My heart sunk as I approached the meadow. This spot which for years had been the most fertile section of wildflowers, usually filled with a mixture of elephant head, scarlet and sulpher Indian paintbrush, pinnate-leaved daisies and arrowleaf senecio, was now just a field of gravel with a few sprouts of green struggling to poke through. My mind raced trying to figure out what had happened. Then it slowly dawned on me. 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.
Over the next years I began to hear numerous stories of places being severely damaged either by photographers trying to get a particular shot or by the many visitors who came because of the photographers’ photos. A couple of trips to Iceland showed me that this was not confined to the United States but was becoming a world-wide phenomenon. Visitation to some of the world's most beautiful and delicate places had grown at a rate far beyond what these areas could handle. People were seeing beautiful locations online and flocking to them to get their own photos. These hidden gems were being damaged or destroyed soon after they were publicly exposed. At the same time photographers were going to ever greater extremes to get new images of wild places, tearing out lush moss off of hillsides and logs on their way to the base of waterfalls, crushing ancient sandstone fins and delicate crypto biotic soils in the deserts, jumping fences onto private property, lighting steel wool and fireworks, leaving trash, disturbing wildlife, and the list goes on. I began to wonder if we as photographers might be destroying the very thing we were celebrating with our photography, our spectacular natural world.
PROCESS OF ADDRESSING
I began talking with other professional nature photographers about this to get their opinion and most of them that I spoke with had their own stories and were very concerned. Yet no one was quite sure what could be done about it. So in 2016 I came up with a proposal that I circulated around searching for feedback. Through this process it slowly became clear that what was needed was a set of principles that would highlight best practices when photographing the natural world. So I organized a meeting with a number of well-known nature photographers and we gathered in Ridgway, Colorado in the spring of 2018. During our meeting we developed a set of 7 principles that we felt would help to curb our impact on the environment. Those who attended this meeting plus a few others have become the working group behind this initiative. Those in the working group are: Sarah Marino, Ron Coscorrosa, Jack Brauer, David Kingham, Jennifer Renwick, Matt Payne, Scott Bacon, Tony Litschewski, Mike Anderson, Eric Bennett, Phil Monson and myself.
Knowing that we don't represent the full spectrum of landscape photographers, we sent out our proposal to quite a large and diverse group of landscape photographers to get their input. We then spent much of the year tweaking and adjusting these principles based on their very helpful thoughts and suggestions, resulting in the seven principles listed on this website.
One of the concerns that was expressed early on was the potential impact on those who make their living from nature photography. As a number of us in the working group are professional nature photographers, we concretely sought to address this. The final principles we believed could be followed by pro-photographers. While it may change the way we approach delicate places, our hope is that these principles will help ensure that there are beautiful untouched natural places to photograph for generations to come.
Our aim is to change the culture of nature photography. We believe that nature photography should help celebrate, inform and protect the natural world, not lead to its damage or destruction. We've chosen the name "Nature First" as the very heart of these principles is putting the well-being of nature above our photography. We would like to see our community become one which is in the forefront of environmental care, bringing attention to our society of the need to care for and preserve natural lands.
WHAT WE ARE
We invite you to join this alliance of photographers committed to responsible nature photography. (https://NatureFirstPhotography.org) We don't have any agenda other than for you to join us in committing to applying these 7 principles in your own photography. This is an informal association of photographers who are passionate about caring for the natural world. We're not trying to be another Nature Photographer’s Network (NPN) or North American Nature Photographer’s Association (NANPA) but rather be a movement within the photo community that we hope will spread to all photographers and photo organizations across this planet. This movement isn't limited to nature photographers but is open to anyone who ever does photography in natural environments. We believe that by standing together around these principles that we will be able to change the current photography culture and do our part to help preserve the natural world.
We realize that this is just the start of what we can do to reclaim our role as ambassadors for the natural world and that there is still much work ahead. Eventually we'd like to gather together additional groups to develop principles that apply to their specific genre whether that be wildlife photography, portrait photography in nature or photo workshops. We also would like to become a force to encourage speaking out on behalf of the natural world and educating our world about the preciousness of our remaining wild lands.
I hope that you will join us in this endeavor. We aren't coming with all the answers but merely with the initiation of a platform where we can begin this journey together. We look forward to your participation, input and feedback via our forum as we develop this initiative together. https://www.naturefirstphotography.org/