The Alliance for Responsible Nature Photography
With the rapid “Instagramification” of nature photography these days, its important to be stewards for our public lands. No photo is worth damaging nature over. Several wildflower locations in Southern California including Walker Canyon and the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve have suffered as a result of excessive social media attention. One look online easily reveals dozens of selfies with people laying on flower beds and stepping off trail thus damaging the very thing that drew them there. Such behavior is not exactly new but the volume of people doing that has increased to unsustainable levels.
Clearly a lot of new people have caught the photography bug in recent years so its important to keep an open dialog and educate those who might not have much experience outdoors on public lands about how to tread carefully. While I do miss the old days when only serious nature lovers would visit these locations, its not productive to just vent about how good things used to be without making any attempt to educate people. This is why a group of nature photographers / nature enthusiasts have created an organization called, Nature First - The Alliance For Responsible Nature Photography. Anyone can become a member if you honor the 7 principles of Nature First nature photography:
- Prioritize the well-being of nature over photography.
- Educate yourself about the places you photograph.
- Reflect on the possible impact of your actions.
- Use discretion if sharing locations.
- Know and follow rules and regulations.
- Always follow Leave No Trace principles and strive to leave places better than you found them.
- Actively promote and educate others about these principles.
This is a mission that I wholeheartedly support and strive to follow. Like most people, I’m not perfect but I try to be conscious about the potential impact of my actions. This philosophy shouldn’t apply to just photographers either. I’ve seen just about every bad behavior you can imagine in the national parks from tree carving to feeding wildlife to stepping off the boardwalks onto the bacterial mats in Yellowstone. You can’t walk any stretch of the San Gabriel River in Southern California without seeing it lined with discarded beer bottles. Most recently, I witnessed illegal drone usage at the overlooks at Bryce Canyon National Park. It gets tiresome to see our natural environment get degraded by careless choices. I realize that not every person can be convinced to behave responsibly but I’d like to think that many can be influenced with proper education. By destroying the very thing you came to visit you’re ensuring that no one else can enjoy that experience in the future. That’s extremely selfish to say the least.
One of the most debated topics in nature photography is the disclosure of locations. Some people geotag and readily share locations publicly without regard for how increased visitation might impact the land. Others feel that sensitive locations should be kept private. I’m personally of the feeling that if its extremely sensitive then perhaps photos shouldn’t be shared online and kept private unless used for environmental campaigns. Whether photographers choose to acknowledge this or not, by sharing photos online you’re not just marketing your photography but you’re also selling tourism to people. I confess that I do geotag some of my social media posts but those are commonly-known locations like Yosemite Valley that aren’t a secret to anyone.
While traveling in the southwest recently, I purchased a guidebook at one of the national park visitor centers. I was taken aback by how detailed this book was. I had seen some of these obscure locations mentioned vaguely on photographer websites in the past but had no idea where they were located until I came across this book. The book was quite useful to be honest but ultimately will hasten the demise of these locations. These parks should seriously consider pulling this book from the shelves if they’re serious about protecting wilderness areas. Had this been 15 years ago before the proliferation of cell phones and social media photography then the potential impact would be on a much more limited scale but times have changed. It’s impossible to share a photo online these days without attracting widespread attention from the general public. As a result of this, I no longer feel it is responsible to publish photography location guidebooks.
Nature First is a first step toward addressing the environmental issues that the popularity of nature photography has caused. To learn more about the cause then please visit https://www.naturefirstphotography.org/.