ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY

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ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION: CAN WE, AS PHOTOGRAPHERS, HELP SAVE THE PLANET, OUR MOST PRECIOUS SOURCE OF LIFE AND INSPIRATION?

As a Fine Art Landscape Photographer, I work very hard to portray and share the beauty of the Earth. More than just my job, that is my life, and the reason I do what I do. For me, the Earth is not only our source of life but is our never-ending source of inspiration. I believe that we all need to work towards the common goal of making sure that our never-ending source of life and inspiration will truly never end. I also believe, perhaps naively, that with my work I can help people to become aware of the importance of environmental protection, instilling or awaking in them the love for our planet and its beauty.

In today’s world, people travel like we never did in the whole of human history. We travel more, faster, farther. Traveling is a fundamental, fantastic cultural experience, uniquely enriching our minds and souls. Not only that, but traveling with an open mind, studying the history, the culture, the customs and the nature of our destinations, is possibly the best vaccination against today’s reappearing signs of fascism, intolerance and racism.

The Dolomites Photography Workshop

Personally, I find that traveling to pursue my dreams with landscape photography is the best way to see the world and immerse myself in some of the Earth’s most inspiring natural environments. Traveling allows me to explore some of the most beautiful, expressive and amazing landscapes shaped by time and by the power of nature. Working as a landscape photographer, I am able to share my passion for the Earth’s beauty with others by creating the best photographs I can of the incredible landscapes I am fortunate enough to see. Finally, thanks to my Workshops, I have the great privilege to share my passion with others, helping them to enjoy the same amazement in front of nature’s immense beauty and power.

Traveling is great. However, at the same time, traveling threatens some of the Earth greatest landscapes and natural beauty areas in a way that is unprecedented in human history. Sadly, as photographers we contribute in no small part to this threat, and the ultra-fast revolution in image sharing and “consumption” introduced by the advent of social media didn’t help environmental protection at all.

Willingly or not, we have created and set in motion what I call the “destruction cycle” for a once unspoiled location. The cycle usually works like this:

– A photographer discovers and photographs a new, unspoiled location or creates a new, beautiful photo of a location i.e. until then known perhaps only to a few local hikers/walkers;

– Photographs of this location get shared, and thanks to the power of social media, the location portrayed in the photograph rapidly becomes universally known as a “photogenic” location first, and then a “must shoot” one;

– Suddenly, hordes of photographers, amateurs and professional alike, go to this location just to tick it out of their bucket list of “must shoot” places;

– As a result, the previously uncrowded location is now assaulted by a number of people it is not ready to withstand. Even more so, if the location is easy to reach;

– In the end, the natural environment of the location is destroyed by too much exploitation, ruined by too many feet stomping on it, too much waste, garbage, and so on;

– Ironically, almost inevitably there are many beautiful spots sitting literally a few meters away from all these “famous” locations, spots where nobody bothers going. Spots where you can still do what I consider to be more “real” landscape photography, far away from the crowds.

Unfortunately, I have already seen this destruction cycle happening in many of the locations I love and love to go to. I could give you dozens of examples, but it would make this article way too long: more, if you have been doing this long enough, I am pretty sure you also have seen this happening with at least some of your favorite spots. In fact, it is not unlikely that it is one, or more, of your photographs that unwillingly helped putting this cycle in motion for a particular location. I know some of mine did.

The problem is, there is no easy way to break this cycle. As long as we are going to keep working as landscape photographers, we are going to create images that will make a previously unspoiled location suddenly very famous with other photographers.

In fact, the paradox is that the more we’ll anxiously work to find new unspoiled, uncrowded spots, the more we’ll start a new “destruction cycle” for whatever unspoiled spots are still out there to be found. Unless we’ll keep them secret, which is an almost impossible feat nowadays.

Thing is, as photographers it is our job to share our work with the world, in a way or another, even if this potentially will set a new “destruction cycle” in motion. If we’d stop doing that, we’d stop being photographers.

The conundrum here is that we obviously have to work, but we also need to remember our duty towards environmental protection in order to be able to keep working in the long term. 

It is therefore imperative that as photographers, professional and amateur alike, we reflect upon our impact on the environment and on the Earth. And, it is even more imperative that we then do our best to minimize it, implementing good environmental protection practices during our travels.

Cinque Terre & Tuscany Photography Workshop

People traveling with me on my Workshops around the planet already know my full commitment to environmental protection, both as an individual photographer, as an educator and as a business. My personal solutions to minimize my impact on the environment, both when traveling alone and when leading groups, are:

– I keep my Workshop groups extremely small, with a maximum of three people;
– I never pile up on other groups: it almost never happens, but in the rare cases when I find my planned location already “taken”, having a list of alternative places to go close by, helps us enjoying our session the most while minimizing our impact on the originally planned location;
– During the course of a Workshop, I always mix famous and less famous (or totally unknown) locations. First, this helps me minimizing our impact on the most famous locations. Second, this helps me teaching how it is possible to do great landscape photography everywhere, creating amazing photographs also outside of whatever “check-list” of locations everyone can find online;
– I always try to learn and pass on knowledge about the areas visited;
– I never leave behind garbage of any kind;
– I always try to divide and recycle all my garbage;
– I never take rocks, plants, or any other natural object;
– I never reposition, rearrange, remove any plant, rock or natural object for a photograph’s sake;
– I never geotag photographs when posting them online;
– I travel out of touristic seasons as much as possible;
– I always respect regulations in parks, protected areas and so on;
– I always respect silence, never shout nor make unnecessary noises.

I think that this is a pretty good start. However, every coming year sees an exponential increment in photographers traveling to what they perceive to be the “must go to” locations of the year, making these locations extremely crowded pretty much all year round. More, the number of “regular” people traveling to what were once more kind of “photographers-only” locations dramatically increased as well.

Normandy & Brittany Photography Workshop

Therefore, I feel that bigger steps are now needed in order for us landscape photographers to be effective in environmental protection. Don’t get me wrong: I will keep improving even further my personal efforts to minimize both my impact and the impact of my groups on the environment. One-man efforts are always necessary and are still the basis upon which to build any kind of collective action, but they are most definitely not enough anymore. We need to get together on this.

To promote environmental protection, we need environmental education.

Death Valley Photography Workshop

Educating people at large, not just landscape photographers, to the importance of environmental protection is the only way to succeed in this challenge. We can all start by dedicating a few minutes a day to educate others, both in person and by using our influence and our social media presence, to share information and good practices that will help environmental protection. This is a good start, but I still think that it won’t be enough. We need more reach.

Luckily, we are not alone: there are groups and associations active worldwide working to help landscape photographers with their fight for environmental protection. Personally, I am a Proud Member of Nature First – The Alliance for Responsible Nature Photography as well as a Proud Partner of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Here’s what they do, and why you should consider supporting them as well. Even if you’ll choose not to support them, for the sake of all of us landscape lovers (photographers or not!) and for the sake of the planet, please do read and follow their principles. It won’t cost you a dime, and it will make a huge difference.

NATURE FIRST – THE ALLIANCE FOR RESPONSIBLE NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY

From Nature First’s website: “Nature First is built on seven core principles that help communicate how each of us can enjoy nature photography responsibly. The Seven Principles of Nature First Photography were developed to help educate and guide both professional and recreational photographers in sustainable, minimal impact practices that will help preserve nature’s beautiful locations:

1. Prioritize the well-being of nature over photography
2. Educate yourself about the places you photograph
3. Reflect on the possible impact of your actions
4. Use discretion if sharing locations
5. Know and follow rules and regulations
6. Always follow Leave No Trace principles and strive to leave places better than you found them
7. Actively promote and educate others about these principles

For more information, please follow the link NATURE FIRST to find out more about Nature First – The Alliance for Responsible Nature Photography and its mission.

LEAVE NO TRACE CENTER FOR OUTDOOR ETHICS

Leave No Trace works to provide “research, education and initiatives so every person who ventures outside can protect and enjoy our world responsibly”. Leave No Trace is not a photographer-specific organization as Nature First, but the Leave No Trace Seven Principles provide some great guidelines to exploring and enjoying the outdoor while minimizing our impact and maximize environmental protection. Please note that all these principles are embraced by Nature First as well (see point 6 above):

– Plan ahead and prepare
– Travel and camp on durable surfaces
– Dispose of waste properly
– Leave what you find
– Minimize campfire impact
– Respect wildlife
– Be considerate to other visitors

For more information, please download the Leave No Trace Seven Principles following this link: LEAVE NO TRACE SEVEN PRINCIPLES POSTER. Please follow the link LEAVE NO TRACE CENTER FOR OUTDOOR ETHICS to find out more about Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and its mission.

On a larger scale, environmental protection is paramount to keep human presence on Earth sustainable. It might sound dramatic, but I believe that we are fast coming to the point where saving the planet will become fundamental to keep us alive as a species. In fact, some even says that we are past the point of no return, or very close to it. Perhaps you don’t believe that we are so far gone, or perhaps that sounds too abstract and far from your daily life. If so, on a smaller scale and at least selfishly as a photographer, don’t forget the importance that environmental protection has for us landscape photographers. We rely on the Earth’s amazing beauty as a source of inspiration first, and – if you are a professional, or plan on becoming one – as a source of income as well, and it is to our advantage to keep the environment as healthy, beautiful and pristine as possible.

Saving the planet might sound like a much bigger task than what we, as landscape photographers, can do. In fact, the truth is that nobody can save the planet alone: it is easy to think that it’s something out of our hands, and that might be true to an extent. Sadly, thinking like this will prevent many from even trying. I believe that together we can succeed where alone we’ll fail, and if not the planet, at least we can help saving the wilderness and the outdoors that we love so much. Hell, if nothing else, we can definitely help just by not making the situation worse than it already is. So, what could we do, what should we do?

Starting on a small scale, implementing good outdoor environmental protection practice for us first, and then educating others about them, would go a long way. If everyone did their part, it would already be a pretty good start. Then, on a larger scale, we need to support those organizations which work we trust, those organizations that can and will have a much bigger impact than the impact we, as individuals, can and will ever have. I believe that if we put our collective effort into environmental protection, we can do it. If we don’t do anything, however, I am pretty sure the battle is lost before even starting.

Iceland Photography Workshop

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6 thoughts on “ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY”

  1. Vieri, you strike a chord with me.

    I am fortunate to live in South Africa and we don’t yet have the pressure on too many of our beautiful spots but where there are iconic views such as of Table Mountain from Bloubergstrand, there is some evidence of destruction.

    As nothing more than an amateur with a love of nature, I find it to be against my nature to travel miles to capture “THE” shot and I think many of us here have similar views. I’m also a keen birder but do not see any point in haring off all over the country to “tick” another lifer. I’d far rather spend time watching the behaviour of more common birds and maybe capture one decent image.

    Good article.

    Peter

    Reply
    • Hello Peter,

      thank you for taking the time to read the article and comment, glad you found it interesting. I am glad to hear that South Africa is still relatively unspoiled, I don’t know how evident those first signs of destruction are but perhaps it’s worth thinking about what suggestions to make to those in power and what measures to take before it’s too late.

      While I see your point regarding staying local, when possible (and your birding example makes a lot of sense), I also am definitely not advocating “no travel” as a solution; traveling is a wonderful and enriching experience that everyone should be fortunate enough to be able to do. What I am advocating is travel respectfully, as sustainably as possible, and travel intelligently: i.e. to do landscape photography, for many traveling it is just a necessity, and if you have to jump on a plane, it makes little difference where you go (of course, Milan – Rome does less damage than Rome – Sidney, but I am sure you got what I mean).

      What I mean is, there is a certain amount of environmental “damage” that I think it is inevitable when traveling, but I also believe that we can offset that by tread carefully once we arrive where we need to go rather than destroy everything, supporting i.e. reforesting organisation, outdoor educational organisations, and so on, sensitise people using our social media and directly in the field and so on, and more.

      Perhaps, in the end the best solution would be promote an “environmental conscious” approach to everything we do to the largest number of people we can? I have been thinking about going radical myself, but I then considered that to be a rather unrealistic and ineffective approach, and one that neither me personally nor people I talk to would be ready to implement, and one that perhaps would not be effective anwyay. What I mean is, rather than having one radical me staying home and a thousand careless others going around, I think it’s better to have a thousand and one careful, informed and respectful people traveling around, and I decided to work towards that goal, doing my best to help make that happen. I hope that makes some sense :)

      Best regards,

      Vieri

      Reply
  2. Hi Vieri

    I can only agree with all you say.

    I’m in the north of Ireland. There is a considerable film industry here, both for local consumption on the BBC and for franchises. Parts of ‘Game of Thrones’ is shot here. One sequence involves the ‘Royal Road’; this is an avenue of very elderly beech trees, most of which are near the end of their natural lifespan. The branches grow out over the road, so it’s called ‘Dark Hedges’ locally. We now get quite a few cruise liners here, and many passengers take a coach trip to ‘do’ the famous backdrops. It’s now next to impossible to see the Dark Hedges without hordes of people, cars and people. The nearby harbour at Ballintoy is reached by a narrow road, supposedly closed to coaches.

    The south, the Republic of Ireland, also has a considerable film industry. Scenes from ‘Star Wars’ are shot there. The Skelligs, off the south west coast, are small but very steep islands with an old monastic settlement at the top. It’s overrun today.

    The Atlantic Coast is now branded as the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ to encourage tourism, a significant industry in both parts.

    Don’t let me put you off Ireland, though. The most interesting parts are round the edges rather than inland, and there are plenty of places where regular tourists don’t go. You may have heard of Irish weather; the most reliable times for decent weather and light are May/June and September. (The major local holidays are July and August.) You can and do get good and interesting weather and light at other times, but it’s hard to predict. Fancy a visit?

    Regards

    Robert

    Reply
    • Hello Robert,

      thank you for taking the time to read the article and comment, much appreciated. Thank you for sharing your stories about Ireland, I love your country and have been there many times – the first time was much longer ago than I care to remember! Sadly, I have not been coming for a few years now, but I am definitely planning to remedy that as soon as possible. I am sorry to hear about the extra traffic brought by cruiser and by the new film-related fame, but I have to say that when I saw the Dark Hedges used on Game of Thrones I kinda knew what was going to happen. Sad.

      I am definitely going to come to Ireland soon, and it would be great to meet you and have a cup or coffee together if you can spare the time.

      Thanks again! Best regards,

      Vieri

      Reply
      • Hi Vieri

        I’m sure you will still enjoy Ireland. You’ll find that it’s become much more expensive in the last couple of decades, though.

        It would be great to meet you over a coffee (or a Guinness!). Send me an email if you are around.

        Regards

        Robert

        Reply

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