I think most landscape and nature photographers who are passionate about their subjects (ie., not just the number of social media followers…) easily align with causes like Leave No Trace and Nature First, and readily embrace their principles — most likely without even thinking about it. Caring for the places, creatures and things that we photograph is simply the right thing to do.
And it’s not enough. Not anymore. With each passing day of more heatwaves, fires, droughts, storms, and floods, it is becoming clearer that we need a message of stewardship for Earth itself, and all life on it. If we photographers embrace the principles of caring for the land and the flora & fauna, it would seem natural to me to extend these principles and look, no pun intended, at… the bigger picture. Earth.
“We shall be known for the tracks we leave behind.”
(Native American Proverb)
Every time I browse a landscape photographer’s workshop offerings, I have extremely mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s great that there’s the demand for it, that there are people who are eager to see the world and capture it with their cameras. And on the other hand, I see a combined hundred thousand airline miles — that go into ultimately producing more photos from the same “iconic” locations.
Locations that don’t need more “promotion for protection” (in the old, conservational sense of landscape photography) to begin with, of course — on the contrary! Nowadays, many of these places probably need protection from over-visitation. Instead, yet more attention is drawn there, and just one transatlantic flight from New York to Europe (or vice versa) roughly doubles one’s annual CO₂ footprint (depends a little bit on which side of the pond you live).
It’s easy to embrace these principles, but to fully grasp their implications, in the face of climate change, while also trying to find a reasonable balance that allows us to live happy, contempt and productive lives? I find that really, really hard. During the pandemic, it was easy to switch all of my photography-related work “online”, using Zoom and other screen sharing software, but I can’t switch to Zoom when I want to make photos. I need to be there, and I too have places that fill me with longing to see them (again).
But how much am I willing to travel for photos? Where do I even want to go, and which method of travel do I choose? At this point, driving my not-so fuel efficient SUV 100 miles one way to our “local” desert, on an interstate at 70 miles per hour, when I really only need the high clearance for those last 5 miles of dirt road at the end seems just as nonsensical to me as the transatlantic flight to make more of the same images of say, Iceland. (and try to find a truly off-road capable electric or hybrid car.)
Obviously, I don’t have an answer. There is none. I don’t even want to promote the idea to “shoot local” — considering that it is what I mostly do anyway, it would seem just too convenient and self serving (and that 200 mile round-trip thing in our SUV is what I’d consider “local”, too). So, no. How far one desires to travel for photographs is an individual choice, but perhaps we can make it a more conscious, educated one, that takes more of all the tracks and traces that we leave behind into account. And maybe create more original photographs that way, too.
Thank you for reading.