Photography's Role in Outdoor Ethics
We have all been there:
That leaf is just so beautiful! That is one giant feather! That seashell is so perfectly symmetrical! Really, what's the harm in taking it with me?
Every outdoor enthusiast understands the powerful draw of memorializing one's journeys and adventures. The natural world is full of objects, animals and vistas that speak to us on a primal level. It is only natural to want to take such feelings and experiences back home with us. How does the conscientious and ethical outdoorswoman/man handle these moments of temptation?
The Answer: Photography
The outdoor recreational culture is being dragged (sometimes reluctantly) into the age of technology. While the proliferation of UV water-purification, GPS devices and smartphones is a contentious point among many outdoors enthusiasts and gearheads, I submit the digital camera as a piece of technology that we all can rally behind.
By photographing the natural word, we are able to preserve those qualities which most draw us to the natural world. Often it is an object's context that imbues it with life and beauty. By removing that object from its natural context, the backcountry visitor inevitably strips that object of its found charm. Photography allows us to capture context and give our backcountry souvenirs depth and meaning. Moreover, the recent explosion of digital cameras has made it easier than ever to memorialize more of your experiences.
The growth of camera options (smartphones, point-and-shoot, mirrorless and DSLR) gives everyone an equal opportunity to document our adventures and leave the natural world as we found it. Additionally, as the computer has replaced the darkroom in photographic post-production, the process of developing photographs has become far less resource-intensive (again, Mother Earth rejoices.)
I should say here that there is such a thing as unethical backcountry camera-use. During my work in the Appalachian Trail backcountry, I often see people get carried away and use their cameras in disruptive and disrespectful ways. Whether its the hiker who chases a deer through the woods, flashbulb blazing, or the day-hiker who takes unsolicited and intrusive portraits of grungy backpackers, camera use is often abused to the detriment of the entire community.
Not only do such "techniques" harass wildlife and disrupt other visitors, they also create distance and detachment between the photographer and his/her subject matter. I have found that my best photographic work is done when I am conscious of myself in a space. Often, the most emotionally charged aspects of natural scenes are those with the least photographer presence.
In other words, good backcountry ethics leads to better photography and vice versa. With the growth of digital photography and its increased accessibility, every backcountry adventurer can mitigate their resource impact by taking photographs and leaving what they find. So add a camera to next adventure's backpack; for your sake and mother nature's.
Max's Conservation Photography Shows
MAX MISHKIN is...
a conservation photographer. Max's passion is to show the intimate and majestic moments that define great outdoor spaces.