To Tell or Not to Tell, That is the Question

November 06, 2015  •  5 Comments

To tell or not to tell, that is the question Wildlife Photographers have to deal with on a regular basis and of course I am talking about giving away their wildlife location spots. Last weekend there was a post on Facebook from a young lady which stated

"Rant of the day!!!!
Why oh why do people, mainly strangers, think they have the God damn right to ask where you have photographed a certain animal/bird & not even politely either. Often the question is "Where???", no please, thank you or even liking or commenting on the photo posted. So rude!! Politeness goes a long way in my book.
Do your own research or sit for many hours like a lot of us do & don't expect it handed on a plate. I'm usually very approachable & quite happy to tell people, as long as there is no danger to the animal/bird or its habitat, but I've had enough of this rudeness. I spend more time answering these strangers than anything else. Well, not anymore
Rant over!!!"


Quite a few years ago I was listening to a speaker and looking at his photos at our camera club. Within his set of photos he had a wonderful one of a Barn Owl in flight. At the end of his talk I went up to him and asked him where he had taken the photo of the owl. He replied in Norfolk. As that didn't really answer my question I asked him where in Norfolk and he replied in a field in North Norfolk. After this non-answer I thanked him and walked off a bit miffed. I thought to myself, why didn't he just tell me where he had taken the photo. A couple of weeks after that our club had a competition, I had entered an image of a Puffin with Sandeels in it's beak and I noticed a woman had entered an image of some Otters. Afterwards the woman came up to me and asked where I had taken my photo and I informed her of the exact location. I then asked her where she had taken hers and I never got a reply. I found out afterwards that it was taken in a confined space on "wildlife" photography workshop so I would not have been interested anyway, but it just shows some people tell and some don't. Thinking about these incidents, what is the point of telling people where you took the photo. It could be that the image was taken years ago and the wildlife might have died of old age since then also just because it was there in a certain field at a certain time does not mean it will be there again tomorrow or the next day or even the next month it could have just been passing through. Wildlife does what it wants and is so unpredictable but that's why when you get a good photo of wildlife it gives you a really good feeling.

So why do people ask wildlife photographers where did you take "that" photo, it is all down to humans being a lazy species. Please don't try and tell me you're not because all humans are lazy and try to take short cuts whenever they can. From walking on the grass when there is a perfectly good path but it is a step or two longer. To not even bothering to write out the full question on Facebook, see quote above, which should read "I like your photo of "such and such" please could you tell me where it was taken so that I can try and achieve a similar image?"

As I mentioned in a previous blog there are several ways to take photos of wildlife that are free. The easiest way is just going out with your camera equipment and photographing anything you come across which is a bit hit and miss. The hardest way or the way with the most amount of work for a wildlife photographer is to think about a wildlife subject, spending quite a bit of time researching your subject and carrying out reconnaissance of a particular area the subject you're after inhabits and then going out and photographing the wildlife you're after. Being lazy I wonder which one of these ways most humans do. This is why a lot of people are prepared to go and pay a lot of money to photograph certain wildlife at these "wildlife" hides. This is the hypocritical part that I don't understand, people will work overtime to pay for things that they can do for free, I say free because all it would cost is time. These days, due to the popularity of wildlife photography, there are hides for nearly every kind of wildlife you can think of from Kingfishers to Foxes. I'm not saying these are bad because the owner of the hides has done all the work for you and needs to make a living and pay for all the food he/she uses to entice the wildlife to the hide. But it is a sad fact because the people who get their "wildlife" photos this way and asking wildlife photographers for the locations of their shots are missing out on an enormous part of true wildlife photography. The immense feeling of accomplishment I get when I have put a lot of work and effort in and finally get my wildlife photograph that I'm after cannot be put into words. When I say I have put in a lot of work, most of the work is done on the internet or reading books at home. When I say effort I mean going out meeting and talking to people and carrying out reconnaissance of an area. Anybody could do this, like I said all it does is take time.

So I go back to the question "To tell or not to tell?" Sometimes I will tell if a person asks politely, it was taken from an area where the general public are allowed and I will also assist them in getting their photo whether it be by stating how I got the shot or equipment I used or even time of day and exact location, that's the teacher coming out of me as I want to teach and help people. But like I said earlier even if I do tell it still does not mean that the wildlife is still there also there is still a lot of work for the photographer to do to get a photograph, like camera equipment, focus, exposure, composition, light, background etc. Other times, especially if I'm still photographing in that area or it's on private land that only I have got permission to go on or I'm not 100% convinced that the person will not endanger the wildlife, I won't tell.

The bottom line is if you learn to do all the work and put lots of effort into your photography you will reap the rewards with better photographs and utter contentment because you know you did it all. If you don't do it all then it is a bit like cheating in an exam, yes you get the pass but in the back of your mind you will always have this doubt that gets bigger with time that it was not all your own work and without cheating then you would never have got the pass. This is your conscience at work and it works in different ways for different people. Therefore before asking the question people should think, if I did all that work to get a particular photograph would I give the answer away for nothing also, if I didn't ask the question and got a photograph then it would be all my own work and I will feel really good about it. So the next time you are talking to a wildlife photographer, THINK!


Steve Williams(non-registered)
The question of “ where was that picture taken” is not restricted to wildlife photography but also to landscape photography, and it can be argued that the latter requires similar research, planning and time to achieve results of a high standard. However there is one significant difference and that is the welfare of the wildlife, which is the paramount consideration when divulging locations, etc.

I am happy to share locations, etc with individuals who I know and trust to also put the welfare of the wildlife first, which means I do not divulge to just anyone.

With regards to technical advice about cameras, lenses, tripods, etc then I think one can freely show what you use, and can recommend generic examples, such what to look for in a sturdy tripod or monopod rather than advocating a specific brand. Techniques for getting the best out of equipment are also very useful. I am very grateful to Robin for spending time explaining how to use the back button focusing technique to separate the act of autofocusing the camera from the actual exposure. ( is a good tutorial on this valuable technique).

One more point: Often I photograph from publicly accessible observation hides on nature reserves and I have confidence that those managing these reserves have considered the welfare aspects when setting up access to these public facilities. However, just because they are publicly accessible one should not forget the basics of fieldcraft and should not disturb the wildlife in the area. In addition I use the established paths into and around the nature reserves and do not stray off them.
Maria French(non-registered)
Well written Robin, glad I could be of assistance in this instance
Colin Mucklow(non-registered)
Robin I could not agree with you more to tell or not to tell.

As you know I have only been doing this for just over 12 months and I do all of my own research. I go out and about every day looking for and watching different species of birds.

As you are aware I post my wild birds on FB and one of the questions I often get asked is where did you take it and what camera and lens do you use. I have actually got to that point where I am no longer going to answer the question. The only time I will answer the question is when someone puts a comment on my photo whether positive or negative and then asks where I took the photo and what equipment etc.

I always try and be polite and courteous but as you know you need a lot of patience, time and a bit of luck!
Adrian O'Brien(non-registered)
Interesting post Robin.

There are many things to be considered when you answer the question 'where did you take that?' If I show you a photo of a black fox you might be asking just to find out where I found such strange colouring or you could be looking to get there and out do my photo. If I am arrogant enough I will tell you exactly where and what time he appears because I know you can't out do me. However if I am insecure and think I am a bad photographer I will just say Germany (for example as I have never seen a black fox) and let you do the rest of the work.

Some people want to help. As you say you share all your settings. You also maintain a blog. You are by nature a teacher and want to help others. Some people just assume that the questioner is trying to take the easy way out an skip all the hard work and get their back up. Then they refuse to say anything. Others are just scared to admit that their work wasn't as perfect as you imagine it to be.

There is a lot of hard work goes into getting any shot but as you say people are lazy. They try the shortcuts. The thing is though you can tell them where, when and how but their shot will never turn out as good because the foundation isn't there.

I am of the tell persuasion but only to those who deserve the info.
Dave Dimmock(non-registered)
Interesting update Robin and an interesting question.Like you I rely on patience, research, fieldcraft and luck apart from occasional visits to reserves where the habitat has been created and wildlife occurs and behaves naturally. I will share knowledge with trusted friends, as they share their knowledge with me, some are just birders and it has taken time to gain trust as there can be enmity between them and photographers. True wildlife photographers are just the same as birders, the welfare of the subject is paramount. Keep up the good work!
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