Photography ethics is a very broad topic that encompasses countless circumstances, situations and oftentimes laws of the land. For the most part I will leave to others, the discussion on ethical topics outside insect collection for photography. My focus is on the ethics of insect collecting and manipulation for the purpose of creating a photograph. This often means capturing the insect, killing the insect, preserving the insect, preparing , and then composing it.


1.        My treatment of insects is based upon the Judeo-Christian branch of Religious/Faith ethics which is derived from a divine religious perspective. This ethics system remains unchanged and is eternal for any circumstance until divine revelation alters that. Another opposing branch of ethics is based upon Secular Humanism that relies upon random evolution, current scientific understanding, is situational and emotionally charged, changes interpretation from individual-to-individual and has a general absence of religious values.

2.        God created this earth, all plants, and animals for the care of, use, and enjoyment of man.

3.        All life is not created equal in value, purpose and sentiency and cannot be treated equally.
Hypothetically, it can be calculated that if insects are 0.1% as sentient as cows, or that the probability that insects can suffer is 0.1% as cows, then killing one million crickets has a similar ethical footprint as killing one cow. Even that may seem generous but philosopher Bob Fisher calculates that one cow produces as much meat protein as 900,000 crickets. Is it therefore more ethical to kill one cow or one million crickets?

4.        Mankind is unique, the pinnacle of all life and the only thing created in the image of God. I reject secular humanistic notions that every kind of life is equal in its random evolutionary development, function, purpose, and value.

5.        Current knowledge is that all sentient life are animals, but not all animals such as insects are sentient. I reject the secular humanistic idea that tries to overlay higher life form characteristics or human anthropomorphic traits such as sentience, emotion, feelings, behaviors, etc. upon insects.

          List of all Life by complexity

                   i.      Humans – are unique and different from all other life forms as they are the only ones created in the image of God and therefore must be treated differently. Anti human-exceptionalism is false, unethical, immoral, anti-Judeo/Christian and misanthropic. Failing to reject this philosophy allows for truly evil and harmful ideas to germinate and grow. (WESLEY J. SMITH is an author and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. @thewesleyjsmith)

                  ii.      Animalia (animals) including mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, insects, amphibians, worms, and sponges.

1.      Insects are different than other life forms and should be treated differently. Ethically a picture of a dead human is extremely different from a dead lion which is much more different from a dead insect.

2.     Insects have many unique and distinct differences from other animals. For example, they usually multiply in the millions at a time and generally have very short life cycles that necessitates a lack of exhibited pain as we know it. Traditional pain would hinder their instinctive short feeding and reproductive life cycle. Insects generally react very differently than higher life forms in response to traumatic events. They do not show protective behavior towards injured body parts; nor do they stop mating and eating even in the presence of severe injuries. For example, tsetse flies ignore extreme injury and continue to feed even if half-dissected. Locusts have been observed to continue to feed while being eaten by mantises. In general, insects do not react to treatment that would certainly cause severe pain in other life forms (see Eisemann et al. 1984). So, there is solid evidence to believe that generally insects don't feel pain as humans do. (Nimal Sentience 2016.111: Merker on Klein & Barron on Insect Experience). Studies also show that insects generally are not sentient. Response to the environment does not indicate any thinking or reasoning. Insect behavior is largely hereditary and responses are largely automatic and not learned.

                     iii.     Plantae (plants) including mosses, ferns, woody and non-woody flowering plants

              iv.     Fungi funguses, including molds, mushrooms, yeasts, mildews, and smuts

              v.      Protista including protozoans and algae of various type

             vi.      Monera including bacteria, blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), and spirochetes

1.      So how low should you go in life equality and animal rights? Without an absolute authority on morality and ethics that is based upon God, and human exceptionalism, people are left to their own, ever changing, emotionally charged, situational ethics and standards. It is an empirical fact that human behavior exhibits a whole separate dimension of life complexity. To deny this or to claim that this level of complexity does not exist, lacks common sense and intellectual truthfulness. History has clearly demonstrated that lack of human exceptionalism will lead to untold human misery. 

6.        I do not collect hundreds of insect species at a time but limit my catch to 2-3 specimens that are of photographic quality. Insects generally reproduce in the millions for a short time and two or three collected would have no impact on the environment. It has once been estimated that "if all the offspring of a single pair of flies were to survive and breed, and their offspring did the same, and so forth, for a single year, the resulting mass of flies – tightly packed – would form a sphere some 96 million miles in diameter, more than the distance from the earth to the sun." (The Insects by Peter Farb and The Editors of Life 1962 pg. 108)

7.        Use humane methods for euthanizing insects such as ethyl acetate or freezing, both of which have sedative properties.

                     i.      Do not glue, spray or restrain live insects during photography.

8.         The art and craft of macro and microscopic photography requires a totally different level of skill, technique, patience and tools. For me it generally requires killing the insect then posing it for the image. Much of my photography requires absolute lack of any motion for minutes or tens of minutes and would be extremely difficult if not impossible to be created in any other way. Stop accusing studio insect photographers by use of a false moral high ground narrative, of being lazy, uneducated, un-ethical, unskilled, or undermining the art of studio-craft using dead insects because others shoot live subjects outdoors. It is the age-old question of, if the tree falls in the forest does it make a sound? If the image is never made, it will not exist to be seen. So, I bring you to the "forest" with my photography so you can see it, learn from it, be inspired by it and enjoy it.

                      i.      Photography is an art. As soon as any photographer uses any camera, to take any picture, reality has been altered and it is no longer “natural”. The mere presence of a photographer has altered that natural setting forever. Any image created is now only a photographers representation of light exposed on an electronic or chemical surface in a specific instance of time. EVERY nature image is immediately altered by shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Changing anything (a leaf or blade of grass repositioned), filters, selected view of the image (what wasn't included?), flash, lighting, reflectors, diffusers, focus, focal length, sensor size, angle, shadow, lens and even the camera used alters reality. Nature photographers should not mislead themselves into believing that they are recording the "true, unadulterated, natural, real world". What goes on to the electronic sensor is their particular altered interpretation of the world at a particular time. Nothing else. This also applies to ANY pre or post editing of the image.

                     ii.      I acknowledge that live field photography offers a great variety and spontaneity of images and sometimes eliminates certain studio creative limits caused from a photographers previous perception or experience. There are extraordinary images from field macro photographers who have great patience and skill in the field but it must also be recognized that studio photographers who collect and compose insects, brings a new photographic vision with greater imagination using an entirely different group of tools, patience and skill set. The unexpected is often captured when you are not looking for it and didn't know that it could even exist in the controlled studio.

                    iii.      I reject the notion that dead, positioned insects never reflect as much reality as other nature reality. Field images of live insects can be just as altered as any studio "nature" photography. How many insects and plants does an "ethical" nature photographer disturb or kill as they drive a carbon emitting vehicle to get to their photography location? 2011, Dutch biologist Arnold van Vliet calculated the number of insects killed by automobiles using front license plates just in Holland during a six-week period and determined that 32.5 trillion insects were killed by vehicles in that country. That averaged  2 insects killed for every 6.2 miles driven.
Do nature photographers kill insects as they walk across grass and soil to the area of interest and alter nature by changing distracting foreground and background vegetation just to take a picture?
How natural, real and ethical is that? The photographer is not recording the “true”, unadulterated, natural, real world.

                    iv.      I oppose any regulation, requirement, disclosures or mandates that  posed studio shots or edited images of live or dead insects should be rejected, excluded, frowned upon, considered immoral, unethical, or have required labeling as not "natural". I do concur that if a publication asks for full disclosure of the process used to capture the image, the photographer is ethically responsible to do so without threat of rejection or exclusion. If a photographer doesn't like a private publications requirements, don't use that publication.

9.         My images are free and available for the world to see at no cost. These insects are not killed just for the sake of a photograph or for "fun" but are used to educate, inform, create beauty, and inspire. When possible, scientific information and identification are always included.

10.       I obey all local/private land and wildlife use laws.