12 Ways to be an Environmentally Friendly Photographer

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The nature of photography is to preserve a scene, emotion, mood, idea, concept, piece of history, etc, via the photograph. We capture what we see at a particular point in time, space, and perspective using the tools of the trade. But as photographers, we also have an obligation to preserve something more important — the environment.

Nature photographers have long been on the forefront of environmental conservation. Art Wolfe, for example, is not only known for his impressive nature photography, but also for his love of the environment. But nature photographers aren’t the only ones responsible for the environment; we all are. The following tips can certainly be applied to natural environments, but many of them are just as applicable in other situations such as street photography — the environment doesn’t end where the streets begin.

Here are 12 ways that you can personally save the environment and ensure that future generations will have the same photographic opportunities that we have.

  1. Tread Lightly
    Be gentle on your surroundings with as little impact as possible. The environment will help reclaim itself, but not if you keep beating it down.
  2. No Trailblazing
    If you’re outdoors where trails are available, don’t make your own. If everybody with a camera left the trail, the impact would be massive.
  3. Don’t Alter the Scene
    Staging a shot by moving or removing parts of the environment is a big no-no. Either make the shot work, or find a different scene.
  4. No Souvenirs
    If everybody took something back with them every time they went out to photograph, there’d be nothing left to photograph. Get your souvenirs in your camera.
  5. Keep Your Distance
    When it comes to wildlife, stay far enough away to keep your presence unknown. Disturbing animals can have severe effects on the local ecosystem.
  6. Pack It In — Pack It Out
    It’s fine to bring waste-producing items with you on a photo outing, but don’t leave it out there. If you had the room to bring it, you have the room to take it away.
  7. Clean Up After Others
    Packing out our own trash is good, but packing out the trash others left behind is great! Make the next photographer’s experience a better one.
  8. Carry a 1-Gallon Bag
    Not only can this handy item protect your camera in wet weather, but it’s also a great trash receptacle.
  9. Document the Beautiful
    Capture things that amaze us. Let everybody know just how beautiful that place can be.
  10. Document the Ugly
    Capture things that disappoint us. Let everybody know that the environment needs our help.
  11. Use Rechargeable Batteries
    If you have a compact camera or a flash unit that uses AA batteries, use rechargeables — they can last for years and help reduce unnecessary waste.
  12. Be a Leader
    If you see somebody doing things that will harm our environment, stand up to them and make them aware of the impact they’ll have.

What other things can we do as photographers and as world citizens to preserve our environment?

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About Brian Auer

a photography enthusiast from North Idaho. He's also the guy behind the Epic Edits Weblog. As a hobbyist photographer since 2003, his passion has been to constantly improve his photography skill set, to share his own knowledge with others, and to become an integral part of the photographic community.

15 thoughts on “12 Ways to be an Environmentally Friendly Photographer

  1. Brian Auer Post author

    Actually, I’d be curious to know what the environmental trade-offs are between digital and film… they both have aspects that are bad for the environment.

    Thanks for the link to Art’s videos — I didn’t even know about this show. But then again, I don’t watch TV.

  2. Jim Goldstein

    Great write up Brian. One thing to add is if you don’t use rechargeable batteries be sure to properly recycle your standard alkaline batteries. In California its now the law to recycle batteries…

    As for film versus digital. I think the edge likely goes out to digital. A large amount of chemicals are used for film processing. Now chemicals are primarily used in circuit board manufacturing and in less quantities… or so I hope. I’m not curious to research this more.

    As for Art’s program its great. I’ve missed a few episodes, but I’ve also seen quite a few. They’re quite good.

    In case you’re curious my Blog Action Day post/challenge:
    Environmental Photography Impact

  3. Brian Auer Post author

    Thanks for the recycling tip Jim. I didn’t even know it was a California law. Too bad those Art Wolfe videos aren’t on the web somewhere (are they?), I’d really love to check them out. The only thing my TV is hooked up to is the Playstation, so I don’t really have any good way of catching them when they air.

  4. Brian Auer Post author

    This is true, photographers can be an awesome weapon against many things. Our medium of choice is (in my opinion) taken for granted by many people. You see photos everywhere, and most forms of documentation rely on the photograph to make an impact.

  5. Pingback: A Roundup of Environmental Photography | Epic Edits Weblog

  6. April

    I’m glad you talked about the importance of taking away litter. I go out into the countryside every weekend and am amazed at what stuff people leave lying around, whether it be milk cartons, juice bottles or cigarettes. I don’t understand why people go to the bother of going into the countryside only to do that. It makes no sense to me.

  7. Used Car Engines

    another point… if you’re an amateur like I am using digital instead of film can be helpful too… that way you can go home and delete the “Finger in the way” or ” hit the shutter button while taking the camera out of the bag” shots without wasting the film and paper :)

  8. Jamie

    Just found this article – thanks for the tips. I’m a nature photographer and looking for additional ideas on lmiting my environmnental impact…any other suggestions woudl be welcome! I’m particularly concerned by the impact of getting to and from nature/landscape locations. For many of us, this means long car trips, perhaps a plane ride, and often off-roading to a trail head (not something you can do in a hybrid car). Just driving a hybrid isn’t a complete answer (though it is a step in the right direction). Other ideas on improving the transportation/access part of a photograpy outing? Does anyone consider buying carbon credits? Does anyone offer to plant a tree for every photo sold? Are there environmentally friendly framing options? (mats from recycled materials??)

  9. Pingback: Seeking Environmental Photos for a Magazine Article

  10. Brian Auer Post author

    For sure man! But be sure to leave the comment on the other post so I can keep track of everybody. And don’t be shy, drop the actual photos in the comment!

  11. Thomas

    I guess, it simply boils down to the old proverb "Take nothing but pictures – leave nothing but footprints".

    I guess, we are underestimating the more indirect impact that our photography has. As Jamie pointed at: how about the environmental impact of transportation? Of the production of our (frequently exchanged) high-tech equipment? Of all the IT-hardware that we need for post-production? The energy consumed by running it? Of printing, framing…

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