Like most photographers, I share my work on Instagram and Facebook as well as a few other social media platforms. This makes it very easy to reach people who might be interested in my work, to network with other photographers, and just plain keep in touch with friends and family. However, social media has a downside, and that is that sharing photos entices others to want to visit those places themselves. On the surface, there's nothing wrong with that. But the issue becomes that many of these places are not prepared for the influx of tourists. And unfortunately, many tourists do not behave properly and treat these locations with the respect they deserve.
Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints
I'm a big believer in the "Leave No Trace" philosophy. Leave No Trace is made up of seven principles:
- Plan and prepare.
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly (this is a big one)
- Leave What You Find (this one too)
- Minimize Campfire Impact
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Others
While Leave No Trace is primarily concerned with natural places such as national parks and wilderness, I believe in applying it wherever I go. I particularly pay attention to making sure I don't leave any garbage or litter behind, don't remove or destroy anything I find where I am photographing, and of course, being considerate of others.
This past week, I learned that the villages of Woodstock and Pomfret, Vermont, had decided to close Cloudland Road to non-resident traffic from September 23rd to October 15th. Why? Because Cloudland Road is fortunate enough to have two very photogenic farms on its length, and has become completely inundated with tourists angling to take their own Insta-moment. The first two images in this entry were both taken along Cloudland Road. The lead photo shows Sleepy Hollow Farm on a winter evening, but during the Fall, there have been hundreds of people and their cars lined up along Cloudland Road to view the foliage at this farm. This is a small country road that isn't designed to handle the traffic. Moreover, these farms are privately owned, and the owners and their neighbors often end up finding people trespassing on their property, destroying plants, trees, and leaving garbage in their wake.
I know I'm not totally innocent. Of course, taking photos in these places means I've been there myself. And by sharing these photos, I know some might be inspired to go see the place for themselves. But at the same time, when I visit these places, the first thought in my mind is that these are not public property and I need to respect that. Every image in this journal entry was taken from the roadside, without stepping foot onto private property. Even the image from Arches National Park, where there are many signs asking to stay on trails due to the fragile desert ecosystem, was taken from the road, rather than trampling on the ground.
The bottom line is, no matter how much we want that angle, or how much we want to get closer to that tree, that rock, that stream, or that barn, the fact is, it's private property. If you have not asked for and received permission to be on the property, you should stay off the property. I've heard stories of people walking down the driveway of Sleepy Hollow Farm, or traipsing through fields of other well-known farms. While I was in the Palouse in 2019, I came across a photo workshop where the instructor seemed to think there was no reason why his attendees shouldn't trample a farmer's field of winter wheat that was just coming in, just so they could photograph a tree! I had planned to photograph that tree as well, as it was a fairly well known spot, but when I saw that group I decided I wanted no part of it and moved on.
So for the photographers out there, please be respectful of others' property. Be respectful of others who may want to witness that same beauty after you. Leave no trace.
“Take only memories, leave only footprints,” was first said by Chief Seattle, of the Duwamish Tribe in Washington. I've since found a reimagining of the sentiment that I feel applies very well:
"Take only pictures. Leave only footprints. Kill only time."