During my time at Nottingham University we had several photographic trips around the country. Some of these were landscape orientated, some all about science and some offered the opportunity to photograph animals up close and personal. And I mean up close....
Trips to The British Wildlife Centre (above) and The International Centre for Birds of Prey offered a unique chance to look at some spectacular animals in incredible detail. The keepers at both sites are extremely accommodating and bring out lots of their animals for closer looks, enabling shots that would take an age and a half to plan and carry out in the wild.
Specific photographer days at the BWC enable access into the animal enclosures. This enables you to take photos within a natural environment, a fox in its natural habitat for instance. An awesome opportunity it might be, but you can't help but feel like you're cheating! It's a little too easy, a little too structured and a little too predictable. Even with the increasing confidence of Urban Foxes, you'd struggle to find one that would feel comfortable coming this close to people in the wild, so no matter how natural a scene it may look, it is in fact a very unnatural scenario.
The plus side to these kinds of opportunities is of course the chance for a different shot. A change of perspective for a well known species. Something you wouldn't think possible in the big wide wild...
And if photographs like this are taken in captivity it takes away the need for close up, human disturbance in the wild, so who's to say thats a bad thing?
Another positive of taking photographs in captivity is the chance to practise and hone your skills. The ICBP fly their birds of prey in falconry displays and this offers a fantastic opportunity for target practise with fast moving subjects. If you're able to sort out what preference you have for your focusing, and settings in a place where the birds are repeatedly flown in front of you, giving ample opportunity to try out different options, you're much less likely to panic in the wild should the chance come along.
In my dissertation book on the conservation of species in Scotland, I certainly utilised the opportunity to get portrait shots of a couple of species that would be nigh on impossible in the wild. For instance I had flight shots of wild White-tailed Eagle taken in Scotland, but to accompany that I used this portrait I took at the ICBP to depict the detail. Rightfully captioned as captive and used to accompany wild shots I felt it only added to my piece on the species.
Is it creatively cheating or cheating creativity? Who knows! I'll let you make up your own mind.
Either way as long as you don't try and fool your audience into thinking the subject is something it is not, then I can't see it being too much of a problem.
I shall leave you with this, a Spectacled Owl at the ICBP, one of my favourite subjects at the place, and when it closes its eyes, I'm pretty sure it turns into a Furby....