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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.