Robin Stanbridge Photography | To Bait or Not to Bait for Wildlife Photography, That is the Question.

To Bait or Not to Bait for Wildlife Photography, That is the Question.

March 04, 2016  •  1 Comment

Once again I am sitting on the bank of the river Tamar in Devon waiting for an Otter to come into my view so I can photograph it. I have been here for three hours now and I hope I have got some great photos on my CF card but none of an otter. The photos I have taken are of a singing Dunnock and a Treecreaper drinking but I will have to wait until I transfer them on to my desktop computer before I can really tell if they are good enough to keep. The screen at the rear of the camera is alright to check if I have got the correct exposure, by using the histogram, but I need to see it on my computer monitor to really tell if it is sharp.


On Friday I was out with my wife and dog walking on Dartmoor in Devon and stopped to watch a dipper for about an hour. Yesterday, Saturday, I was also out with my camera on Dartmoor, 2 days this weekend just because the weather is great yee ha, after the dipper. It took a while to find it again but whilst looking I took some photos of Yellowhammers and a Wren having a drink from the river’s edge. It looks like one of those reflection pool images except that the water is moving as it’s a river. That's typical wildlife photography, you go after one thing and because wildlife does its own thing you end up getting something else but please don't think I am moaning because I love the unpredictability of wildlife photography.


It is unpredictable unless you bait the area for the wildlife you are after. This is not as easy as you think because the wildlife you are after still has to be in the area, you can’t just bait anywhere. Using bait to get wildlife photographs seems to be quite a hot topic on Facebook for the last few months although it has been done for years. Wildlife photographers have tried to “con” (and I don’t mean this badly as there might be no other way to get the image) viewers into believing that their photographs have been taken after days, months or even years of hard work just to get the image, this includes big TV companies. Remember the big “hoo ha” about the BBC filming a Polar Bear giving birth ( in Frozen Planet, Do you really think that a photographer was inside the den in the Arctic with the bears!


To bait or not to bait that is the question? Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer, sorry I was off at a tangent there, back to the topic. Also what is baiting? To cut to the chase I do bait, well when I say I bait I put out seed for birds in my garden, but then again I bet every wildlife photographer does, especially bird photographers, because they love wildlife. Putting seed out in my garden is the limit of my baiting and whatever you think, it is baiting. The seed is replenished when the feeders are empty and the feeders are out all year. The way I look at it is that I give nature a helping hand and nature repays me by giving me photo opportunities and showing me a wonderful spectacle. Another form of baiting that is carried out by others is throwing bread out for birds, Hedgehogs, Badgers, Foxes etc. and then taking photos of them eating, coming to the food or their antics. It might be bread but then again I have seen various food stuffs from chicken to curry thrown out for wildlife. Yet another form is collecting roadkill and using that as bait for Buzzards, Eagles, foxes etc. Recently Winterwatch on the BBC had a dead Deer put out on a mountainside to entice wildlife and they were rewarded with a fight between a fox and a golden eagle which was filmed for the viewers to see ( Other instances are of, I believe, dead mice being nailed to a post to entice a Sparrowhawk. It was nailed there to stop the Sparrowhawk flying off with it to its usual killing post so it could be filmed. Some people place Pigeons out like this in their garden and peg them down so again the Sparrowhawk does not fly off with the bait. (Before I go any further let me reassure you that the photos on my website of a Sparrowhawk killing a pigeon was not baited. I saw the strike, grabbed my camera and clicked away, pure luck).


I can partly understand why people do all of the above and there are several reasons but I bet the biggest reason they do it is because they cannot or will not put the time in to get the photo without baiting in other words they will not wait. The sad thing is that if they did wait nature would show them other things that might not have been photographed by other wildlife photographers. Take, for instance, what happened to me last weekend, if I had baited the area for the otter and it appeared I might have got some good images of the otter eating my bait. But I can easily do this at feeding time at my local zoo and tell everyone it was taken in the wild. That's great but: -

1, You know it was not real.

2, When did you see a mackerel swim in rivers! I mention mackerel as a bait option for an example. So you have to think about the bait you use and see if it fits the surroundings to keep the image wild” and if it is the correct food for the wildlife. Baits used quite a bit are jam sandwiches and chocolate for Pine martins and foxes. Not including Easter egg hunts or the mad hatter’s tea party, where in the wild do you find these!

3, You might be concentrating so much on the baited area for the otter that you miss the singing dunnock or the wren having a drink which would be a great shame.


The problem with using bait is that the wildlife can get accustomed to it and when you stop baiting, because you got your photo, the wildlife has to look for food elsewhere. This might be fine in the summer when there is plenty around but in the winter it could cause all sorts of problems including the wildlife dying of starvation. Some of the baits used above I have no problem with. What baits I do have a problem with, is using wildlife, either alive or killed on purpose, to get photos of other wildlife. Putting live fish in a tank just to get a photo of a diving kingfisher, killing a rodent just to get a photo of an Owl attack, putting a Rabbit and a fox in a fenced grassed off area just to get a photo of one killing the other etc. I also do have a problem with putting wildlife in danger just to get a photo. There was an incident recently of a Cheetah being killed by Lions because photographers in their landrover got in the way, just because they wanted a close-up, and the cheetah could not escape. My main rule and it should be every wildlife photographers main rule is the welfare of the subject always comes first before any photograph in other words if our presence is worrying or disturbing the wildlife forget the photograph and get back out of the way. Another instance of, in my mind, stupidity happened during a wildlife photography workshop in America when, after being told to stay back by their tutor, people tried to get a close-up of a Black bear using their camera phones!!! Don’t just think this happens in America there are unbelievable situations happen in every country, just watch YouTube.


On a different note the coppicing of a few trees on my land has begun and I must admit I do not like it because I don't like felling trees, not the work just the destroying of the habitat. I must keep thinking to myself that it will be better in the end for the fauna and flora. At the moment I have only been using a bow saw even on trees of about 18 feet long, which is about 6 metres in new money, and trunks of 7 or 8 inches in diameter, that's 175mm to 200mm, I'll have to buy a chainsaw for the bigger ones.


Finally over the last couple of weeks my blog has given you a glimpse of my post processing workflow ( ( The first thing I mentioned in that workflow was that I crop to get the composition I want. So for the next few weeks I will be delving into the art of composition which, I believe, is one of the hardest things to learn but well worth the effort learning it.


Malcolm Hupman(non-registered)
Excellent advice and very thought provoking. I look forward to your next installment. Thank you for posting.
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