Photographic Ethics

As landscape, travel and wildlife photography have soared in popularity over the last decade, it has become apparent that photographers have real impacts on their subjects. Stories of bad behavior by photographers in the field and online are now distressingly common. There is clearly an opportunity right now for for photographers to hold more visible public discussions regarding ethics and to lead by example. I am grateful to see an organized push in this direction from the League of Landscape Photographers (headed by Darwin Wiggett and Samantha Chrysanthou). The following is my attempt to work through a personal code of ethics pertaining to my photography. Inevitably, such a code must be a lifelong work-in-progress, so future changes and refinements are to be expected.

Photographic ethics for me must be driven by an understanding of the reasons I make images. I pursue photography in natural landscapes to satisfy a deep and lifelong curiosity about the world, particularly about its geology, biology, history and future. I photograph out of a desire to share this curiosity and insight with others, and because to photograph an area well forces me to study and understand it better. To conduct this pursuit ethically, it is ideal that my practices in the field and my sharing of images will neither damage the objects of my curiosity nor diminish opportunities for others to conduct their own explorations of the world and make their own discoveries.

There are three area in which to consider the ethics of my photographic practices: physical effects on the landscape, social effects on the landscape and effects on my fellow visitors.

Physical Effects on the Landscape:

I strive to follow Leave No Trace best practices in the field. I do not damage landscape features for the sake of an image, including live plants. I make every effort to ensure that wildlife is not stressed by my presence. I treat archaeological, historic and paleontological resources with utmost respect and caution. I pack out litter whenever I can and look for other opportunities to leave the landscape better than I found it. I do not drive off legal routes or hike in closed areas. I inform myself about and obey applicable laws, regulations and local best practices.

Social Effects on the Landscape:

Though I encourage others to explore the landscape, I do not wish to diminish other people’s opportunities for discovery and solitude. I do not publish coordinates or directions to sensitive or unknown locations. I avoid feeding publicity that is likely to bring heavily visitation to lightly-used areas. I attempt to educate myself on the natural history of areas I visit and on the threats they face. I make every effort to process my images honestly and to convey a true vision of the world we live in. If I take artistic liberties, I will disclose them. I strive to educate others on the value of public lands and natural treasures, and to set a good example of ethical behavior in the field. I donate imagery, time and money as I am able to organizations working to protect the areas where I make photographs.

Effects on Other Visitors:

I am polite and respectful to other photographers and visitors in the field and online. I practice safe backcountry travel and avoid foolish risks that might ultimately inconvenience or endanger friends, bystanders and rescuers. I respect others’ right to enjoy and experience the landscape with me, even if it is photographically inconvenient. I offer appropriate help and advice to people in need, whether in the field or elsewhere. I support and encourage other photographers and interpreters of the landscape when possible, especially talented learners.

In the Field

In the field, courtesy of Greg Russell, Alpenglow Images

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