Nature First Principles Overview

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. #naturefirst

The Nature First Principles

  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


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The 7 Principles In-Depth

Principle #1: Prioritize the well-being of nature over photography

We are guests in wild places, which are the home to unique natural features, as well as diverse and delicate ecosystems. We, therefore, should tread lightly and never cause harm to the natural world in our pursuit of photography. Instead, we should minimize our impact to the greatest degree possible in order to preserve and protect these places we love.

Principle#2: Educate yourself about the places you photograph.

Different landscapes require different kinds of stewardship practices, so in order to best care for these places, we need to be knowledgeable about them. For example, while walking cross-country in some places (over snow or large desert dune fields, for example) will cause no harm, walking cross-country in other areas could significantly damage an ecosystems (for example, cryptobiotic soils in deserts, or slow-growing mosses in less arid places). Knowledge about the environments we photograph is essential to effective stewardship.

Principle #3: Reflect on the possible impact of your actions.


Seemingly innocuous actions may have significant consequences. For example, it might not seem like a big deal to set up a tent next to a lake or in a field of wildflowers for a photo, but such activities can have a cascade of negative effects. Other visitors will do the same, eventually eroding riparian areas that are necessary habitat for wildlife, or permanently eliminating the ability of vegetation to grow in heavily trafficked areas. Not only do these actions scar the landscape and affect wildlife, it is increasingly causing land managers to further restrict photographers’ access to these places as a result.

Also, consider how your behavior affects the experience of other users of natural places. Even if a photographer does not cause damage to a place, s/he may still ruin the experience of others (for example, using drones around others, leading noisy groups, and light painting). Taking time to reflect on potential consequences before photographing or posting a photo online can help avoid these issues.

Principle #4: Use discretion if sharing locations.


Sharing location information can have significant consequences for that location. As soon as a place is determined to be photogenic, it becomes a magnet for photographers and the general public. Many natural places simply cannot survive a significant increase in visitation. Keeping natural areas off the radar is the best way to protect them. If you decide to share information, only share the locations of well-known places or areas which are unlikely to be damaged by increased visitation. Respect other photographers who have made a choice not to share location information. Finally, consider not posting photos of sensitive areas online, even if you do not mention the specific location. Simply posting a photograph may create a desire for photographers to visit that area and people can often figure out where the photo was taken even if you do not disclose it.

Some areas can also be seasonally sensitive such as wildflower fields and fall color forests. Consider a ‘thoughtful pause’ of a week or more before posting your images to reduce the impact of real time trending and potentially harmful footprints of people who may want to immediately follow you to these locations.

Principle #5: Know and follow rules and regulations.

It might be tempting to hop over a fence and venture into a closed area for a photo. These actions, however, can have a snowball effect with negative consequences for both the land and others in the photography community. Many photographers assume that they are the only person doing these things and thus the impact will be minimal. At the same time, other photographers think that since others have visited a particular spot, it is fine for them to do it as well. The result is often continual damage to areas the rules were designed to protect, a loss of our integrity as stewards of the natural world, and an increase in the likelihood of further restrictions on the nature photography community.

Principle #6: Always follow Leave No Trace principles and strive to leave places better than you found them.

Leave No Trace is a widely recognized set of principles for outdoor stewardship. Nature photographers, like all those who recreate in the outdoors, should adhere to these principles. Follow the link to find more details on the Leave No Trace 7 Principles. You can take Leave No Trace a step further by striving to leave a place better than you found it by practicing these principles and doing simple things like picking up litter and reporting vandalism.

Principle #7: Actively promote and educate others about these principles.

Regardless of the size of your audience, you have the ability to teach others about these principles and encourage their adoption. When you share your photos or stories about your travels, you can influence others to be good stewards of our public lands, thus amplifying these messages. If you are comfortable playing an advocacy role, use whatever platform you have to speak out about these issues and find appropriate ways to discourage actions that are in opposition to these principles. Bad behavior by photographers reflects poorly on the rest of us.

Guidelines for workshop leaders and photography educators…

  • Lead by example. Acting ethically, and explaining those ethical choices, is even more important when in front of a group.

  • Keep group sizes small. Actively minimize your group’s impact on the places you visit and actively work to protect the experiences of those around you. It is your responsibility to make sure that your group is not disruptive to others.

  • Carefully consider the ramifications of taking a group to sensitive locations before doing so.

  • Follow rules and regulations, including permit requirements.

  • Consider showing examples of things that might make a good photograph but that should not be photographed if it requires damaging or threatening natural features (i.e., teach your students that it’s OK to walk away from a potentially good photo in some circumstances).

Why Nature First?

Nature photographers are increasingly becoming a liability for the beautiful environments they cherish and photograph.


Join The Movement

Ready to take the next step? Join the alliance for responsible nature photography, and start helping today.