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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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