Ethics of Nature Photography

mt rainier national park hiker

    When out on the trail it is easy to get distracted as a photographer. We see something ‘shiny’ and want to go get it! The trouble is that this can often lead to some dangerous choices for ourselves and the environments we exist in. It is about time that we start being more conscious of our choices before it becomes more of an issue than it already is!

    I have discussed this issue a couple of times before, but I want to dive a bit deeper on what it can spell as we are oblivious to our actions in the moment. The thrill of a spectacular sunset can make even the best of up slip up and wander off the trail to a composition accidentally causing damage to the landscape we love so much forever. The “get the shot” instagram culture we exist within today can also be dangerous as some have found out the hard way sacrificing their lives tragically.

    If you have the thought of going off the trail think twice. I am not saying don’t ever do it, but be aware of the consequences if you do. There are places out there it is acceptable as the environment can take the punishment and rebound quickly. Others still will survive limited activity and so long as you are careful not to lead too many others there it will work out. Then there are others that you should not proceed because of various factors in place (ex: alpine plants can’t handle anything besides the most delicate of care).

rowena crest wildflowers columbia river gorge oregon

    There is also an argument that you can’t predict what your impact will really be. What happens if you share an image of a location that gets destroyed by increased traffic shortly after? Can we really predict exactly what our impacts will be? If not with great certainty I think it deserves a healthy amount of restraint and respect not to take the camera out at all or at least not share the location with others. 

    John Muir has an excellent approach to ethics in nature where he believes in both its utility and preservation. If you are destroying nature through your way of using the land that was set aside for everyone to enjoy then you shouldn’t continue. It ends up ruining the experience for everyone else in the long run and can also cause a disturbance ecologically. So, keep a level head out there while enjoying your photography so that you and others can continue, and I promise to do the same for you!