The respect with which we treat wildlife – whether it is a charismatic and emblematic species like the Jaguar, the common or under-appreciated backyard denizens, or even vilified pest species – our treatment is a reflection of us and our values. Nature, though wild, is a looking glass through which we can gaze upon our own humanity, a mirror to our human nature. Ethics is a contentious and complicated subject, full of pitfalls and paradoxes, logical fallacies and fabrications. The ‘right’ course of action is often mutable, subject to situation and current social mores which not only differ from country to country, but from one year to the next with the emergence or reversal of scientific data.
My stance on the matter, in brief, is transparency. Allow anyone viewing the photo to determine for themselves whether the ‘ethical specs’ of the photo align with their own personal standards by detailing the ‘behind the scenes’ treatment of the subject.
The symbols displayed below, or any variant thereof constitutes what I am calling “Ethical Exif” or EE. Whilst EXIF information denotes the technical details of a photograph (aperture, shutter, ISO, flash fire, lens used, etc…) and are present as metadata embedded in the photo, the EE is meant to clarify the Ethical standards used in the taking of the photo. The elements which I have identified as being both relevant and important are as follows:
1) 🄷 – Health injury/stress levels (scale 1-9 with ☠️, the death of subject, substituting for 10)
2) 📷 – in situ
3) 🖐- Subject Manipulation (either in the field or in a studio) *Updated 03/07/2018 to replace 📸)*
4) ⏳ – time in captivity
5) 👣 – Translocation (Capture, transport and release of a subject from one location to another)
6) 🎨 – Use of cloning or extensive post processing
7) ↺ – Image rotation
8) – Playback (Used primarily in bird photography, the science is currently inconclusive as to the long-term impacts on behaviour)
The health scale uses the following criteria to determine the numerical 🄷 value:
🄷1 – Subject is unaware of the photographer’s presence, engages in normal, undisturbed activity.
🄷2 – Subject is aware of photographer’s presence but either ignores, or is habituated to photographer’s presence, and engages in normal behaviour.
🄷3 – Subject is aware of photographer’s presence and modifies its behaviour as a result (no immediate physical harm).
🄷4 – Photographer engages with the subject Eg. Manipulation of position, translocation to a studio environment, etc. but with no physical evidence of damage to the subject.
🄷5 – Defensive stress response Eg. Striking/defensive gaping
🄷6 – Physiological response affecting an individual’s short-term loss of fitness Eg. vomiting, tonic immobility.
🄷7 – Physiological response affecting an individual’s medium-term loss of fitness Eg. Thanatosis (loss of limbs or digits), physical damage (recoverable)
🄷8 – Immediate catatonia or unresponsiveness with manipulation, long-term loss of fitness – Revival and partial recovery after care and stress free environment are provided.
🄷9 – Immediate unresponsiveness with manipulation, partial revival but with permanent loss of fitness.
☠️ – Death of subject
EE takes the form of a watermark because despite being intrusive, the watermark ensures that the message will remain intact regardless of the platform, and unlike a caption, which can become divorced from its image through sharing, and image copying, the watermark continues to provide some indication of methods of production, as well as provenance. Furthermore, it will come as no surprise that the current means of ingesting media content (Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) encourages clicking without thinking. This means that captions often go unread, and that a photo is evaluated based solely on its aesthetic, rather than its message. EE therefore attempts bridge this gap and imbue the image with information related to its creation. Ultimately, the watermark is meant to remove the obstacle and the excuse of ignorance.
This EE has already evolved within a short period of time through several iterations. The story of the origin of Ethical Exif can be read here. The use of Emojis is useful to:
a) Enable a near universal understanding or inference of most of the symbols and their meaning where language may be a barrier
b) allow a shorthand notation where space is limited
c) Allow multi-platform explanation eg. Twitter (limited to 140 characters)
d) Save time for the photographer when applying EE to their photos
Though one might perhaps strive for unobtrusiveness with a watermark, as is traditionally the case with signature identifiers, the purpose of EE is to convey information. Therefore it should be applied in a consistent, predictable and clear manner. To that end, I have opted to standardize the watermark’s position (top left), opacity (25), Scale (25), Colour (White or Black, depending on the background), and Font (Century).
This watermarked EE will be found on all of my most recent photos, with further expansion and explanation (when 🄷 value exceeds🄷3) to be found within the caption, like the parrot snake photo introducing this section.
Please contact me at Rainforestsphotography@gmail.com if you would like to adopt this standard with respect to your own photography.
Additional links to ethical discussions can be found below: