How to Photograph Responsibly in Nature

How to Photograph Responsibly in Nature
Taking photos is a great way to record and share your experiences in nature. Sometimes, though, photographers get a little carried away trying to get that perfect shot and may cross the line between good and bad behavior. Keep a few simple things in mind, and you'll be able to shoot with a clear conscience.


Difficulty: Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • Clothespins or flexible clamps
  • Bag to collect trash
Step 1
Respect signs and fences that indicate off-limits areas. Whether restrictions are to protect fragile plants or habitat, or because of hazardous terrain, these signs pertain to everyone---including you. It's not cool to break the rules; it's inconsiderate and selfish. What if everyone did it?
Step 2
Know what not to walk on. In the desert, cryptobiotic soil is very fragile and takes decades to regenerate after being walked on. Arctic tundra is similarly delicate, and may never recover from significant trauma. Motorized vehicles such as ATVs and snow machines cause major damage to such environments and should be avoided at all costs. In beach areas, stay on elevated boardwalks where available.
Step 3
Minimize damage where you do set foot. When with a group, walk single file in the same set of tracks. This minimizes impact, and in many cases also reduces disturbances that can spoil your scenic shots. Sand dunes are a great example.
Step 4
Don't take any "souvenirs." Picking wildflowers is illegal and degrades the area for future visitors. Collecting rocks, pine cones or other items is also prohibited in national parks and forests. Instead, use your camera to gather memories.
Step 5
Be careful how you "clean up" your shot. If you want to move branches, leaves or other items out of a shot, use plastic clothespins or a flexible clamp and be careful not to damage plants. Remember to remove pins or clamps and take them with you when you've got the shot. Moving rocks is disruptive to the soil and to organisms that may live under the rock, and should not be done.
Step 6
Leave wildlife and their homes alone. You are a guest in their house---uninvited. This means no feeding, rock-throwing, yelling or whistling to get their attention, or provoking birds to take flight. This is not just common sense; some animals are legally protected from harassment. The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act mandates keeping a minimum distance of 100 yards from whales, seals and other marine mammals. Stay well away from all female animals with young, and from their nests or dens.
Step 7
Don't litter. Pack out all of your trash, including toilet paper. Even organic items like apple cores or other food trash can disrupt delicate environments, and can alter animal behavior in ways that are bad for people and animals alike. Keep a bag in your camera pack and pick up trash you see.
Step 8
"Green" your gear and photo processing. Use rechargeable batteries instead of disposables. They last longer and are much greener. When possible, use a solar-powered battery charger for cell phones and other devices. Look for minimal packaging when buying equipment and accessories. Print only essential photos. Share online instead, saving paper, ink and electricity.

Article Written By Peggy Hansen

Peggy Hansen holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from UC San Diego, Doctor of Medicine from UCLA, and completed postgraduate training at Stanford, Duke and Harvard. An award-winning writer and photographer, her work has been featured in Catnip, Herbalgram, Porter Gulch Review, and many online pieces. She's also a commentator for KQED-FM

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