Photography has the power to show us every corner of the globe, and deepen our connection with nature, but it deserves to be done respectfully. Here are a few tips for emerging nature photographers looking to capture the world’s most stunning locations and preserve them without leaving a trace.
The ever-changing landscape of nature photography has been central to the medium since it first emerged. But as visitors, photographers have a responsibility to minimise their footprint wherever they travel. Whether you plan on trekking into untamed nature or visiting a disparate community, there are a few simple guidelines that will help you remain respectful and considerate wherever you go exploring.
“Stick to existing paths or stay on durable surfaces like rock and sand to avoid destroying vegetation.”
Just as you map out your journey before you head off to photograph nature’s beauty, create a plan that lays out how you’ll minimise your impact. Be prepared to carry out all your waste and pick up any trash you find on your journey. A lightweight dry bag is great for wrangling stinky waste. If you’re heading into dense rainforest or hinterland to camp, stick to existing paths or stay on durable surfaces like rock and sand to avoid destroying vegetation.
If you absolutely must go off track to reach your destination, spread your group out to minimise damage and limit the possibility of creating a path that encourages others to follow. It’s important to acknowledge that nature is going to outlast us all, so always prioritise the landscape over what you set out to capture.
“When visiting a low-income country, consider the most beneficial ways to use your spending power.”
Be a traveller, not a tourist
Just as the internet has exposed every corner of the globe, it also gives photographers the chance to learn about the culture, customs and people who live at your destination. When visiting a low-income country, you should also consider the most beneficial ways to use your spending power. Whether you stay in a locally owned guesthouse or shop at the farmers’ market, supporting small businesses over a global corporation is always better.
As travel has become more accessible than ever, it’s also important to understand how your presence as a photographer can impact local communities. With many photographers empowered by social media and the potential for internet virality, it’s imperative you avoid creating more so-called ‘poverty porn’, which refers to any type of media that exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for attention. In recent years, leading organisations such as Amnesty International and Save the Children have issued useful guidelines for photographers looking to capture images from around the world while staying comfortably within ethical boundaries.
Another note on being respectful with social media: there have been numerous examples of natural landmarks or small businesses suffering from an image that’s spread far and wide. Even if the outcome is inadvertent, be mindful about providing details about smaller destinations, as many locations are simply not equipped or have no desire for massive increases in tourism.
“Every photographer has the opportunity to communicate respect for the environment.”
Promote the importance of conservation
Throughout nature photography’s long and storied history, many of its headline photographers started their careers as environmental scientists before realising their talents behind the camera. Having developed an appreciation for the environment long before they picked up a camera, leading photographers such as Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier produce stunning images that always promote reverence for the environment they capture.
We can’t all be marine biologists, but every budding nature photographer has the opportunity to communicate respect for the environment within their imagery or in the accompanying messaging. As the climate crisis sees the environment change dramatically, documenting this rapid shift for future generations is an undeniably noteworthy task. But as photographers capture landscapes that may not be the same for much longer, doing so in a respectful manner is essential to being an advocate for a better world.