How to Be an Environmentally Friendly Photographer

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Environtmental

What impact does your photography have upon the environments your photograph?

I’ve been been pondering writing this post for a few months now. It all started when I was out and about with my digital camera in a coastal area in my state doing some landscape photography and came across another photographer who was working in the same location. We got to chatting and decided to tag along with each other. While it was nice to have some company, the longer we spent together the more frustrated I became about his attitude toward the environment in the place that we were photographing.

While his intention was to capture the beautiful scenery he quite obviously didn’t care about the impact he was having on it.

I believe that as photographers (and as humans) we have a responsibility to leave as little a footprint on our environment as possible – we need to learn to ‘tread lightly’ and engage in photography that preserves rather than destroys the beauty that we all enjoy photographing.

Here are 5 principles that I try to live by as a photographer.



Avoid Destruction to Get a Shot

Have you ever come across a scene that is just perfect…. except for that frustrating overhanging branch that is so distracting? The temptation in these situations is to look around and see if anyone is watching before you snap it off or pull it back to the point that it bends out of your shot. Perhaps you’ve not done it – but I’ve seen photographers do it and in doing so they leave a scar on the scene that they’ve just ‘captured’. If you’re going to destroy something in order to get the shot it’s not worth it.

Obey Instructions

Environment-Photography

Last year while travelling through Turkey we were visiting some ancient caves that had some wonderful examples of cave wall art from many centuries ago. The art was amazing and gave a real insight into life in another culture and time however it was obviously faded and in an attempt to preserve it further signs had been placed in many places around the caves asking people not to use flash photography. Despite the instructions (and explanations for why it was the case) photographer after photographer around me used took shot after shot with flashes firing. When I confronted them the excuses were many and ranged from – ‘I forgot to turn it off’ (not a good one when you take 10 shots in a row with a flash) to ‘one or two shots can’t hurt’ (the problem is if thousands of people each day take ‘one or two’ things mount up and they do hurt). The same is true for breaking the rules about going into areas that are fenced off as out of bounds (often to help stop erosion or to let vegetation re-grow). I understand the temptation to break the rules for the sake of ‘the shot’ but it’s just not worth it.

Take out what you take in

This rule was drummed into me at an early age when I went bush walking in remote areas where there was no waste disposal services. If you take something into these areas you need to take it out. This includes all kinds of rubbish and waste – particularly non biodegradable things. This is one thing that the photographer I spent time with totally ignored. He left drink containers, food wrappers and used batteries from his camera behind him in the coastal area that we visited. I ended up hauling his junk out of the area in disgust.

Leave What You Find Where You Found It

On the flip side – I’ve come across some photographers who like to take more out of the places than they visit than just the images that they capture. These ‘souvenirs’ might look great in your backyard or on your mantle piece – but if we all did it there’d be very little left.

Travel light

Environment-Photography-1

The temptation when going out to do landscape photography is to take every piece of gear you own just in case you need it. There are a few problems with this. Firstly you’ll end up with a sore back if you take too much gear, secondly you probably won’t use it all, thirdly it’ll slow you down and fourthly it can actually be detrimental to the environment to take too much in. Perhaps I’m being a little precious (forgive me) but in some environments when you carry loads of gear (tripods, big bags, long lenses, reflectors etc) you end up knocking sometimes fragile parts of the environment around you. I saw this illustrated on an overseas trip when a fellow traveller smashed his tripod into a statue in one of the ancient cities we visited in Turkey (taking a chip off it in the process).

Don’t Disturb the Animals

The thing that tipped me over the most about the photographer I met that day on the beach was an incident he had when photographing a nesting bird we came across. When we first saw it we were at a distance. I began to photograph it using my 200mm lens and got some nice shot however my fellow photographer was not satisfied with this and moved in for the ‘money shot’. In doing so he invaded the bird’s territory and agitated quite a bit to the point where it eventually left it’s nest unattended. He then moved in to photograph the eggs – risking disturbing them and the protective environment that the bird had set up. While I’m not an extremist animal rights person I do think that they need to be respected and interfered with as little as possible when photographing them.

Update – Go with Rechargeable Batteries

One other little tip that can go a long way. If your camera uses AA batteries – buy yourself some rechargeable batteries. Considering the many millions of digital cameras around the world that take AA’s the numbers of old batteries in our landfill because of them all must be massive. Rechargeable batteries will keep you from adding to this landfill for years to come – and in the long run they’ll save you money too!

Blog Action Day

This post is an updated version of an older post (previously posted in September 2006) on being an environmentally friendly photographer. I’m posting it today because it is ‘Blog Action Day’ – a day where thousands of bloggers around the world are all writing on the same topic – ‘the environment’. Brian has picked up the same theme over at Epic Edits in his post 12 ways to be an environmentally friendly photographer.

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Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Very thoughtful post, thanks.

  • Hey, thanks a bunch for the link Darren! I didn’t realize you had this sitting back in the archives — looks as though we think alike! I like your tip on traveling light, I hadn’t thought of that one.

  • Steve Duffy

    and go digital, save the world a pile of chemicals.

  • Vauxspeed

    Very true. If we want to keep photographing these beautiful landscapes then we have a degree of responsibility to keep them beautiful not only for the next generation photographers but everyone!

  • I could not agree with you more on the need to tread carefully when shooting the environment.

    Recently I chanced upon a strange “armoured” spider in the woods, something I have not seen before. I took several shots of it and left after I saw it crawling away. Better to leave it alone and not to try to chase it back to the web just because I haven’t had my best shot yet..

  • Rayben

    True Spoken.
    But not only in an environmental sense, but also in a rational. I mean you and me – we all – want to take these astonishing images from beautiful & exotic locations all over world, so if we destroy it step by step by littering or the like, these places won’t be that unique anymore and maybe not worth to photograph someday.

    So, if you can’t talk to someones environmental consciousness, then maybe he understands the point of view I mentioned.

    Keep on rocking, your website is helpful and inspiring!

  • I’m glad that there are folks like you who love photography but will not let their passion damage the environment. After all, what we sow now, we (and more importantly, our children) reap in the years to come.

  • Rob S

    Whilst I agree entirely with your sentiments, I would have thought that the environmental impact of, say, removing a twig from a tree would pale in comparison next to the cost to the planet of travelling to Turkey on an Aeroplane or buying expensive camera gear made from non-recylable parts (some of which will litter the Earth until long after we’re gone) and having it flown or shipped from the far east to your door.
    Although this damage is less immediately apparent, it will ultimately be what destroys the entire planet, leaving nothing of beauty to photograph.

  • I agree whole heartedly. A thoughtful and excellent article. I have added this to my blog.

    I remember one time i was in Hawaii watching the Horizons show at the Polynesian cultural center. There were specific instructions against flash photography during the show. The reason was the performers dance with fire and swords and they need all their concentration. Flash tends to distract them. A lot of people still went ahead and used flash. The staff had to come down and point flashlights on the faces of people who used flash. It is a simple request, yet so hard for some people to follow.

    I think camera manufacturers (especially point and shoots) should set flash to off by default when camera is turned ON. This way, people will not have an excuse for forgetting to turn it off.

  • Jen

    There’s a “rule” in Geocaching … “Cash in, Trash out.” Cachers frequently take small bags with them, while they’re on their scavenger hunts, and pick up litter and trash on the way.

    It doesn’t have to just be “take out what you take in” – it doesn’t take much to stuff a small grocery bag in your pocket (or camera bag).

  • great post! thanks for spreading the word.

  • nDre

    there’s a saying

    Take nothing but pictures
    Leave nothing but footprints
    Kill nothing but time

    That’s the motto for explorers, but I think that can also be applied to us photographers

    =)

  • Anonymous

    Though I’m an amateur photographer, I’m inclined to agree. if we take a beautiful picture and leave junk there, what if someone else took the picture, and it was ruined by your junk?

  • Jen

    I don’t know that “going digital” saves anything environment-wise. The chemicals involved in creating the circuits and chips and gizmos inside a plastic digital camera body (that might be replaced every two or three years) are equally harmful, or perhaps more so, than those used in film development.

  • as you had stated all photographers have a responsibility to be environmentally friendly while they photograph. It is not enough to to remove your trash when you finish shooting at a location. When photographing animals, for instance, if you destroy part of their habitat trying to capture an image of the animal then what did you gain and what did the animal gain from the experience. If everyone did the same, damages a part of the animals environment to capture one shot how long will it be before the animal has no habitat to go back to? Just food for thought.

Some Older Comments

  • Jen December 27, 2007 07:23 am

    I don't know that "going digital" saves anything environment-wise. The chemicals involved in creating the circuits and chips and gizmos inside a plastic digital camera body (that might be replaced every two or three years) are equally harmful, or perhaps more so, than those used in film development.

  • Anonymous November 14, 2007 01:37 pm

    Though I'm an amateur photographer, I'm inclined to agree. if we take a beautiful picture and leave junk there, what if someone else took the picture, and it was ruined by your junk?

  • nDre October 18, 2007 06:45 pm

    there's a saying

    Take nothing but pictures
    Leave nothing but footprints
    Kill nothing but time

    That's the motto for explorers, but I think that can also be applied to us photographers

    =)

  • karen wink October 18, 2007 10:17 am

    great post! thanks for spreading the word.

  • Jen October 18, 2007 09:57 am

    There's a "rule" in Geocaching ... "Cash in, Trash out." Cachers frequently take small bags with them, while they're on their scavenger hunts, and pick up litter and trash on the way.

    It doesn't have to just be "take out what you take in" - it doesn't take much to stuff a small grocery bag in your pocket (or camera bag).

  • ari4u October 18, 2007 06:03 am

    I agree whole heartedly. A thoughtful and excellent article. I have added this to my blog.

    I remember one time i was in Hawaii watching the Horizons show at the Polynesian cultural center. There were specific instructions against flash photography during the show. The reason was the performers dance with fire and swords and they need all their concentration. Flash tends to distract them. A lot of people still went ahead and used flash. The staff had to come down and point flashlights on the faces of people who used flash. It is a simple request, yet so hard for some people to follow.

    I think camera manufacturers (especially point and shoots) should set flash to off by default when camera is turned ON. This way, people will not have an excuse for forgetting to turn it off.

  • Rob S October 18, 2007 12:03 am

    Whilst I agree entirely with your sentiments, I would have thought that the environmental impact of, say, removing a twig from a tree would pale in comparison next to the cost to the planet of travelling to Turkey on an Aeroplane or buying expensive camera gear made from non-recylable parts (some of which will litter the Earth until long after we're gone) and having it flown or shipped from the far east to your door.
    Although this damage is less immediately apparent, it will ultimately be what destroys the entire planet, leaving nothing of beauty to photograph.

  • Louella October 17, 2007 11:41 pm

    I'm glad that there are folks like you who love photography but will not let their passion damage the environment. After all, what we sow now, we (and more importantly, our children) reap in the years to come.

  • Rayben October 17, 2007 10:39 pm

    True Spoken.
    But not only in an environmental sense, but also in a rational. I mean you and me - we all - want to take these astonishing images from beautiful & exotic locations all over world, so if we destroy it step by step by littering or the like, these places won't be that unique anymore and maybe not worth to photograph someday.

    So, if you can't talk to someones environmental consciousness, then maybe he understands the point of view I mentioned.

    Keep on rocking, your website is helpful and inspiring!

  • Jaxon S October 17, 2007 08:21 pm

    I could not agree with you more on the need to tread carefully when shooting the environment.

    Recently I chanced upon a strange "armoured" spider in the woods, something I have not seen before. I took several shots of it and left after I saw it crawling away. Better to leave it alone and not to try to chase it back to the web just because I haven't had my best shot yet..

  • Vauxspeed October 17, 2007 06:14 pm

    Very true. If we want to keep photographing these beautiful landscapes then we have a degree of responsibility to keep them beautiful not only for the next generation photographers but everyone!

  • Steve Duffy October 17, 2007 04:01 pm

    and go digital, save the world a pile of chemicals.

  • Brian Auer October 17, 2007 01:13 pm

    Hey, thanks a bunch for the link Darren! I didn't realize you had this sitting back in the archives -- looks as though we think alike! I like your tip on traveling light, I hadn't thought of that one.

  • Libby October 17, 2007 12:07 pm

    Very thoughtful post, thanks.

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