As an outdoor community, we are all seeing the negative impacts in many wild places that our adventures and photography are creating. I have been working on how to change my practices and found this awesome international organization focused on “conserving the places we love and photograph through wise use, education, outreach, community, and research” — Nature First. I am now the Rocky Mountain Region Community Advocate for Nature First and look forward to connecting with any of you interested in joining the movement or learning more.
The overcrowding in our national parks and on public lands in the last few years is undeniable. There are many reasons for this such as a strong economy and lower gas prices, but two of the most significant are the invention of the smart phone and social media. Everyone is a photographer now because of the phones we have and so many of us enjoy sharing our photos on social media. Along with this, we have seen funding decrease for our national parks at a time when more, not less, is needed.
As the crowds continue to rise, photographers (both professional and those with their phones) continue to travel and post to social media and our overall impact on our public lands is having a negative effect. Many of us are looking for ways to make positive changes as we continue to use our public lands. This is where Nature First comes in. The goal of Nature First is for us to enjoy nature responsibly, and they have come up with seven principles for the photographer community that put nature ahead of getting “the shot”. This is a newer organization with about 1500 members. The goal for 2020 is to get over 10,000 people signed on and I think we can definitely do that this year! You can learn more and take the pledge here: Nature First Photography Aliiance. Below are the Nature First principles and once you sign up, we also have Facebook groups and email lists to allow you to get involved with others in the community.
- 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.
Here are some practical ways for you to consider moving forward in a more responsible way as an adventurer and photographer:
- Try to find new, lesser know locations to explore and photograph – I took the above photo at a lake in Grand Teton National Park and was the only one here on this crowded fall morning in the park. I absolutely loved the solitude and listening to elk bugle and only had two hikers pass by the whole time. Meanwhile, at Oxbow Bend, there were approximately 75-100 photographers. The cover photo for this post is from a remote location in Hawaii that we only found by doing a lot of research. We encountered seven people here, where at a black sand beach we went to on this day that is all over social media, there were at least 50-70 people.
- Give wildlife lots of space and respect their environment and how they are reacting to your presence
- Don’t geotag on Instagram. Share general locations or none at all, but don’t tag specific locations
- Educate others about these principles and why you are choosing to follow them
- Encourage people with your social media posts – take time to share about impacts we are having on the environment and encourage others to think about it. Educate about a species, an area, how to protect it, the damage that has occurred.
- Follow the rules. They are there to protect you and the natural environment around you.
- Tread lightly on the land and pack out any trash you find
- When you go to popular photo spots such as the one below, consider the impact your actions have. I will always still visit some of these places that I have been going to for a couple decades because they are a part of who I am. Stay on designated trails, be respectful of others and if wildlife appear, give them plenty of space and back up if necessary.
Together, we can work toward improving our experience and others’ as well, while we put nature first in all that we do. Please check out the Nature First website and feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more specific information, especially for the states in the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.