Skip to main content

The main reason I engage in nature photography is my deep reverence and empathy for wildlife, and my fervent wish to effect conservation of wild creatures and habitat. I seek to both move and educate viewers and lead them to positive action with conservation impact.

Given my motivations and aims, I know that my photography practices must reflect my commitment to honor all wild life.

All of Melissa’s photographs are taken in the wild (unless otherwise captioned), without any baiting, playback, or lures of any kind (excepting her backyard bird feeder). She doesn’t’ believe that wild animals should ever have to perform for a photo. She tries her best to disrupt her subjects as little as possible, and places the welfare of the animal first.

Before I head Out

Just by being out in nature, I disturb animals. It is incumbent on me to arm myself with knowledge that will help to lessen that disturbance. That means knowing how the animals I set out to photograph nest or den, forage/hunt, feed, rest, and raise young. These are their critical life processes and I want to avoid interfering with those.

I learn the behaviors of the animals I expect to encounter, including vocalizations, that signify alarm or stress. I study the ecosystem, and learn what features of the landscape are useful to the animals that live there, for concealment, protection from the elements, food.

What are their predators, and how do their predators learn of them? Will my presence, or sign of my presence after I leave, be an alert to those predators? These are all things I consider, as surely as the settings on my camera.

My overarching principle is: Keep Wild Animals Wild. I know from extensive research and observation, that that’s the most responsible and the kindest thing I can do for any wild animal. This is especially true when it comes to predatory animals like owls, wolves, foxes, coyotes, for whom habituation to humans is often a death sentence.

These rules also apply to any photo tour I lead.

In The Field

My stance as a photographer is more passive than active. I try to blend into the environment as much as I can, often using pop-up blinds, or my car as a blind. I prefer to let animals wander near if they feel comfortable, though I will attempt a very cautious and slow approach while continuously reading behavior if the situation feels appropriate.

If I am approaching, I gather information on baseline behavior from afar as much as possible, before moving in closer. That way I can gauge what an animal is doing without feeling stressed by me, and so I know if behavior significantly deviates from that baseline as I move in. Sometimes I simply have to leave, if it’s apparent an animal will not accept me being within its environs. Perhaps I’ve been too noisy, or ventured too close, and I’ve caused the animal to retreat. It’s ceased the behavior it was engaged in before I entered the scene. I typically leave if things don’t “return to normal” within a few minutes.

I do not ever feed wild animals. I don’t photograph wild animals that have been fed by others. I do maintain a bird feeder at home, and sometimes photograph birds when they visit. I follow best practices for feeders.

I do not use audio lures, such as call playback for birds. I don’t make noises to get the attention of any animal.

I’m cognizant of the cumulative effect I and other photographers can have on an individual animal, like an owl or a shorebird. I will forego photographic opportunities that may add extra stress to the experience of an animal. I do not share the location of any nesting or denning animal with anyone, nor do I geotag locations of photos.

After The Photos Are Taken

In post-processing, I do not add elements that were not in the original photo, or combine photos to make composites. I make editing changes like exposure, cropping, sharpening, noise removal, and burning and dodging.

I am honest in my captioning about the circumstances of my subjects. Though the great majority of my photos are of wild animals that live in non-captive, non-confined settings, I do volunteer at a wildlife hospital, and share images and stories of the patients in the hospital and as well as in rehab. I am always clear in my captions about the truth of these animals’ lives.

I seek to educate people about the animals I photograph, to inspire appreciation for their beauty, intelligence, and individuality, as well as their value to healthy ecosystems and humans. On social media, I know that the words I choose to post with my images are important, and I ground them in science whenever possible.

 In 2023, I was honored to receive the “Jay N. Ding Darling Memorial Award for Wildlife Stewardship Through Art,” from The Wildlife Society, in part due to my advocacy in promoting ethical techniques in wildlife photography.

Connect with Melissa online

Buy Prints

Contact for custom orders