An overview of the first few months since Nature First’s founding, and an outlook where we are planning to go from here.
Emily Endean specializes in landscapes, nature and people. She usually chases the light and the weather around Dorset and Hampshire, near the coastal town of Bournemouth. Her images have been featured in local and national publications. When we reached out to her, she was kind enough to chat with us about how Nature First’s principles apply to her U.K. stomping grounds.
Tell us about yourself — how long have you been photographing? What are your favorite subjects? What fascinates you about nature photography?
Emily: At the age of four I moved to the beautiful seaside town of Bournemouth. It was not long after that I picked up my first camera. Urgency, deadlines and “clock time," as measured by hours, minutes and seconds, melt away, and photography becomes my escape from daily life. Once I am in that zone, I forget about the daily stresses of life, and there is nothing else apart from that moment. Seeing the conditions vary and taking in the excitement as a sky lights up with those otherworldly colors.... there is nothing quite like it.
How did you find out about Nature First, and why did you decide to join the Alliance?
Emily: I actually found out via my friend and fellow nature lover, Cissa Rego, who sent me a link to the Nature First website. As soon as I read the principles I just knew I had to sign up. The more I read the more I realized just how close to my heart it all was.
How do the Nature First principles apply to the places you photograph in the U.K.? Can you give us a few examples?
Emily: There are locations local to me here in the UK which, as the seasons change, present different photographic opportunities. Photography is a very popular hobby here, which is a fantastic thing. But with the rise of social media, that means that when these places become known, the masses descend. I’ve seen it all too often, people trampling wildflowers or scaring wildlife away. All of the Nature First principles apply here. From being conscious of prioritizing nature over the ‘shot’ and educating yourself on the area or the subject, to being discrete to prevent too much footfall causing distress to the area.
As you read through and thought about our principles, did you reflect on instances in the past where you have noticed nature photographers (maybe even yourself) having a less-than-desirable impact on the places you photographed, a sort of “lesson learned” a-ha moment?
Emily: I’ve always been a nature lover and for me, photography and nature go hand in hand. I have seen crops of poppies and wild bluebells being walked all over. I’ve even seen a modeling shoot going on in a field of poppies where the woman was laying on the floor and flattening the crop. It led to the farmer coming along, and he asked everyone to leave his land. He later sprayed and killed off the poppies to prevent any further attention.
How do you go about dealing with location information and requests for giving out that location information? That issue can be polarizing…
Emily: This is a very difficult one and causes a lot of backlash from people who want to know where the location is. I used to find it extremely awkward and replying to people individually apologizing but saying that I was unable to share that information. Now, as I post an image on social media, I may say, ‘Please don’t ask me where this is, as its private land’. I find explaining things from the outset prevents these types of questions. I do hope that once I have explained things, that people will appreciate where I am coming from, and I have on occasions received a great response.
One of our principles is to educate yourself about the places you shoot in. How do you go about that? Do you have any advice for other photographers?
Emily: I generally do a lot of research if I am traveling to a new area: The best places to photograph, the history surrounding them — I’m fascinated in learning about the places I shoot and how they have changed over time. To imagine the people that have trod the paths before me can be incredibly moving indeed!
Talk a little bit about your favorite experiences photographing out in nature in the U.K.?
Emily: For me, the highlight of photographing the landscape in the UK is watching it change through the seasons. From icy ponds, frozen grass and the occasional dusting of snow, to spring bluebells, summer poppies, sunflowers and an abundance of green foliage everywhere, to the turn of colors and everything being a beautiful burnt orange and golden brown – then starting all over again. I absolutely love to shoot the seasons here in the UK, which are forever changing!
Are you aware of other efforts like Nature First that are going on in the U.K.?
Emily: No, I’m not familiar with any other alliances such as Nature First! You have my support as an ambassador here in the UK as I’m sure you do from others. It would be great to see this going from strength to strength across the globe!
We want to educate folks about the impacts we as photographers have, but we also want to avoid nature photographers getting a bad reputation. Instead, let's focus on the bright side! What’s your take: Do we as nature photographers serve a greater good other than our own, selfish pleasure?
Emily: I do believe all photographers representing our beautiful surroundings are doing something wonderful. Being able to capture the most breathtaking of scenes when the light is at its best, shows everyone just how amazing the world can be. There is a lot of negativity in the world, and to be able to remind everyone just how beautiful nature is, is a responsibility that I love to share with my fellow nature photographers. I’ve had people visit certain places off the back of seeing my images because it reminded them what wonderful places we have right on our doorstep. That’s the biggest compliment of all — that my image made them go out and enjoy nature.
All photos in this article were provided by Emily Endean Photography.
You can get in touch with Emily through her various platforms:
Many nature photographers are already making incredible contributions and positive impact on the natural landscape. Simon Baxter, a UK based woodlands and nature photographer, has partnered with Trees for Life to create Meg’s Grove - conserving the native Scots Pine in the Caledonian Forests of Scotland.
Soon after we launched the Nature First movement, we started hearing stories about the irresponsible behavior of some nature photographers. Of course, these stories and their impact were the genesis of Nature First and the 7 Principles. But then, members started asking, “What will the Nature First organization do when they learn about irresponsible behavior?” And more importantly, “What can I do when I see irresponsible behavior, first hand?” So let’s take a look at each of these questions individually, because the answer to each is quite different…
What will the Nature First organization do when they learn about irresponsible behavior? This question can be broken down into two parts; official partners not upholding the 7 Principles, and individuals (perhaps even Nature First members) demonstrating irresponsible behavior.
Nature First is developing a formal agreement for official partners. This partnership will be extended to organizations and companies - from large corporations to small business workshop leaders, education providers, and gallery consortiums. Partner organizations usually contact us because they believe in the Nature First ideals and would like to help spread the word of the 7 Principles. The partner agreement simply outlines those expectations. And if a partner organization stops meeting those expectations, the partnership will be revoked. Pretty simple.
Responding to reports of irresponsible behavior by an individual, even one of our 900+ Nature First members, is not so simple… The primary goal of Nature First is to be an advocate for the 7 Principles and educate nature photographers, and all visitors to nature, about responsible behavior. Nature first does not have a formal agreement with each individual member, like we do with our partner organizations. When individuals sign up with Nature First they declare their commitment to the 7 Principles. We consider that a pledge towards good behavior, and we hope that everyone will do their best to honor that pledge. But each individual is different. They are at different points in their journey, learning how to be a responsible nature photographer. Each individual may interpret various situations in a different ways. They will have different levels of knowledge about their natural surroundings and the impact they are making. Everyone has made mistakes and behaved irresponsibly in the past, likely unintentionally, through lack of knowledge. Even the best of us can be careless in the excitement of the moment, or simply not know about the sensitivity of the area. The 7 Principles should serve as our reminders.
The primary goal of Nature First is to be an advocate for the 7 Principles and educate nature photographers, and all visitors to nature, about responsible behavior.
Nature First believes that these incidents of irresponsible behavior are an opportunity to educate and help individuals learn more about responsible nature photography. We want everyone included in the Nature First movement! Calling out, embarrassing or ostracizing individuals seen demonstrating bad behavior, and removing them from the Nature First member list would only serve to shut them out - possibly forever. We’d prefer that they learn from their mistakes and act on that knowledge next time they are in the field.
Nature First will not, and can not, police the irresponsible actions of individuals. That is not our goal. The 7 Principles are self evident guidelines meant to apply to all situations, and allow for each individual to interpret responsible behavior in the moment. They are intentionally not written as specific rules. Every country, park and preserve has defined those details in their laws and regulations. Knowing and following them is Principle #5. But we can not act as enforcement. We simply do not have the resources to investigate and corroborate reports of infractions. And we don’t believe we’re qualified to serve judgement - how could we possibly ensure fairness and lack of bias in every situation? No, enforcement and judgement are not our goals, especially when such actions would likely alienate those individuals from our movement - forever. We’d rather, they learn and grow to use better judgement, and be included in the Nature First movement.
Nature First will not police the irresponsible actions of individuals. That is not our goal.
So… What can you do when you see irresponsible behavior, first hand? If the behavior is clearly in violation of the law or rules and regulations, we encourage you to document the incident (you’ve got a camera with you, right?) and report it to officials. Let the professionals handle the enforcement. Beyond that, your response is very much up to you. But we have some recommendations…
If you feel safe confronting the individual(s) in the moment, we recommend a helpful, educational approach, instead of sounding authoritarian or enforcing. In other words, give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are simply unaware of the impact of their irresponsible behavior. “Hey, did you know that the area beyond the rope has plants that are really sensitive to foot traffic? Walking around over there is likely having a really negative impact.” This kind of approach is more likely to be successful than being authoritarian. No one likes being told what to do. We know this will not always be successful, and many are not comfortable confronting others. So you can always document and report irresponsible behavior.
If you see bad behavior on the internet (you don’t have to look very hard), we encourage you to reach out to individuals privately, if possible, and use the resources on the Nature First website to spread the word about responsible nature photography. People are much more likely to respond positively to private criticism (even if you never see or realize the change in their behavior). Publicly calling out an individual on social media will likely result in denial, deflection, rebuttal, and/or retaliation. We’ve all seen it. And it generally does not lead to a positive outcome. Education is one of the primary reasons for the Nature First website. You are always encouraged to reference it!
What if you learn about irresponsible behavior from a Nature First member? As disappointing/infuriating as it may be, try not to have a negative, knee-jerk reaction. Take the high road and think of it as an opportunity for that individual to learn and grow. Think about contacting the individual to ask them about their behavior. But first ask yourself:
“Did you witness the behavior, or did you hear about it 2nd or 3rd hand, or on the internet?“ Ensure you know the facts. Be wary of internet claims and squabbles.
Was the incident in the past, the far past?” We have all made mistakes in the past (that might just be our next blog post). And we’ve all learned some hard lessons on the negative impact we can make. Hopefully, that growth has led to better behavior today.
“Was the behavior intentional and/or a repeated habit, or a one-time mistake?” Again, we all make mistakes, especially “in the moment.” Mistakes that are unintentional or due to lack of knowledge are great opportunities to learn and grow. The vast majority of nature photographers are not purposefully damaging the environment. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Leverage the nature photography community! We have a forum just for that! You can make a difference by discussing bad behavior, and doing it constructively. Venting frustration is easy, and can be seen all over the internet. But let’s discuss how we can bring about change. That is how Nature First started.
The vast majority of nature photographers are not purposefully damaging the environment. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Bad behavior that is unintentional or stems from lack of knowledge can be opportunities to learn and grow.
So what it really comes down to, is you - all of you. Let’s work together to help spread the word and include more people in the Nature First movement, instead of judging, ostracizing and excluding. The Nature First movement - with all it’s individuals dedicated to the 7 Principles - can set the example, help others grow and learn, and turn the tide of negative impact on our natural treasures.
From the very beginning, we wanted this movement to be international and not overly biased towards the USA. We’re thrilled and humbled that we have members joining from more than 38 countries around the world in just the first 2 weeks. So here’s a personal shout-out to all our members outside the USA. Thank you!
Lars Gesing reached out to me last week for an interview about Nature First, how it started and why. It was great to meet him in person at a local coffee shop and chat about Nature First’s goals of advocating for responsible nature photography. Here’s his article on Nature First.
Ben Horne is a talented photographer, YouTube vlogger, and Nature First member. He recently published a video discussing Nature First and a great overview of the 7 principles.
This area six miles back from the trailhead had been trampled by far too many feet. But why had they been to this remote location? How did they even know about it? It then dawned on me, causing me to feel almost ill: I had published numerous photos of this area, shared the location online, and then told everyone who asked where this area could be found. The flowers were gone because of me. Unwittingly I had helped to destroy one of the most beautiful fields of flowers to be found in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Here’s a perfect (bad) example from Los Angeles Magazine reporting how crowds behaved badly during the 2019 California superbloom. Visitors, many of them photographers, stomped into fields of delicate wildflowers without thinking of the impact they are making on both the wildflowers themselves and on the behavior of others.
The Colorado Tourism Office and Leave No Trace are partnering to promote and provide guidance to visitors for enjoying nature responsibly. I’m proud to live in a state that is innovating and leading the way for other states in the region.
Read the original article here: