Phony wildlife photos proliferate in magazines
Among other outdoor organizations I belong to is the Audubon Society. Their excellent magazine, Audubon, has an article in the March-April 2010 issue about the extensive use of phony wildlife photos. I had been vaguely aware that many wildlife photos, movies, and TV programs were staged, including some very famous movies, but I had not been aware of how pervasive it is.
The author, Ted Williams, starts off describing his visit to a game farm in northwestern Montana that runs programs for photographers who want to get closeup photographs of wolves, mountain lions, and other wildlife, but do not have the patience or want to spend the time suffering in the cold and wet to get the real wild animals.
During his visit, he and his photographer companion were able to shoot many images of two beautiful and healthy lions and two beautiful and healthy wolves. These animals had no scars and no twigs embedded in their fur. They posed like models against a background of snow-covered peaks.
Even major nature-oriented magazines and movie studios have and still use such animal "models," while not labeling them as such. Sometimes the magazine is unaware until afterward that the photo is of a "captive animal." Audubon itself included a photo in its November-December 2009 issue of a cougar from the Animals of Montana game farm, though their policy is to never knowingly use such photos (they use a photo of an Arctic fox to illustrate giveaway clues to such photos — tail with a just-shampooed look, dense fur on the back of the neck among other clues).
The practice isn't new. "Wild Kingdom" (original series 1968-1988) and "Dangerous Encounters" (2005-present) are two TV programs that have been accused of regularly using staged scenes, with "Wild Kingdom" allegedly going so far as to throw a mountain lion in a river to film it going over a waterfall.
In the more distant past, a number of Disney wildlife films used staged scenes, though Roy Disney, current head of the company, has pushed major efforts to eliminate such practices. A friend of mine was a cinematographer for Disney and told me about 40 years ago of some of the things they then did to entice wild animals to do things that would look good in the films, like putting out bait to attract the animals.
Nowadays, you can find ads for some of the game farms in Outdoor Photographer magazine, while the North American Nature Photography Association distributes ads to its members for the game farms and arranged photo shoots.
Efforts are being made by a number of the nature publications, including National Geographic, National Wildlife, and others to make sure they are not publishing "captive animal" photographs as natural images, and if any such photos are used, labeling them clearly as such.
I guess I feel a lot better about those photos of lions I posted here on Trailspace with scars and grass in their manes. Those were real live wild lions, giraffes, elephants, and birds, not posed, neatly coiffed models. They may not be as pretty and "picture perfect," and they may not be airbrushed and thoroughly Photoshopped. But I have the satisfaction of having caught them really in the wild.
Editor's Note: Starting March 15, Trailspace members will have the chance to show off their unstaged pictures of wildlife, landscape, and outdoorsy people in the first annual Trailspace photo contest. No baiting (of people or animals) allowed.