This area is for general discussion on Birds and Birding.
We wonder about the ethics and impact of flash photography in birding. Does the flash sometimes frighten the subject into flight before looking where it is going?
Here is a site about impact on photographing owls at night, where their vision is impaired for some time depending on the number of times the flash was used.

How about some input?
Regards Bruce and Joanne
By Guy L. Monty
I don't think it's a good idea, but that's just my opinion. With owls, it's definitely not a good idea.
By daddyhominum
presents some expert opinion on using flash.

The last,summary, paragraph states:

"Cell phone and radio towers, feral animals, air and water pollution, automobiles, and habitat reduction may be issues of much greater importance confronting bird and animal subjects than any temporary vision changes associated with the use of flash in dim or dark light. By limiting our nighttime use of flash and using fill-flash primarily to enhance ambient light photography, we hope to produce images of animal and bird subjects that will increase public awareness and appreciation of nature subjects. By calling attention to the importance of maintaining a diverse population of birds and animals on this planet, we may ultimately be able to improve the survival and quality of life of the subjects photographed."
By StephenS
I agree entirely with the Naturescapes article. I have done very little flash work on birds, not because of any great moral divide but because of the fear of spooking my subjects and the lack of good opportunities to do so. Few photographers would chance the whole shoot for a single frame, and if the bird was startled, that would be the last frame you'd be likely to get.

High intensity flash probably would temporarily distrupt the bird's ability to see, particularly at night. But daytime fill flash is no more intense (and probably less so) than the glint of the sun on water. I have used fill flash on rare occasion on Anna's hummingbirds, pileated woodpeckers and a cooper's hawk and the birds didn't even seem to notice. None flew off or altered their head positions after the flash. Conceded that this is merely empirical, anecdotal evidence but it was convincing for me.

Most fauna are more greatly endangered by habitat destruction and climate change than the activities of birdwatchers. If images of the quality of those published here by Glen Bartley are viewed more widely, perhaps there is a chance of preserving a vestige of the habitat of such birds if people realize that there is indeed something of value being lost.

Just my 2 cents worth . . .
By Guy L. Monty
My problem with it lies more in altering the subjects behavior, than in actually causing direct injury. Birds which are not eating, are birds which are in trouble. Human interference in daily routines is becoming a major conservation issue for some species, right up there with habitat loss. The author of the posted link obviously fails to understand this.

I strongly disagree with the idea that photos used to promote awareness of birds justifies endangering the subject to begin with. There are many ways to raise awareness of nature, without destroying it.

I also strongly disagree that fill flashes do not cause any changes in any subjects behavior, as I have personally witnessed the opposite. I'm not saying that it is never justified, or that it always causes problems. I'm saying that I personally don't think it's a good idea, and wish that others would seriously consider the potential effects (especially the cumulative ones) before doing it.

Having recently watched photographers deliberately flushing roosting owls to get them to fly to more convenient areas for photography, or making noises or throwing things at sleeping birds so that they can get face shots, as well as watching photographers using flashes without any care at all for the subjects well being, I no longer post any of my sightings of some species sought after by photographers. In particular, I no longer publicly post any sightings of Owls, which are likely to be chased and harassed by unethical photographers. Having said that, I do know many photographers that I trust implicitly, and if I know that they are seeking a certain species, I'm more than happy to help them locate it.

I would also mention that there are growing numbers of birders who have ceased posting their sightings of rare, endangered, or nesting species to public forums due to an increase in the number of unethical photographers seeking such birds. I think this has more to do with affordable camera equipment and a public which refuses to understand the needs of other creatures, than anything else.
By StephenS
There is a big difference between fill flash and throwing things. There is a "nature" photographer who is somewhat infamous for clearing nice sight and light paths to nesting rare birds, then leaving them after his photos are done with the likely result that the nesters are exposed to predators. Whether he was using flash or not was irrelevant.

I watched photographers trampling around the Delta foreshore chasing snowy owls a couple of years ago too - nearly stepping on one cluster of owls in their haste to get to another. They weren't using flash.

There is a difference, in my view, between responsible people and those who are not. That extends, in particular, to photographers who are tempted to approach the subject too closely to get that great shot.

In my view, avian photography is still something that can be done responsible, but it takes patience, skill and a heavy investment in very long lenses - 500mm at a minimum. I agree that part of the problem is the ubiquity of affordable, medium telephoto gear.
By Guy L. Monty
I agree with you Stephen. I wasn't suggesting that any of these other issues implicitly involved using flashes, but rather pointing out the problem of cumulative negative effects.
If a person is shooting bird photos in a patch that no one else ever visits, then they can likely get away with more disturbance of the subject without any dire effects, than if that person is the 50th photographer to approach the bird in a day. At places like Reiffel, or with birds like Snowy or Short-eared owls that sit right out in the open adjacent to busy walking trails, the rules have to be tightened up a bit, and one should restrain oneself in causing any disturbance at all.
By revs
StephenS wrote:In my view, avian photography is still something that can be done responsible, but it takes patience, skill and a heavy investment in very long lenses - 500mm at a minimum. I agree that part of the problem is the ubiquity of affordable, medium telephoto gear.
not bashing you StephenS because a number of people have that same perception but digiscoping achieves much the same result as that "heavy investment in very long lenses", only no one ever wants to talk about that alternative for some reason.
By StephenS
I didn't mean to bash digiscopes. I don't have much experience with them so it didn't occur to me to include them.
By revs
StephenS wrote:I didn't mean to bash digiscopes. I don't have much experience with them so it didn't occur to me to include them.
it's cool Stephen,
i'm just overly sensitive and suffer somewhat from DSLR envy :P
By revs
I always enjoy reading Guy's comments and am particularly interested in this subject because Audy has been using a flash unit (w/ diffuser) for the last few months to flash fill.
believe me when i say that i have been watching birds reactions to flash and the last thing either of us would want to do is compromise a bird in order to get a shot.

i can only imagine what a bird must think when the "pros" set up their multiple flash units all in order to get a more "natural" shot :lol:
By howzit
What a great topic.
It's very difficult to fully comprehend what effect, if any, that flash has on the birds' behavioral and anxiety level. I know when I take a flash picture of my small dog, he just blinks - but then he's comfortable in the surroundings that the flash is occurring...
I don't think there is a difference in whether you are fill-flashing with one flash or several; the amount of light for a correctly exposed image will be the same.
The question is - are we adversly affecting the bird's health, safety or ability to reproduce? If the flash photog is taking place in your backyard, at the feeder, etc. I suppose the birds, if bothered, will choose a different location to feed - but if this is happening at a nesting site, then that is a totally different matter.
No easy answers here I'm afraid.
By StephenS
I agree entirely howzit - but I would only add that the flash may not add much stress to the situation at a nesting site. Having a well intentioned birder barge in close to a nest for a better look is likely to be just as stressful as a similarly attired photographer at the same distance.

Of course if the photographer is flashing away close up it will make a huge difference to an already apprehensive bird. But if the photographer is a long way away, with a long lens or digiscope, I doubt that a flash will make much difference unless it is dusk or dark and the flash is used as more than fill flash.
By Guy L. Monty
Do we fully understand how a flash unit, no matter how it is used, interacts with a creature who sees in a completely different light spectum than we do? As we have just begun to understand how these creatures "see", I doubt it. This is yet another reason to use moderation, and to pay attention to how the bird is reacting to your activity.

As to general disturbance, I have watched people using flashes to photograph birds. Sometimes it causes a reaction in the birds, and sometimes it doesn't. If it does, then the photography should be limited. In my experience, it often isn't. I have watched people at Reifel spend hours taking hundreds of photos of the same individual bird. That I have a problem with. It's probably analogous to pishing. It's not wrong to pish, but you have to take a lot of things into consideration, and continually ask yourself whether or not you are putting the bird at risk through your behavior. Again, we go back to how much cumulative disturbance there is.

At most nests, the goal is zero disturbance, so I find it pretty hard to justify any deliberate activity that causes any disturbance at all. In most of the rest of the world, nest photography is strongly discouraged, and many nature and birding publications and websites are enforcing this by refusing to print or display any image of nesting birds. That's a hard line stance, but it does make some sense.

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