Photographers and the Outdoors

Photographers and the Outdoors

As a full time wedding photographer, I’ve watched the industry change quite a bit over the last ten years. For at least five or six of those years, there’s been a growing interest in the outdoors as a style and brand element for wedding and portrait photographers. As an avid hiker and traveler, I love this concept! The industry trend has made people more aware of conservation efforts and the issues that pertain to using and preserving outdoor spaces, which is great. But it’s also made the outdoors more popular and brought more traffic from uneducated folks who misuse these spaces. And that’s become an issue.

Believe it or not, guidelines and principles have been in place for many, many years for how to behave in the outdoors in order to respectfully coexist with the fragile ecosystems and animals that we share this planet with. But lately, it seems as if those guidelines and that respect are less important than our photos.

There is a growing issue with overuse, overcrowding, abuse and illegal use of public lands and park spaces by photographers, models and instagram influencers. It’s not a new issue. But it’s impact is growing too big to stay quiet about it. This is an intricately complex and rapidly growing problem that pertains to all of us. It’s controversial and now, well, very frequently discussed in some circles.

Essentially, photographers are getting a bad reputation because we aren’t doing our due diligence as location scouts and often we aren’t following the basic principles we should be conscious of as we tread on the irreplaceable and beautiful landscapes we use to ‘get the gram’. So, if this is new information to you or you have no idea what I’m talking about, I encourage you to read up on some articles about it on your own time, I’ll link to a few worth reading at the end of this post.

 
Justin on trail in Zion National Park

Justin on trail in Zion National Park

 

I truly believe that as humans we should all do our best to be good, respectful stewards of the planet and the smaller more centralized places we frequent. More importantly, as business owners, photographers and consumers of outdoor spaces, we need to especially be good stewards of the spaces we use for our work. We need to represent our industry honorably and set an example for others. Reading this but not the outdoorsy type? I bet you still shoot in some places that this will relate to, like gardens and historic parks, downtowns or iconic structures.

What’s the problem?
If you’re traveling for shoots, hitting up National Parks or National Forests (which many of us are)…If you’ve ever planned a styled shoot or a workshop (or both) and used a piece of public (BLM or NFS land) or any other established area in the outdoors for public use (which is basically all of us) then you should be aware of the Leave No Trace principals and follow them closely. You should also know that 99% of the time a permit is required, especially when you are hired or plan to profit in any way. The problem ISN’T that we are using these spaces for beautiful photos, it’s that too often we aren’t using them eco-consciously. We are so focused on ‘getting the shot’ that we tend to ignore fragile surfaces, plants and habitats and how WE are impacting THEM. Additionally, we tend to ignore the experience of others in that space while we are ‘working’ to get the shot, and that’s not cool either. On a personal level, this might not seem like a big deal to some but the issue is that some of these places have become so popular/misused/overused by photographers and influencers that those fragile elements of earth are being irreparably destroyed. Policies are changing because of it. Once peaceful, beautiful places are now harder for others access and enjoy. Some have even become closed altogether in part because of our industry and our lack of foresight to predict the wave we’re helping to cause or to see the magnitude of our own impact. While our contribution to the outdoor industry has helped in some ways too, none of us are gatekeepers for the outdoors. We can’t say who should and shouldn’t be out there. We can’t say what should and shouldn’t be accessible. The outdoors is mostly all-inclusive which is just another reason why we should try to keep it as wild as possible… so that it can withstand our use for generations to come. We can all do better…andI’m going to propose a few ways how:


Ways to do better:

 
Nate and Megan on BLM land in Arizona

Nate and Megan on BLM land in Arizona

 
  1. Follow the 7 principles of Leave No Trace anywhere, all the time!

  2. Educate couples on the importance of the LNT principles before a shoot. Explain to them why popping confetti or smoke bombs in the park isn’t an option. Explain to them why they shouldn’t stand in nesting grounds of the protected animals that live there. It’s not just our impact but the impact of all that follow that will inevitably destroy what’s left of the things so many are desperately trying to preserve.

  3. Share the ways we followed the LNT principles when we share/post images. This is huge! If you’re on a road trip and shooting all along the way, hopping from this park to that park and shooting models along the way…tell us how you’re following LNT! Tell us about your permit, about how you stayed on-trail, how you also picked up some trash along the way. This will help others understand how a shot was composed following the guidelines set in place decades ago in order to preserve fragile ecosystems. What do I mean? Well, something as seemingly harmless as setting up a styled shoot off-trail at a popular iconic viewpoint or in a preserved area is harmful to the environment and our industry because it sets a precedent for that behavior. It’s an open invitation to others to copy and mimic what you’re doing because it look awesome. By not sharing the logistics that go into following LNT, we are making it seem as if nothing is off-limits and this couldn’t be farther from the way it should be.

  4. Be conscious about your location tags. LNT has given us some guidance on geotagging and it should be considered by anyone who’s using the outdoors and shooting and sharing photos for the sake of gaining interest from their followers. Here’s the article.

  5. Honor the land. Their is a huge trend in this industry of going to national parks or iconic natural wonders for shoots and while those photos are usually f#cking amazing…so is the history of the land that provided such an amazing backdrop for your epic shot! Honor it. Learn about it. Don’t objectify the likely legendary piece of earth just for snap.

 
Matt + Katie on trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where their wedding was held.

Matt + Katie on trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where their wedding was held.

 

If this is all foreign language to you, or if you haven’t heard about the issues in Horseshoe Bend or the Poppy Preserve in California or the literal mile long list of other locations across the GLOBE that are being descended upon by photographers and models and influencers…let me give you a brief overview: People are objectifying these places for the sake of a photograph, effectively and sometimes permanently destroying habitats and species in doing so. And I know, I’m not perfect. I admit to stepping off trail for a better composition, to picking my share of ferns and flower and rocks along the way…but I know that we can ALL DO BETTER and that’s the goal in sharing these thoughts!

Here are two links from photographers who also shared some thoughts on the subject!

Leave No Trace Guide for Photographers - By Cedar + Pines

The Hard Reality We’re Facing - By The Eichars

Tell us your thoughts and experiences in the comments below! Thanks for reading!