Melissa Groo is an award-winning wildlife photographer, writer, teacher and speaker. She is the wildlife photography columnist for Outdoor Photographer, and her photos have been published in many other magazines as well, including Smithsonian, Audubon and National Wildlife. Issues of conservation and ethics in photography are Melissa’s passions, but more than anything she loves revealing the soul of her wild subjects and sharing her images with others. She’s on the faculty of Hog Island Audubon Camp and the Summit Series of Photography Workshops. Melissa is also on the NANPA Ethics Committee and will be a judge in the 2016 Audubon photography contest.
Do you have a “day” job? What do you do?
I worked as a semi-professional photographer for a couple years while also working part-time in the field of elephant conservation for Save the Elephants. At the start of 2016, I gave up that job, which I had been doing for 15 years, to become a full-time, professional photographer. Every day I am busy with the myriad things one has to do to try to make a living in this business, e.g., managing relationships with editors and clients, poring over photos from a recent assignment, planning my next trip, cleaning equipment, researching a location, communicating with a print buyer, setting up my next show. Let’s just say I have extensive to-do lists!
What NANPA committees have you served on–when, and what positions have you assumed?
I serve on the Ethics committee, and have since August 2014.
What was it about this committee that interested you?
Some photographers are passionate about the technical side of things, whether it’s an intimate knowledge of their camera’s functions or the specs of the new gear coming around the bend. Others write and/or speak about the process of becoming an artist. For me, it’s about understanding, having empathy for wild subjects, and finding ways to use my images to evoke that in others. The way that translates for me is ethics—I think about what’s best for the wild subject and then work backwards in terms of my approach to it. I increasingly speak, write and consult about these issues. Not everyone may agree with my policies, but wherever I can, I base my decisions on solid research and biology instead of emotion.
What were the responsibilities you assumed?
NANPA’s Principles of Ethical Field Practices ( https://nanpa.org/docs/NANPA-Ethical-Practices.pdf )have been a reference tool for photographers all over the world. They were created in 1996. I think for their time, they were well-crafted. The past two decades have seen the birth of digital photography, an explosion in nature photography, and instant location information on subjects. I don’t think anyone can deny that it’s a very different climate now. It’s also a more challenging world for animals as many species face increasing loss of habitat and safety. As photographers of wildlife I think it’s our responsibility to keep paramount the welfare of the subject. I sincerely believe it’s possible that we can be out there and have a great time doing our photography, while also practicing careful fieldcraft that doesn’t take shortcuts at the expense of animals or sensitive landscapes.
A little over a year ago, NANPA sent a survey to its members to find out what ethics issues they were most concerned with. The results were very interesting, along with comments and anecdotes, and have been critical in informing the current redrafting of NANPA’s Principles of Ethical Field Practices.
What were your greatest accomplishments or the highlights thus far of what you have done for NANPA?
I like to think my advocacy for NANPA has helped build and support its reach and membership. I definitely seek to inform other photographers about NANPA, and have been pleased to see quite a few become members. I’ve enlisted others interested in ethics to serve on that committee. I helped to craft the ethics survey that went out last year to get feedback on how to update the guidelines. I’ve also done an interview with Viewbug on tips for photography of birds in flight, and that should be appearing soon via NANPA, thanks to the Viewbug/NANPA partnership.
How long have you been a NANPA member?
Do you have a goal as it pertains to NANPA or a committee you currently work on?
My goal is to work with the other committee members and the NANPA board to create a new set of practical guidelines that reflect: 1) the responding members’ concerns as addressed in the survey; 2) the changing circumstances of the natural world; and 3) our enhanced understanding of best practices. These will not be rules as much as principles we can offer the entire nature photography community, both within and beyond this association.