Juvenile Swainson’s Hawk (and a question of photographic ethics)

What we see in an image isn’t always what the photographer really captured.


swainson's hawk 8771 more cloning ron dudley

1/1000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM @ 400mm, not baited, set up or called in

This is one of the two juvenile Swainson’s Hawks I photographed about a month ago near Monida, Montana. I was using my 100-400mm zoom lens so the image quality isn’t quite up to the standards of my 500mm prime but I like the shot because of the nice head turn, the flared tail and the look at the under-wing plumage patterns. I also enjoy the partially extended alula (bastard wing) on each wing (more about the alula here if you’re interested).

But this isn’t everything I saw through my lens…



swainson's hawk 8771 cloned ron dudley

The hawk was actually taking off from the cross beam of a power pole which I cloned out in the first version of the image. The pole with its attendant metal hardware isn’t particularly attractive and some may wish that it wasn’t there.

But this still isn’t an “honest” image…




swainson's hawk 8771 ron dudley

The bird was actually only taking off to fly a very short distance to land on the insulator you see to the left. I cloned out that insulator and the wire leading to it in both previous versions of the image.


Photoshop and other editing software makes it relatively easy to remove, add or change elements in an image but is it ethical or honest to do so? Many would unequivocally say no. Some take the position that if you disclose what you’ve done it’s ok. Others say that as long as you don’t alter the bird (subject) anything’s fair, whether it’s disclosed or not. And some are of the opinion that any cloning (other than removing dust spots, etc.) is unethical and dishonest – most nature photography competitions take this position.

I have my own opinion (one that has evolved slightly over time) but I’m curious what my readers think. Which of these versions of the same image do you prefer? And how much manipulation is ethical, if any? And does disclosure of manipulation make a difference in what is ethical and what isn’t?

Please don’t feel any pressure to answer my questions but if you have an opinion and would care to share it I’d certainly be interested and I suspect others would be too.




Great Blue Heron In Flight

This image has a simplicity that I like – just a bird in flight against a gray, monochromatic background.


great blue heron 0956 ron dudley1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

I was photographing shorebirds in a pond about six weeks ago at Bear River MBR when this Great Blue Heron flew by unexpectedly so all I had time to do was raise my lens and fire. I was able to get eleven images of the bird that I liked well enough to keep and this is one of my favorites. There were dark clouds (and possibly smoke) in the background but I had good light on the heron and I like that contrast.

I don’t post Great Blue Heron images as often as I should. They’re common, they’re large slow-moving fliers so they’re relatively easy to photograph in flight and they’re one of the most commonly photographed birds so I may have unconsciously discriminated against them in the past.

Today’s post is an effort to partially make amends.