"The battle for Conservation must go on endlessly. It is part of the universal warfare between right and wrong." ~ John Muir
December 2019’s issue of NZ Photographer magazine featured an article by Ann Wheatley, “Taonga First”, about the impact social media and increased tourism is having on natural environments around the globe and the role photography plays in this. On reading the article, I found many of the ideas resonating with thoughts that I had had over the past few years. I reflected on the role of the social media and the many articles and blogs that list the “Top 10 Places to Photograph in xxx” or “The Best Instagram and Photography Spots in xxx” which are helpful in some ways, but can also be detrimental to the often outstanding locations they mention.
I am sure you know of at least one location that has become increasingly inundated with visitors, photographers and instagrammers as they line up, literally in some cases, to get their shot of an iconic location or view. If you have visited these locations, you may have had your experience impacted negatively, either socially, because of the number of people that were there or, environmentally because of the rubbish and degradation you encountered. It seems ironic that in the attempt to capture the stunning landscapes in NZ and the world that inspire many of us, inadvertently visitors, instagrammers and photographers are impacting negatively on the very environment whose beauty they are trying to experience, capture and share.
Wheatley’s article mentions a group of photographers who created an alliance to address the concern they had around the increased visitor numbers to public lands and wild places, and the impact sharing photos and location information on social media had on these areas. The Nature First Alliance created seven principles to underpin an ethical approach when photographing in the natural environment. The seven principles are:
- Prioritize the well-being of nature over photography.
- Educate yourself about the places you photograph.
- Reflect on the possible impact of your actions.
- Use discretion if sharing locations.
- Know and follow rules and regulations.
- Always follow Leave No Trace principles and strive to leave places better than you found them.
- Actively promote and educate others about these principles.
The principles are simple. They can be implemented immediately by anyone whether they are a visitor to another country or within New Zealand, whether they are an instagrammer or photographer. I know I have followed some of these principles rigorously during my photographic adventures and others less so, but will endeavour to do better in the future, will you?
Call to Action
As you visit and travel to places either in New Zealand or around the world I challenge you to photograph responsibly, follow the Nature First Principles, promote them and educate others. Every conversation has the potential to make a difference.