Nature Photography Harming the Planet?

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I'm sure we've all had experiences of showing up to shoot some iconic location only to be shocked at how many people are there and/or how commercialized it has become. That's what happened to me a few days ago. I saw some published photos of an interesting coastal location known as Playa de las Catedrales (Beach of the Cathedrals) near a town we were visiting. They were awesome shots of what looked like a pristine, rocky beach. It happened that the tide tables and weather conditions looked favorable so we drove over to the beach to try for a few landscape shots. I had a full set of filters, tripod, and a plan formulated in my head for some long shutter images. The location is not remote but is fairly well off the beaten path. When we got there I was absolutely shocked. There were two huge parking lots, a dozen or so tour buses, a bar/cafe, and hundreds of people wandering around. We walked down on the beach but there was so many people that I didn't even take the camera out of the bag. Snapped a couple of documentary shots with my phone and got out of there.

While driving back into town it occurred to me that this was probably an unknown, remote little beach until some professional photographer published images of it. I've seen several bios of professional nature/wildlife photographers who indicate part of their motivation is to raise awareness of threatened species/places. Presumably that is meant to aid in saving/protecting the planet. However I'd argue that said increased awareness has the (unintended) opposite effect. By raising awareness of beautiful places we also raise interest for people to seek out and visit those places. And in my experience the average person visiting places in nature is detrimental to that location. Trash, trampled vegetation, graffiti, etc, invariably result. Not to mention development of access roads, parking lots, souvenir stands, etc. So while photography may inspire people to love the planet unfortunately if may inspire them to love it to death.
 
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I am also alarmed by the increased traffic in many scenic locations. I think that there are two separable issues here. I think that photographing species doesn't have to increase traffic, especially if a very specific location is not provided by the photographer. Also, I photograph butterflies so I'll use them as an example. They are constantly moving and by the time I post an image of one, it is already long gone from that spot. I do realize that large mammals can attract a lot of attention, such as wolves in Yellowstone, but I think that photographing and sharing images of animals and plants doesn't have to lead to increased human activity in a sensitive area.

Landscapes, on the other hand, does drive a tremendous influx of photo tourism. I've been doing landscape photography for about 40 years, mostly in the western US and I've seen many special places degraded and overwhelmed because of an explosion of information made available on the internet. In the '90s I would never see people making the trek to the hill behind Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone because only small numbers of people knew about it. Now there is a steady stream of people hiking the trail and cars park up and down the road in illegal spots to access the trail. I think it is just a matter of time before the park service closes that trail. The first time I hiked Little Wildhorse Canyon in Utah was in 2004 in early May. There was only one other car in the parking lot when I started and when I returned. I've been back a few times in the last ten years and the cars overflow the parking lot up and down the dirt road with easily 50 cars at a time parked there. In April 2005 I first hiked to Lower Calf Creek Falls in Utah and my wife and I were the only people on the trail until just before we returned to the parking lot where we passed 6 other people. Last year I hiked it and started before sunrise. There were a dozen people at the falls before me and coming back it was a nonstop flood of people heading to the falls.

There are some photos I won't post on the internet for fear of driving people to see these treasured spots.
 
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Though I dislike the damage that is done to areas, I sure do like that people are enjoying them; beautiful scenes should never be only the domain of the photographers.
I agree that places should be open to anyone. I don't like saying that only certain privileged should be able to use a spot. But, there have to be limits on how many people can go to a place. For instance, The Wave in Arizona can only be visited with a permit. It used to be only 20 people per day could get a permit. I believe they've raised the number to 64. It's a bummer that only a few people can visit it in their lifetimes, but it needs to be protected.

National Parks in the US will sometimes seek public comment on usage. I've commented through the process for both Zion and Arches National Parks pleading that there be a daily cap on visitation and offered ideas of how to achieve this. Many others expressed similar concerns and one of the parks was going to implement a cap, but the entire Utah congressional delegation said...over our dead bodies. So no limit was set.
 
Joined
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Moscow, Idaho
I'm sure we've all had experiences of showing up to shoot some iconic location only to be shocked at how many people are there and/or how commercialized it has become. That's what happened to me a few days ago. I saw some published photos of an interesting coastal location known as Playa de las Catedrales (Beach of the Cathedrals) near a town we were visiting. They were awesome shots of what looked like a pristine, rocky beach. It happened that the tide tables and weather conditions looked favorable so we drove over to the beach to try for a few landscape shots. I had a full set of filters, tripod, and a plan formulated in my head for some long shutter images. The location is not remote but is fairly well off the beaten path. When we got there I was absolutely shocked. There were two huge parking lots, a dozen or so tour buses, a bar/cafe, and hundreds of people wandering around. We walked down on the beach but there was so many people that I didn't even take the camera out of the bag. Snapped a couple of documentary shots with my phone and got out of there.

While driving back into town it occurred to me that this was probably an unknown, remote little beach until some professional photographer published images of it. I've seen several bios of professional nature/wildlife photographers who indicate part of their motivation is to raise awareness of threatened species/places. Presumably that is meant to aid in saving/protecting the planet. However I'd argue that said increased awareness has the (unintended) opposite effect. By raising awareness of beautiful places we also raise interest for people to seek out and visit those places. And in my experience the average person visiting places in nature is detrimental to that location. Trash, trampled vegetation, graffiti, etc, invariably result. Not to mention development of access roads, parking lots, souvenir stands, etc. So while photography may inspire people to love the planet unfortunately if may inspire them to love it to death.
I've been thinking along those lines for quite some time now. Instagram and FB certainly play a huge role, as do You Tube pundits.
 

Commodorefirst

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Wade
I traveled extensively in 96, 98, 2000, 2002 in the Southwest, Northwest, Alaska, Canada, and the differences then vs now is impossible to believe. We spent part our honeymoon in Rocky Mtn National park in 1984, and we hiked everywhere, including the popular hikes and rarely saw more than a few folks on each trail. Places we visit now the past decade we cannot find parking, are trashed, or are simply closed. The overlanding travel community (we were overlanders, travelers before that was a term, say back in the 90s) also have similar issues with back country trails and useage being accessible to everyone because of gps and modern communication tools. Solutions? Maybe limits, however, I also feel strongly that everyone should have the opportunity to experience these locations, without becoming an elites only allowed areas.

When trying to get trail and back country permits it is a frustrating pain and you must be fast on the cpu 6 months to a year in advance. So many are gone in hours.
 

kilofoxtrott

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Tettnang, Germany
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On the other hand...
Going into the woods to take pictures of mushrooms I always watch my steps not to destroy something.
Yesterday I returned to my favorite wood - and was shocked.
They had harvested the trees and destroyed nearly everything.
A Leopard II tank will leave less traces.

We photographers are to small th harm the nature.
Klaus
 
Joined
Oct 24, 2017
Messages
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Dubois, Wyoming
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Bill
Loved to death for sure. It pains me to go to Yellowstone and the Tetons even though they're so close by. That being said I understand why they're so crowded. I also realize that I'm just as guilty as everyone else who's there doing exactly what I'm doing.
 

NCV

Joined
Jan 31, 2019
Messages
633
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Italy
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Nigel
I guess I am lucky. When I hike in the high Apennines I am lucky if I see more than a couple of other people on a day hike. Sure the passes and the ski resorts are a bit more crowded, but most people do not shift more than two hundred yards from their car.

The problem is that "influencers" of all types, tend to send people to a few unfortunate places.

I dread the day when Our Apennines or Mantua ends up on some influential travel writers blog or video and it ends up overwhelmed like the Cinque Terre or Florence.
 

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