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Respect

Walk Softly and Leave no Trace?

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David Ward

David Ward

T-shirt winning landscape photographer, one time carpenter, full-time workshop leader and occasional author who does all his own decorating.

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Prior to venturing out onto a sandy shore or through pristine snow with a group of photographers I often give them a little advice about tripod rage. This is a serious problem that can result in bruised egos or (in the worst cases) physical bruises, abrasions or even concussion. A minor downside of being on location with seven or eight fellow photographers is that they can sometimes crop up in your field of view. This isn’t usually too serious a problem; most are amenable to a kind request to move along. If they’re not you can always resort to the clone tool, Adobe’s humane method of removing people from your photographs. They might feel a little faint (or perhaps feint) whilst you do it, but at least no blood has been shed. If the location is covered in snow, however, cloning becomes something to be avoided – even for content aware Phil. Better by far to try and keep off the snow until you are absolutely certain that others are done and that you need to tread on it in order to reach the point where you want to make your photograph. Otherwise tripod rage might rear its ugly head as one participant treads on another’s pristine foreground.

Featured Comments From:

Michael SA: Thanks David. Something I have wondered about is hillwalking where this causes damage/erosion. Plenty of mountains now have well trodden paths, and every extra set of footsteps adds to the problem, in some cases creating horrible eyesores. Should we avoid these paths? And what if there is only one safe route (e.g. along a ridge)?

Andy Doune: Excellent article, thank you David. But which has the bigger impact? One out of a hundred photographers tread on a rare flower in the Rocky Mountains, or the global impact of the hundred photographers that flew there in the first place? Sadly anywhere that is popular or desirable will suffer in this way. The only real protection for remote and difficult to reach habitats is to keep them that way. The amazing photography and film making of the last 50 years or more, has educated and informed us, but has also created a huge demand in our affluent society to visit and see these places for ourselves before they ‘disappear’. I’ve always felt this attitude (regularly seen in magazines like the BBC) to be a bit of an oxymoron. How do we solve this problem – I’ve absolutely no idea, just that maybe we should think about that flight to California or South America just as much as not stepping on delicate habitats.


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  • Sometimes what we hope is ‘obvious’ still needs to be said, and sadly it isn’t just the land itself. A friend shared this appeal to identify a photographer seen inside a tern reserve only last night http://birdersagainst.org/bird-photographers-do-you-recognise-this-person/ so your article is very topical David.

    • Dorcas

      as a birder and photographer I try and spread the word too, anyone checked flickr and bird sites for recent little tern photos just in case

  • Thanks David. Something I have wondered about is hillwalking where this causes damage/erosion. Plenty of mountains now have well trodden paths, and every extra set of footsteps adds to the problem, in some cases creating horrible eyesores. Should we avoid these paths? And what if there is only one safe route (e.g. along a ridge)? Regards, Michael

    • Hi Michael,

      I’ve always felt that it was better to stick to a path, even an eroded path, rather than cause damage over a wider area. For this reason I’ll walk through the boggy sections on a path, that’s why I’m wearing boots! If it’s a question of safety then the path should definitely be adhered to.

      David

  • andydoune

    Excellent article, thank you David. But which has the bigger impact? One out of a hundred photographers tread on a rare flower in the Rocky Mountains, or the global impact of the hundred photographers that flew there in the first place? Sadly anywhere that is popular or desirable will suffer in this way. The only real protection for remote and difficult to reach habitats is to keep them that way.
    The amazing photography and film making of the last 50 years or more, has educated and informed us, but has also created a huge demand in our affluent society to visit and see these places for ourselves before they ‘disappear’. I’ve always felt this attitude (regularly seen in magazines like the BBC) to be a bit of an oxymoron.
    How do we solve this problem – I’ve absolutely no idea, just that maybe we should think about that flight to California or South America just as much as not stepping on delicate habitats.

    • Hi Andy,

      That’s a very tricky question to answer… A lot of attention is focused on air travel but so many things that we do in our everyday lives are more environmentally damaging than getting on a plane – changing our cars on a regular basis, for instance. The air travel is seen as a luxury and therefore unnecessary but we can all make choices that will help preserve the environment. Each journey starts with a single step and maybe choosing not to tread on that plant is as good a place as any to begin to make a difference?

      David

      • Thanks for raising this issue, Andy. I’ve raised it before myself, but at risk of becoming a bit predictable, I’d like to add the following.
        I recently attended a lecture by a climate scientist from a UK university. In his introduction he described all the ways he cut back on his carbon emissions in his private life – not owning a car, travelling by bicycle or train wherever possible, solar panels, house insulation etc. He really believed that he could do no more. Then his job at the university required him to make a transatlantic return flight. Taking that flight wiped out all the carbon emission savings he had made elsewhere over a twelve month period.

  • Very interesting read as always David and your passion for the landscape comes through in buckets.

    I had a very similar experience while shooting wild flowers one time but not involving a fellow photographer. A dog walker came to see what I was up to and asked what I was shooting. I proceeded to point out the small Bee Orchids on the ground and she marvelled at them momentarily. After saying her farewells she proceeded to stop all over said orchids, completely unaware of what she was doing. I could only stand in disbelief. So it’s not just toggers that have little awareness but I think we should know better than the general public in these situations.

    As for tripod rage….been there too….even on recent workshops where the van stops, doors open and it’s the charge of the light brigade to try and get what they think is the best spot. Some are less than respectful of where others are shooting. Probably the reason why I find myself wandering off in all directions to avoid the jostling for position. Previous workshops have seen queuing at locations such as St Michaels Mount or The Cobb, as ‘the’ shot is described by the leader and duly captured in turn by the crowds. Personally that is not for me anymore.

    Something that bugs me when out shooting is the ‘habit’ of dog owners scooping the poop into a plastic bag only to throw it into the trees where it hangs like a dirty xmas decoration. If you’re going to pick it up dispose of it properly.

    Rant over ;0)

    Alex

    • Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your kind words about the article. I would like to think that as professed lovers of the landscape photographers would be more aware of the damage that they may do and take more care to avoid it. Your orchid example is very saddening. Part of the reason for writing the article was just to make the idea of taking care explicit, to raise awareness. Sadly I’m also aware that the worst “offenders” are probably beyond the reach of this forum.

      Whilst we’re on the subject of litter, I’ve never understood how walkers can take a six pack of beer up a mountain, drink the contents and then leave the empty (and almost weightless) cans behind. What’s that about?!

      Rant over too 😉

      David

  • Adam Pierzchala

    As Michela writes above the obvious does need to be stated and as often as necessary: new hobbyist photographers may not be so aware when they join our community.
    Tim I wonder whether you could persudae all the UK photo press and galleries, curators and hosts of photo exhibitions to post or publish this article widely? It doesn’t offend anybody and makes a very valid point. Respect and enjoy the landscape, leave it as you found it and allow others to enjoy it too.

  • shoey

    Hi David, An article that certainly hits home to me. My favourite location for an early morning shoot is my local lake which is loved by many and desecrated by a few. I have to keep telling myself that it is only a small percentage of the walkers and visitors that leave the mess. How I loathe the takeaway food outlets in our area. However I have been heartened by the number of locals that assist in the clean up. Nothing like a couple of floating McDonald’s bags to ruin a misty sunrise. Shoey

  • Allan Harris

    I’ve often felt that photographers can become invisible to ‘normal’ people. I was in the USA at the Schwabacher Landing in the Tetons a few years ago and the reflections were perfect. A kid proceeded to destroy the atmosphere by chucking rocks into the stream, he was young enough to be unaware but his parents were watching me and couldn’t have cared less. Annoying – I should have hung around but the atmosphere was unpleasant and the mood destroyed. I liked your article on ‘tripod rage’ as well, been there, done that.

  • This certainly resonates. Having traveled more over the last few years both within the UK and abroad I have become acutely aware of ‘mans’ impact on many of our cherished wild places. I think we are improving here in the UK but more needs to be done to push the message out as we face growing challenges from a rising population.

    We are certainly in a far better place than in a number of European countries I’ve visited and photographed in over recent years. I understand that many struggle to provide the facilities we have here in the UK but it is such a shame to find so many Islands in the Mediterranean, The Canaries blighted by people’s litter and often areas not far from carparks and beauty spots blighted by use as toilets. A desire to capture the magic of these landscapes has on a number of occasions almost been replaced by a need to focus just on the litter, detritus and fouling.

    There is also a peculiar neanderthal desire by some to want to somehow mark their territory. Messages scratched and scrawled on rocks, carved into trees, cut into the broad leaves of succulents by the roadside. The soft periglacial sandstone outcrops throughout Kent and Sussex have been blighted by this peculiar need for some to leave their mark. I almost wore my clone tool out after a visit to High Rocks and Eridge Rocks last year.

    I will continue to include a couple of bin liners in my camera bags to tackle the easier litter and I’d urge others to do the same. I try to always consider the impact my presence will have on the environment within which I am working and David’s wise words are a good reminder, as it is so simple to get lost in your work.

    I’d also ask people and sheep alike to approach photographers perched on cliff edges with the greatest care. Announce your arrival calmly, from a safe distance, so not to scare us to a watery or rocky demise.

  • scott robertson

    A thought provoking article very well written in a sensitive manner David. This subject is very dear to my heart but fear of offending some I rarely mention the impact photography is having on my local area, Glencoe.

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