed the photo in the LCD. In fact it would probably approach "unnatural", which makes it even more special. And I got some things that were also special, on the video side at least to me :) (My still rig had shorted out bulkheads this trip, but I follow the same rules with video or photos).

In terms of all the issues that are discussed (proper photographer/videographer behavior, harrassment etc.) I do my best to be very conservative. I have missed (many) shots along the way, but over time I have gotten others.

#3 Cerianthus

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 01:45 AM

maybe the poll is not subtle enough. There would be only one way to fill this in (3,2,2)

My reaction in the prodding incident topic was also because of this. Maybe a truckload of divers taking turns on a subject (even without touching) is stressfull enough (so I tend to agree with realdrew).

I try to observe a no touch (or chase) policy for myself, but in the enthiousasm for a subject, that gets forgotten so easy. I chased some fish around (advantage of dutch water for them is that they can quickly swim outside the viz) but feel sorry about that now. I learned it is also useless...I sometimes forget what the rest of my bodyparts touch (or flash arms). Luckily my regular buddy will point me by a tap on the head. Without being punched out or prodded with a lembeh stick, I'm extending this invitation to any other diver.

I think that pushing some seaweed or seagrass out of the way, and putting your fingers on a death patch is allright.
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#4 writepic

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 02:25 AM

one wonders how this could be a heated debate....would anyone really disagree with the common sense answers above? if anyone really advocates the use of direct interference with the subject then i doubt they would openly post here saying they did such a thing.

however, i have seen some land biologists at work and have seen how freely they handle subjects in a way a photographer would be shot for.

i guess its a numbers game. there are so many photographers about these days. some subjects seems to have reached saturation point, and i often wonder what the point is of yet more of the same subject.
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#5 Drew

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 06:19 AM

That's why I had the poll. To gather opinions with having the poster commit public suicide. I do admit that the poll is more farcical than marketing 201 but it does attempt to get an idea of how popular manipulation is per se and what general lines are drawn.
There are definitely more votes than posts.

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#6 zook

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 06:44 AM

For me the use of poking rod or lembeh stick es also unacceptable. And I hope this will not change in time. But on the other hand, using a finger on a patch of dead coral or bare rock to stabilize myself is great help. But I would under no circumstances touch/move/poke animals to behave the way I want them. After all, it is about catching natural behavior, isn't it?

And (considering the size of a small crab) being poked with a stick the size of a streetlight pole is far from being natural...

But I sadly see that this instrument is far more common than it should be.

I can fairly well control may body and hands and flash arms, but sometimes have difficulty on paying attention to the very tip of my fins. Luckily my buddy how is not a photographer is always there to bark my down if I touch anything.

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#7 NWDiver

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 08:45 AM

I think most agree that subjects should not be manipulated and only one finger on a dead spot.

The Real question as photographers and hopefully conservationists is..... what are you going to do when you see a fellow photog moving a creature or being tough on the reef?????

#8 craig

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 11:04 AM

How could anyone not agree when the poll options are chosen to make the answers clear? "hope I don't get caught" implies I was doing something wrong to begin with.

There's a pervasive attitude in human nature best described as "I've got mine, now no one else can have theirs". Everything is OK when you are trying to get what you want, but it's not OK when others are doing the same.

Nowhere is this hypocrisy more apparent underwater than with photo pro behavior. It's OK to drill holes in the reef, to bust off coral that's in the way, to bring pruning shears on the dive, to dynamite passages for your boat, because you're getting paid. Amateurs should observe a no-touch policy, however. Why is the explosion of digital photographers to blame for reef damage? Is it amateurs that caused the seafans in Lembeh to be lopsided? What made a small collection of photographers entitled to tear up the reefs but a larger number suddenly be burdened with conservation?

Just how do the pictures of crinoid shimp get taken by advocates of no touch policies? Am I supposed to feel guilty for rolling over a sea cucumber?

Another thing that annoys me is discussion of harassment. It's clear that some things underwater constitute harassment and that others don't, but there's a huge gray area in the middle. Creatures underwater live under constant threat of predation and when they're afraid of you it's generally obvious. A poke or a nudge doesn't automatically constitute harrassment and neither doesn't taking more than a few images before moving on. How do we take the advice of experienced shooters and take plenty of images when we can't take more than 2-3 without being accused of traumatizing the subject?

I also see the aversion to modeling subjects as hypocritical. Baiting a shark is modeling a subject, so why is it acceptable to chum-troll sharks and publish the images but it's not acceptable to nudge a subject to get the right angle? People are free to believe that pros are getting all their perfect perspectives through patience but I don't. Julie's recent cover, in another current thread, consists of children swimming down to the camera. That's a modelled shot, too. Is it bad because of that? Of course not. Photographers frequently model their shots and it's a good thing.

What we have is a common resource that can be damaged or destroyed through misuse and abuse. We all need to take care of it and we're all guilty of doing damage at times when we shouldn't. I find most of the talk about arbitrary standards of behavior to be unreasonable and hypocritical. Let's face it, we are not naturally supposed to be in the underwater environment firing off flashes and blasting HID lights to begin with. It is possible to be in the water, interact with the animals, yet not leave a trail of destruction behind us.

Who is more responsible for damaging the uw environment, the photographer that uses a pointer to model subjects or the photo pro that organizes exploratory trips to new destinations and opens up new, pristine reefs to the devastation of heavy diving traffic? The tools we use are not nearly as important as the attitude we take with us underwater.

I think most agree that subjects should not be manipulated and only one finger on a dead spot.

I don't know if most agree or not. I don't. Manipulation is not universally bad.

The Real question as photographers and hopefully conservationists is..... what are you going to do when you see a fellow photog moving a creature or being tough on the reef?????

I don't equate photographers and conservationists. I know better. However, conservationist or not, the question in my mind is what makes anyone feel entitled to take action against the behavior of another diver? If I know you and I see something going wrong, I may come over and help. Having a pointer sometimes comes in handy for that. If I don't know you, it's not my job to act as the reef policeman. If the behavior is particularly damaging, I may say something but it will be to a group leader or a dive master.
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#9 marinedomain

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 12:02 PM

Well said Craig
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#10 Lionfish43

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 01:06 PM

I agree with Craig 100%. I did not respond to this poll because it allows no middle ground. Either you never touch anything or you are willing to maim your subject to get a shot.
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#11 Drew

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 01:38 PM

Thanks Craig for infusing a much needed 'other' side. I'll admit I added that "don't get caught" line because of a few people I know who may be reading this will get a chuckle. Removed it now.

.... with photo pro behavior. It's OK to drill holes in the reef, to bust off coral that's in the way, to bring pruning shears on the dive, to dynamite passages for your boat, because you're getting paid. Amateurs should observe a no-touch policy, however. Why is the explosion of digital photographers to blame for reef damage? Is it amateurs that caused the seafans in Lembeh to be lopsided? What made a small collection of photographers entitled to tear up the reefs but a larger number suddenly be burdened with conservation?

I do think the issue is how much the reef can bear as pressure from the diving community. We aren't suppose to be there but we are, and being in the community of underwater imagery nuts, limited form of interaction is expected.
That said, having seen pygmy seahorses fall off their perch from being strobed too many times or 5000 lumens of video light illumination, I tend to err on the side of caution. Of course, there are some sealife are more resilient than others to strobes. With nudies for instance, you'd run out of battery before you could affect the nudi with strobes (bashing them with the strobes however...)
I don't think pros should be given carte blanche. They should be bound by the same rules as anyone else. I had this conversation with several conservationist experts from NGOs in Indonesia. At a dive site like the Liberty in Bali or the Yongala in Oz, they believe if every diver broke coral and killed the subject to get the shot, it'd have an adverse effect as there are over 100 divers diving that site daily.
However if one finds themselves in Lucipara in the Banda Sea or the Rowley Shoals in Oz, which sees a dive boat probably 10 times a year. Then that sort of behavior is more easily masked by normal reef activity and not AS destructive. That said, I saw remnants of the damage a certain reef walker did to a certain not often dived site in Raja Empat 2 years after he was there. One person can do a lot if they lose themselves into the photography alone.
Perspective and common sense is key. If the Crayon Ponyfish (Zissou fan :)) went extinct because someone killed it taking 300 shots of it in various manipulated (prodded) poses, it'd be a shame.
For myself, I've found squat lobsters, crinoid shrimps and other hiders out in clearer view without flipping anything but my camera on switch. It's absolutely a once or twice in a lifetime sort of thing but it does happen. Would it be as nice as prodding the crinoid open or even tearing off a few arms to get at it? Probably not.

Baiting a shark is modeling a subject, so why is it acceptable to chum-troll sharks and publish the images.....People are free to believe that pros are getting all their perfect perspectives through patience but I don't.

To be fair, some of the best natural behavior shots were done by weeks and months of sitting around getting sunburn. The easiest example to come to mind is Doug Perrine's sharks in baitball shots. All natural behavior, bait supplied by nature and conditions supplied by Allah/Karma/luck. Personally, shark baited pics are boring. There is no real behavior other than biting. A cleaning station shot is more appealing to me than a tiger chasing a tuna head, only because it's simulated. Still, the shark isn't being prodded to perform and unlike cage diving, the shark doesn't lose teeth biting on the cage. Feeding behavior modification is another topic for another thread
Another example is Alex Mustard's WPOTY winner. I doubt Alex could poke those fish into frame even if he wanted to. Just patience, skill and a bit of luck.

Julie's recent cover, in another current thread, consists of children swimming down to the camera. That's a modelled shot, too. Is it bad because of that? Of course not. Photographers frequently model their shots and it's a good thing.

Anyone diving off a pier or jetty near a populated island with kids will have that opportunity. I don't think Julie paid the kid to pose (although as the kid's agent, I'm writing to her for residuals on whatever she's made so far, sorry Julie :D). In fact, the best kids in the water pics I've seen was taken by a friend when we were all blown off a dive site and wandered into a pier where 20 kids were cannonballing off it. Once again, luck and circumstances beats out staging. Pity the kids were mostly naked and he doesn't dare keep the pics on his computer when going through the US for fear of being arrested for possessing child porn. Ok I may have instilled that fear into him. :D
As Craig says, the reality is that macro and reef photography requires some sort of interaction. I think the philosophy of leave nothing but bubbles approach is more to do with the expectation of human beings to do things because they can. This of course is annoying to individuals who think it's arbitrary and restricting. There are enough bozos who do enough damage to warrant discussions like these. In a perfect world, there wouldn't be war either, but someone always manages to start one (hmmm sorta like this thread). It is also completely human to want to get the best pic, so more than a few photographers push the envelope.
Picture this scenario: Photographer A thinks: Everyone has a shot of a benthic Crayon Ponyfish, I want one with the sun in the background, opps it died cos I poked and stressed it too much. Ah well, got the shot.
Photographer B thinks: hmmm A has the sunball Crayon Ponyfish, I want a double Crayon Ponyfish. 2 more dead.
And it goes on. Yes my example is almost moronic but you get the idea and you know it's not that far off either.

Preventing someone from damaging stuff isn't a right but it's not a bad thing either. I've had strangers pull me off a subject because I was unknowingly damaging something. I'm sure all of us have been so engrossed in taking the shot that we unknowingly (or uncaringly) do something silly. I personally welcome being told (nicely please) that I'm being a moron (and I again apologize to the kind lady whom I swore at for doing so :))

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#12 craig

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 03:03 PM

Just to be clear, I was in no way criticizing Julie's image. It was simply an example of a shot that may not have been spontaneous but that we accept unreservedly. That particular opportunity may have been spontaneous or it may not have been, but she very likely had the chance to take a number of images of that subject until she was happy and she could interact with the subject without fear of it being "harassment". ;-) I doubt she paid any of those kids, but they may have gotten some nice goggles out of the deal.

Regardless of that particular example, it's clear that we accept manipulation in some shots yet not in others.

Photography requires three things: the right equipment, the skill and experience to use it, and the opportunity for the shot. The best images will result when attention paid to all those things and no amount of harassment of subjects will compensate. Some amount of interaction beyond "no touch" can lead to opportunities that otherwise would be extraordinarily unlikely, and that can be done without traumatizing the subjects.

The only time I'm been party to the death of an animal, that I'm aware of :), was when a curious mantis shrimp came out on a ledge to watch me photograph a hawkfish. I have no idea what took him but he met a violent end. :-(
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#13 Drew

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Posted 23 December 2007 - 04:47 PM

Craig
I'm not sure I see the correlation between setting up a model shot vs prodding a subject to 'pose' correctly.
If the kids felt harassed, they'd run home and tell their parents who'd then come out with the entire village and lynch the photographer. Or the kids get bored and leave. Same goes for any creature(like your shark example) that has the ability to swim off when threatened, bored or with a hair appointment. Many underwater animal subjects don't have that ability. Without too much anthropomorphizing, those are the ones which I think this topic is pertinent to.
So what we really have to decide is whether when a creature displays a threatened pose or whatever behavior (which may make a great pic), other than what it was doing before it was encouraged to behave is it harassment? Will it suffer untold mental trauma? Ok I may sound a bit flippant but that is the issue at hand. That huge grey area as you mentioned is dependent on the definition.
Defining harassment is already hard enough. And it correlates to the issue of "gotta have" shots and to what extent people are willing to go to get it.
Let's take an example of a benthic octopus. One scientist discover a certain posture that signifies a certain behavior (like annoyance) and prods the test subjects repeatedly to prove it. Then photographers do whatever it takes to get another octopus to get that behavior and hopefully better shots of it. Then someone decides to top the others by pushing it in the water column to get a sunball shot. Then everyone wants that shot. It's suddenly not good to be a benthic octopus. Is it going to bring an end to the species? No. But there may be an AWFUL lot of octopus tossing.

...when a curious mantis shrimp came out on a ledge to watch me photograph a hawkfish. I have no idea what took him but he met a violent end

And you missed a great opportunity to catch natural predation while deciding what was or wasn't harassment on the hawkfish. :)

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#14 cor

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 03:04 AM

Is underwater photography suddenly equal to candid photography? If an image is not candid, it is manipulated? That seems to be how some here define manipulation, and I dont agree with that at all. Lots of underwater images are planned, carefully executed, and beautiful, and no person or animal harmed in the process. I think some people think that they must be a photo journalist underwater, while many other types of photography are also possible. I love some of the underwater 'pool' type model shots, and they certainly are well planned.

The word manipulation has a very negative connotation and the two dictionaries I looked at use the word 'devious' to describe it. Posing for an image certainly does not fall in that genre for me, especially since the image Craig referred to had way more candid elements than posing elements. I would prefer it if the two do not get mixed up.

Other than that, I think Craig makes some good points.

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#15 diggy

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 03:53 AM

Well Craig has a few very pertinent points and i am relatively new to underwater photography.

While in Tulamben i did a photo course and then jumped in to the water with my teacher. My first time!! Struggling to balance myself camera etc. But my teacher guided me and helped with the initial hiccups.

After two days while i was diving with my dive guide a group of 12 photographers (professionals and others - advanced amateurs - some really famous names) jumped in to the water. Huge cameras, fancy strobes,wetsuits and that steel poking stick with almost all etc. They found a pipe fish.....12 photographers then coaxed it into moving in different angles and took turns taking pictures. That took a long while so i moved on. The next day same place same location- minus the pipe fish! It was not there. These fellows were seen by me for a few days....and funnily i got invited for the dinner where the prizes were to be distributed and before and after photos were shown. Met a lot of interesting people and i was REALLY happy getting all those tips from all these guys. Also made some friends.

Saw the pictures and was completely floored at the herculian task i had before me to reach those levels. I wonder how many were natural and how many were so called "coaxed" pictures. ??

Well i guess one can walk two ends of the stick but the answer may be to find a fine balance between the two and walk the middle path in a pragmatic and responsible manner!

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#16 scorpio_fish

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 05:06 AM

Is underwater photography suddenly equal to candid photography?


Yes, Todd Essick just happened upon those nude models while on a dive. I keeping looking for them, but I haven't been quite as lucky. They definitely don't hang around the local quarry.

I've seen seminars at Dive Shows where photographers illustrate how they moved a frogfish to a spot for better background etc.


Well, this is the proverbial elephant in the room. I mentioned an incident in a post about a "famous" photographer and got torched. I withdrew the post because I hadn't seen the incident myself. It was hearsay, but from a reliable source. And this type of incident was one of several stories about this particular photographer. I don't believe the dive guide was lying to me when he said he saw him pick up a nudibranch and place it on a gray card.

When another well known pro puts on a long playtex rubber glove, it is not for handling hot plates.

Times have changed and the definition of acceptable behavior has changed with it. But the line of demarcation remains somewhere between zero manipulation/interaction to anything goes. It is too easy to say nothing goes. Moving crinoid arms with a metal rod to shoot a shrimp doesn't kill or harm either. Does it "stress" them? Is it "harassment"? I'm not sure what "harassment" really means underwater. I do know I could easily be charged with "stalking".

I have intentionally and inadvertently caused the death of creatures sans camera. Does this make me a bad person? The lionfish was following me at night. When I lit up a small fish, the lionfish swooped it up. We looked at each other and said, "Wow!". I felt a little guilty, but if I felt no guilt, would that make me a psychopath? I have purposely killed hundreds of worms on night dives. I just used my torch to guide them onto the coral and watch them die, die, die! The horror. Sure, they were bugging me, but did they deserve to die for just being themselves? Or perhaps the cuteness factor applies to harassment just as it does in animal testing.

Don't critter samples have to die (I mean submitted) in order to be an official new species? Perhaps we should quit killing them just so we can name them after friends and family and to impress chicks.

fter two days while i was diving with my dive guide a group of 12 photographers (professionals and others - advanced amateurs - some really famous names) jumped in to the water. Huge cameras, fancy strobes,wetsuits and that steel poking stick with almost all etc. They found a pipe fish.....12 photographers then coaxed it into moving in different angles and took turns taking pictures. That took a long while so i moved on. The next day same place same location- minus the pipe fish!


I was there not too long after a big photo workshop. Many critters went deeper. I could provide a post mortem on the effects of the workshop as told to me by locals, but again that would be hearsay, and someone might metaphorically cut my air hose for making such comments.
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#17 NWDiver

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 07:26 AM

I have said this before and will say it again. Without a doubt there is a massive gray area but IMHO any direct prodding or moving of a creature, for a better photo is unacceptable. If each diver with a camera does this I can't see how it cannot be detrimental to the creature. More and more hobbiest like myself are entering the water every day and there should be some kind of published standard for us to look to. Do we expect it to be enforced? Probably not. But look at the strong prohibition against diving alone. If enough diver/photogs come up with a standard mantra maybe it would help preserve what many of us claim to love and respect. Bring on the heat :)

Edited by NWDiver, 24 December 2007 - 07:28 AM.


#18 zippsy

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 08:24 AM

I think most agree that subjects should not be manipulated and only one finger on a dead spot.


I'm with you (and the majority) on this.

The Real question as photographers and hopefully conservationists is..... what are you going to do when you see a fellow photog moving a creature or being tough on the reef?????

poke them with a pointer! :)

#19 craig

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 08:30 AM

I'm not sure I see the correlation between setting up a model shot vs prodding a subject to 'pose' correctly.

It depends. There are some people who associate any type of manipulation or setting up of shots with harassment and they look negatively on any type of shot that they deem not 100% natural. There is no correlation between human model shots and poking subjects when it comes to irritating or harassing creatures. There is correlation when it comes to a photographer setting up his shot. Just because harassing or threatening a creature is not something we should endorse does not mean we should reject all forms of staging. We can interact with underwater creatures without harassing them.

Without too much anthropomorphizing, those are the ones which I think this topic is pertinent to.
...
Will it suffer untold mental trauma?
...

What constitutes "mental trauma" in underwater creatures and how does that compare to the constant threat of being eaten? I believe any attempt at determining "mental trauma" is anthropomorphizing too much.

Anyone who tries to coax a critter into a better photographic position knows that irritating or spooking it is counterproductive.

Let's take an example of a benthic octopus. One scientist discover a certain posture that signifies a certain behavior (like annoyance) and prods the test subjects repeatedly to prove it. Then photographers do whatever it takes to get another octopus to get that behavior and hopefully better shots of it. Then someone decides to top the others by pushing it in the water column to get a sunball shot. Then everyone wants that shot. It's suddenly not good to be a benthic octopus. Is it going to bring an end to the species? No. But there may be an AWFUL lot of octopus tossing.

I witnessed just such an octopus spontaneously leap into the water column and I took a (not especially good) shot. Now that shot has been labelled as "manipulated" because some people believe it's the only way to get it. Once I thought the idea of a free-swimming frogfish video was preposterous until it happened to me. I agree that the process that leads to harassment as you describe is a bad thing, though. I blame photographers who want to duplicate the results of others. Much of that is motivated by contests and money.

The other half of harassment problem is that photographers believe they come to know what is natural and what is not and the more experienced the photographer the more convinced he is of his own knowledge. It works both ways too. Some images that are natural will get rejected while others that are manipulated will be defended. It's one of the big reasons I don't like contests. They motivate contestants to do the wrong things and they bring out hubris in photographers and judges alike. Can't we just take nice images and appreciate each other's work?
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#20 cor

cor

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Posted 24 December 2007 - 09:05 AM

Craig, this thread is about manipulation. The reason people generally don't associate posing with manipulation is because it is not manipulation. A posed shot may be organized or otherwise planned, and in that sense you could say it is set up. What you are trying to argue is that manipulation is done to set up a shot as well, and thus posing equals manipulation.

This is incorrect, and basic math. You can not equate the two like that just because they may be subgroups of setting up a photo.

I think people generally don't mind the setting up part of manipulated shots. If you could verbally ask that nudibranch to move over an inch without touching it or scaring it, I think a lot less people would have problems with it. Just like I tell my dog to sit down and then take a picture. It is the touching, prodding and poking part that people have a problem with. (except maybe for some hardcore photojournalist type underwater photographers, but I feel nothing in common with them because I try to create art, not news).

Regards, and happy holidays!

Cor
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