Footprints on the Environment – Our Responsibility as Photographers


What are our rights as photographers? What is our responsibility as photographers? How do we find a balance between the two?

An Iceland Story

Recently a friend of mine returned from Iceland. While she said it was an amazing experience, there were also aspects of the trip that she wasn’t prepared for. She was surprised by the number of other photographers that were also there. The photos that see of Iceland are nearly always devoid of people, so to see so many en masse was not expected. She found many photographers were fantastic, but then there were some that didn’t care about the effect they had on the environment or how they were ruining it for others.

Footprints on the Environment - Our Responsibility as a Photographers

You don’t have to go to Iceland to see that happening. It can occur anywhere, especially places that are really popular with tourists or that have amazing sites to photograph. As photographers, whether amateur or professional, we should be asking ourselves some important questions.

Should you be allowed to enter environments that are sensitive and protected in your plight to get an amazing image? Is it okay to destroy habitats and leave rubbish behind? It comes down to what is your responsibility as a photographer to the landscape that you want to photograph? What right do you have to destroy those areas for future generations just so you can get a photo? Also, what effect do you have on others when you put yourself in danger to get some incredible images?

If you think it is beautiful to take photos of a place, then you can bet a lot of other people feel the same way and would like to get some as well. National parks, especially, are there for everyone to enjoy. They need to make sure that everyone can do just that.

Footprints on the Environment - Our Responsibility as a Photographers

Extinction and Protection

There are always reasons for why areas are out of bounds. You can’t think that it is silly or stupid. We all should remember that we are not the only living creatures on the planet and sometimes animals need to be protected from us. We are losing a huge number every day, with up to 200 plants, animals, and other living creatures becoming extinct every 24 hours.

Many places in Australia have areas that are protected as they try to regrow species that have been previously destroyed by human activity. They are trying to grow plants that are important to the area and help stop erosion. When people go walking over them it prevents the protection of the area.

Footprints on the Environment - Our Responsibility as a Photographers

If you really want to go in prohibited areas then call the people in charge and see if you can arrange a visit. Sometimes you can get access that no one else can. You might be shown how to get to places without damaging the environment.


Climbing up onto tall buildings or walking out onto cliffs that are known to be unsafe can be thrilling. I’m sure it is fun to do these things, but there can be consequences, first losing your own life. Not to mention the effect it will have if you fall from a tall building on people below. Then there is the effect you doing that can have on other people. Remember no image is ever worth losing your life over.

In the days before the internet, when photography was far more expensive, hardly anyone would see your images. Today, with so many social media platforms out there you have to be so careful. You need to consider the effects of posting photos of you going out somewhere that is not allowed because it is dangerous. It will often mean that other photographers will think it is okay to do it as well. They could end up really hurt as they try to emulate what you did.

Footprints on the Environment - Our Responsibility as a Photographers

Leave Only Footprints

It is a little clichéd now, but still relevant in today’s world, perhaps more so as people are becoming more environmentally aware.

Take only photographs, leave only footprints.

When I was a child growing up in the 70s and 80s there was a massive campaign here to “Keep Australia Beautiful”. We were encouraged to put all our rubbish in the bin. There had been a major problem with people just throwing litter away everywhere. We stopped throwing rubbish out of car windows and always tried to find bins. The campaign was a long time ago but it seems that the message hasn’t carried on.

No one is saying that you do that, but it is something we all have to be aware of. We go to places for their beauty. If others go there, but leave rubbish behind, pretty soon it will no longer be a pristine place to take photos.

Make sure when you leave the places you visit exactly as you found them.

Footprints on the Environment - Our Responsibility as a Photographers

When the Rules Aren’t Followed

How many of you have travelled around the world and found that there are places where you can’t take photos anymore? It seems to be happening a lot and a major reason for it is because people wouldn’t follow the rules regarding photos. It is important to make sure you know what the rules are and what is expected, so you don’t ruin it for all those that come after you.

If you are photographing in parks, don’t go beyond the barriers. Make sure you obey the rules of the park and trust they are there for a reason. If you are going indoors and no flash photography is allowed, make sure you know how to turn your flash off. It isn’t hard to follow these rules. It also can’t hurt to remind people who aren’t, that the rules are there for a reason.

Footprints on the Environment - Our Responsibility as a Photographers


How often do you see portrait photos of people in canola fields? I recently had a discussion with some other photographers about this and they were saying how they did it a lot. They couldn’t see what was wrong with it. When I pointed out they were trampling all over someone’s livelihood you could see it was the first time they had even considered that.

Just because a place can seem really good to take photos doesn’t mean you should enter private property to get a photo. You might think you aren’t doing any damage. But going into someone’s crops could mean you are introducing foreign bodies to the crop which may destroy it. Or you could be stomping on the plants and making it harder for those farmers to make money. Farmers have a hard enough time making money in this economy, they don’t need photographers making it even harder.

Footprints on the Environment - Our Responsibility as a Photographers

Being a Responsible Photographer

It doesn’t take much to do the right thing. We are part of a wider community and we aren’t the only ones that want to visit places. Remember that we have to consider our footprint and what that can mean for future generations. Follow the signs, don’t post photos of you doing dangerous stunts, and follow the rules. Be responsible.

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Leanne Cole graduated from the VCA with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Melbourne, Australia. She has since been working as a practicing artist and teaching people how to be Fine Art Photographers. She also teaches long exposure photography and runs workshops around Melbourne. Click here to download her 10 tips for Long Exposure Photography in the City. You can find her on her website.

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  • Bruce Berg

    In America, it is a FELONY to photograph on railroad tracks, punishable by jail and a $10,000 fine. Yet, I see many photographs publishing such images.

    In 2014, 5 photographers died on RR tracks in the U.S. I just wish people were more aware of not only the dangers, but the law so they will stop publishing their illegal “leading lines”.

  • Russell Rusty Smith

    I don’t understand how this comment passed the spam police when a comment I posted on, where I described what art men to me and how it influences my photographs.

  • schu jean pierre

    quand est il des drones qui prennent des photos dans des endroits protégés , la législation mondiale devrait êtres beaucoup plus strict sur la diffusion de ces images !, quand pensez vous ?

  • Russell just flag it and we will usually get to it within 48 hours.

  • pete guaron

    There are rules and laws and restrictions all around the world, that vary from country to country and also from one place within a country, to another. Photographing on railroad tracks in America (mentioned by Bruce Berg) is only one of them.

    One of my pet hates is idiots with flash – they turn up at concerts, they haunt museums, art galleries and places of worship – there are signs everywhere saying “NO FLASH” – generally, they are being watched and monitored on CCTV as they move around, firing their flashes – voices boom out over the internal public address system telling them to stop doing it and they don’t take ANY notice. What do they want? – ALL photography being banned? – for EVERYONE? – their cameras handed in at the front desk, to be collected on the way out, with the attendant risks of loss and/or damage to their gear?

  • I recently found out that it is the same here in Australia, though it isn’t commonly known. The tracks are private property. It is crazy how much people will put themselves at risk for a photo. Sad to hear that people lose their lives doing it. Crazy.
    I agree Bruce, I wish the same. Photographers, well some, are making it horrible for the rest of us. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Bruce.

  • There certainly are and the more we ignore them the worse it gets with us trying to get some photos.

    Oh yes, the flash, and the people who don’t know how to turn them off. If you don’t know how to turn it off, then don’t use the camera. In many places all photography being banned is exactly what has happened. It is very sad. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Pete.

  • Bruce Berg


  • One of my favorite places to photograph, or just walk, is the Rio Grande Bosque around the Albuquerque area. Water, woods, mountain views and lots of wild life. It’s beautiful but it’s also nasty because so many people hike there and drop their water bottles, soda cans and food wrappers. The worst is the dog droppings. There are signs everywhere telling people to pick up after their dogs and at every trail entrance there are baggie dispensers. The city runs ads on TV telling people how bad it is for the environment, it runs off into the river that supplies some of our drinking water.

  • It is disgusting, and people just don’t seem to care, as long they get to enjoy it first. Drives me mad. I tell people off when I see them doing things like that. I was at a waterfall here and there are signs telling people to stay out of the water because it is the towns water supply, but people didn’t care and when I told them to get out they were telling me I was being stupid, who cared. I told them I did because I was going to a restaurant in that town for dinner and I didn’t want to drink water they had been swimming in. It didn’t stop them, they just don’t think beyond themselves. I think that is what the problem is. Your park and that waterfall will get closed to the public because people keep doing the wrong thing. It is so disappointing for the rest of us who do respect and take care of them. Thanks for sharing that Patrick.

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