Are nature photographers increasingly becoming a liability for the beautiful environments they cherish and photograph?

Photography and the natural world have gone together since the earliest days of the camera. Historically, photography has been a vital tool in environmental protection, promoting the conservation of wild places, and encouraging positive stewardship practices. As early as the 1860’s, the work of photographer Carleton Watkins helped pave the way for the later creation of Yosemite National Park and photographers such as William Henry Jackson, Ansel Adams, Philip Hyde, and many others made significant contributions to the protection of America’s wild lands and wildlife. Across the world, nature photographers have made similar contributions, leaving a legacy that makes it possible for photographers today to enjoy protected wild places.

More recently, a convergence of complex factors is having an increasingly negative impact on public and protected lands. These factors include:

  • The rise of social media, increasing the ease of sharing photos and location information online

  • A significant increase in the popularity of photography

  • Steep increases in visitation to public lands and wild places

  • Lack of widespread knowledge of basic stewardship practices and outdoor ethics.

As a result of these factors and others, we have reached a point in which visitors generally and photographers specifically are causing tangible, extensive, and progressively worsening negative impacts on nature. For example, some photographers are trampling wild lands, ignoring regulations, damaging sensitive areas, interrupting and diminishing the experiences of other users, disturbing wildlife, and inviting (implicitly or explicitly) the public to do the same.

While the most significant of these developments may seem separate from photography, many of these pressures on wild lands stem from people being drawn to such places because of inspiring photographs. Most individual photographers have not intentionally contributed to these negative impacts. Still, we have the opportunity to acknowledge that nature photographers have become a significant contributor to these issues and thus hold responsibility in addressing these trends in a proactive and positive way.

A group of nature photographers concerned about these accelerating trends have come together and contributed to the creation of these principles. We have each committed to following and promoting these practices and encourage our fellow photographers to do the same. If nature photographers do not take this kind of collective, proactive action, not only will we continue to see extensive and irreparable damage to our most precious natural places but we will also see a growing number of regulations and restrictions put on photographers.

Please join us in considering and possibly re-thinking your own practices, adopting or adapting these principles, and helping promote these ideas among other photographers.

Learn more about the Nature First Principles

“As nature photography continues to increase in popularity and damage to special wild places accumulates, we all have an increasing responsibility to be good stewards of the places we visit, photograph, and share with the public. This effort can help reverse these negative impacts through education and sharing tangible steps to reduce our collective impact.”
— Sarah Marino