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Sunday, 20 December 2009


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I looked at the shots but the versions on the web are too low resolution to work with. But interestingly in Fraser and Schewe's Sharpening book they mention that Bruce Fraser (IIRC) found a couple of shots of some highlands bull, and identified them as being the same critter by a whisker distribution comparison...heh. The wolf shots could be checked the same way.

Maybe it's a good thing that you stirred up this discussion. Whilst I'm sure most of us would not condone any false attempts to represent a photo as something it isn't, I also feel that many competitions set out to make judgements based on criteria that they can't possibly assess. Remember the two students who intentionally hoaxed the Paris Match competition earlier this year.

In my view, competitions like this are flawed because they try to make judgements based on things they can't determine or verify. It would be better (in my opinion) to restrict judgements to those based on the material that is in front of the panel of judges.

I'm sure it was an honest mistake. He probably thought he wouldn't be caught which was clearly a mistake.

I not an expert nor do I play one on TV but I can see two flaws in the allegation aside from the difference in the right ear mentioned in the article. First, the wolf in the winning photo appears to me to be noticeably leaner than the captive wolf. Second, although there is some similarity in the tree on the right, the rocks on either side of the gate in the winning photo are substantially larger than those in the comparison photo.

The photographer described how he got the photo by putting out meat as bait and slowly accustoming the wolf to the presence of his equipment so the wolf is arguably "trained". Any time you take such steps to manipulate what is going to happen in from of the lens it is not "Truth" in the sense that you captured a random moment uninfluenced by mankind. I don't understand the obsession with such criteria anyway. The reality is there are very few places on the planet where animals live lives totally unaffected by humans and we don't (and won't) have photographs of that because as soon as we inject ourselves we alter their behavior by our presence.

If photography of this kind is about photographing the moment - because once it is gone it is irrecoverable - and there is no 'moment' then it's just kitsch on a wall.

This is a purely personal response. It doesn't bear analysis: It's just how I feel about it.

Funny. This image is remarkable, regardless of how it was made.

I'm always wondering about those "puritans": what do they believe to judge? A contest for the most freaking accident??? If this image had been made of a wild wolf, it would have been the result of extraordinary luck, and it could by definition not be representative for the work of the photographer. It were a once-in-a-lifetime image.

Hmm ... now that I think of it, this is not funny, this is ridiculous. This kind of contest plays down photographic quality. Those judges don't value photography as art, they merely price its curiosity value. How can one be proud of a price awarded for pure luck?

So you're implying that it's okay to lie whenever you think that being required to tell the truth is unreasonable? Or when YOU think it shouldn't matter?

C'mon. This isn't graduate-level ethics we're talking about here. It's kindergarten-level. It's either a wild wolf or it's not. You're supposed to tell. (You AGREE to tell, when entering the contest.) If you say the thing that's not the truth, then you've done wrong. Period.

If you don't like the conditions imposed by the rules of the contest, then don't enter the contest.

Not complicated.


Andreas - To add to what Mike said, the rules of the competition no more involve luck than most other photographic pursuits. Street photography of people show a lot of luck in getting certain expressions and poses. Nature photography shows luck in capturing animal behavior or certain cloud formations. Pretty much any picture not taken in a studio greatly involves luck in some way.

The question then is, did the photographer put in the leg work, have the talent, and have the know-how to have been there and turned the scene into a successful image. That's what the competition aims to judge. Sure, it COULD be one by a 5 year old randomly taking pictures while walking through the woods - but the odds of that are slim-to-none.

And, personally, I've always thought that it should be the nature photograph of the year, not photographer of the year. Otherwise, they should be judging portfolios.

As you mention Kindergarten - I herwith declare that my pictures are of wild humans.

I would add that, even if this photo turns out to be of a legitimate, wild wolf, baiting in a wild predator for a photo is unethical. As they say, "a fed bear is a dead bear."

My impression when I first saw the image, and my impression now again, is something about the image is off to my senses, that the image might be manipulated by other than by ordinary levels, sharpening, etc. It would be interesting to see a high resolution version to pixel peep. The size and attitude of the wolf, the gate, and the context just seem out of proportion to my sense of reality. (Yeah, like I might look at leaping wolves everyday here on the NY/Pennsylvania borderlands.) The light just seems odd too. Frankly, I'd love to be dead wrong.

Apparently, the award will now go to second-place awardee Art Wolfe.

Agree with Mike, it's not complicated.

It's just the same as adjusting a model's shape in photoshop or clonong objects out of frame and then pretending you didn't. BAsically, you are not delivering a print of the projected image.

When politicians do this they call it spin, but the public consider it lying. Same with some photographers.


Oh, sorry. Also meant to say...

What a shame yet another high profile image is called into question for its veracity. Pretty soon no one will trust photography.


The laissez faire attitude in todays culture regarding this issue as well as attribution and copyright is alarming.


The point is, that the contest with its preference for "wild" animals is nonsense, and I wouldn't participate. It's just like contests that require "unedited" images. Some people may get pride out of self-restriction, I see it as unnecessary. That's something everybody has to decide.

As to disclosure, no, of course do I NOT propose to lie. It's morally wrong and normally it's found out anyway. If you choose to submit images to a stupid contest, you should just play by the rules. What I do propose is, to think twice about participating in a contest that favors luck over skill. Just that, nothing more :)

"Luck is the residue of design"

-- Branch Rickey

The picture is a great quality shot, but taken in controlled enviroment.

José Luis Rodríguez is a master in this kind of shots 8trapped with strobes), as you can see in this link to his websise:


Only slightly related to this post, but I've a possibly interesting anecdote.

I visited the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition during a recent trip to London and bought two sets of postcards featuring the winners from 2008 and 2009, 30 postcards in all.

I offered my mostly non-photographer friends their choice of a postcard each and while I've 9 postcards left, the wolf photo, despite being the overall winner in 2009, remains with me.

My opinion of the wolf photo is that aesthetically it wasn't really the best in the show (I prefer "Reflections on fish") and perhaps my friends' choices bear that out. Or simply proves that my friends' tastes are similar to mine.

It's still a wolf jumping over a fence. Just sayin'.

Andreas has it wrong here. The false representation of images of captive animals as photographed in the wild is hugely important in contemporary wildlife photography, for a host of reasons. First and foremost of course is simple ethics; when such photographs are passed off as genuinely captured in the wild, it's no different from writers who falsify their 'memoirs', or journalists who manufacture nonexistent people to make a better story. It degrades the entire field.

Second, wildlife photography is a very distinctive and demanding area of practice. Doing it well requires immense reserves of patience and skill, excellent field-craft, and a deep understanding of the habitat and behavior of the subject. All of this effort merely provides an opportunity; it's still no guarantee of a good photograph. The occasional beautiful image we get is recompense for all that work, along with the satisfaction of time spent in the field. Photographers who work with trained captive animals are precisely analogous to the New York City marathon 'competitor' who took the subway for much of the route; they're cheating.

Finally, there are ethical issues involved in the use of captive animals per se. The vast majority of those spectacular, perfectly sharp, perfectly composed photographs of animals you see in ads are indeed captives shot under tightly controlled circumstances. The same goes for "game farms" catering to wealthy hobbyists. The animal's trainer can get a cougar to make that spectacular leap over and over until the perfect frame has been obtained. But as my ever-astute wife pointed out, "they're no different from circus animals, performing for our amusement". One can debate the propriety of using such animals to sell cars or dog food, but I don't think there's much to debate when it comes to using them as stand-ins for genuinely wild animals.

It's surely true that wild animals are rarely completely unaware of a photographer's presence. There is also an ethical imperative to place the well being of the animal ahead of the notional value of any photograph. However, with care and patience, it's still possible to take beautiful portraits and photographs of genuine wild behavior. Staged images masquerading as genuine stain all of our work.

It is sad that "proof" of the persistence of nature facing human encroachment has to be a fake.

"My impression when I first saw the image, and my impression now again, is something about the image is off to my senses..."

Horses jump fences, canines dig under or step through. I concur, this looked staged from the first and still does, so I'm not suprised in the least he got busted.....

While I totally agree about the "kindergarten ethic" issue (nobody should ever deliberately lie), I can't help thinking about the nature itself of any kind of statement (photography being only one).
As in science, the relationship between the observer and the observed phenomenon often implies some kind of "change" in the latter. Not to mention the choice of what should be included in the statement (the framed picture) and what shouldn't. No nature photographer ever shows the tricks he legitimately uses to get the right shot (baites, decoys, sensors, camouflaged equipment, whatever...) even in a real wildlife environnement.
Truth is that there is no such thing as a "literal" statement (photograph). We must accept that any of them is based on a subjective point of view and a subjective way to express it; as well as it will be gathered by every individual according to his subjective understandings, experience and opinions.


Cheeky bugger is still very proud of his stolen award!...

Another very similar photo by the same author can be found here: http://www.wild-wonders.com/photo_competition_winners.asp?month=2&year=2009&cat=EWW&age=18+&show=3

It's shot with different camera (Nikon D2X while the BBC winner was shot with Hasselblad 503CW with a 6x6 Fujichrome backing) and the lightning is also different. The fact that the photo was repeatable is an argument in favour of controlled conditions, but does not prove it though.

Andreas said:
"What I do propose is, to think twice about participating in a contest that favors luck over skill."

The harder I work at my craft (or whatever), the luckier I get.

As to the Spanish photographers who said they were "concerned about the reputation of Spanish photography," I see this as nothing whatsoever to do with Spanish photography. It's the work (misrepresented or otherwise) of one individual. In fact, taking the nationalist approach to their revelations, if true, smacks of sour grapes to me.

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