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Is It So Hard To Be A Responsible Photographer?

As more and more people pick up phones and cameras to record and photograph nature it seems that common sense with regards to being responsible has gone out the window. I think it is wonderful that so many people want to go out and experience nature, record it and take photographs but is nature suffering as a result?

This is something I think about a lot and have heard stories from all over regarding lots of different species although it mainly seems to be plants. There seems to be a drive to get photographs of particular species and it has kind of become like photographic trophy hunting but in amongst people trying to get shots or maybe get a better shot than a friend our delicate wild flowers are being trampled and damaged and this is true of both those that take photographs for a hobby and professional photographers, although arguably the latter should know better.

At this time of year my thoughts turn to bluebells in particular, one of our much loved wild flowers and a real delight to see them carpeting our ancient woodlands in spring, but for how much longer? These flowers are incredibly delicate and the wonderful carpets we see in the spring time have taken years and years to develop taking between 5-7 years to flower from seed . So what damage does straying off the path, taking your child or pet into the bluebells purely for a photograph do?

As leaves are damaged, they die back and are unable to photosynthesise which means food supplies for the following year are depleted resulting in reduced ability to flower the following year, this damage can take years to regenerate if no further damage is caused. However, in popular spots it's likely that the damage can be huge and studies have shown that bluebells are no longer able to produce seeds after 200 trampling incidents, so there's some food for thought next time you want to go get "that shot", is it worth causing so much damage? The answer is most certainly no, I for one would like future generations to be able to enjoy the displays of bluebells carpeting our ancient woodlands for many years to come.

In some areas we are already seeing the results of years of damage, including paths becoming wider where those bluebells growing next to the paths have been trampled to the point they no longer flower and in some cases fences are now being put up now to protect them. This is to me is a direct result of a lack of respect for nature, complete lack of common sense and far too much selfishness to get a photograph. I have even seen some professional photographers offering photo shoots in bluebell woodlands for you or your pet, these shoots are money making schemes for these photographers causing possibly irreversible damage, the same can be said for some photographic workshops. These workshops can be a lot of fun but if it causes so much damage maybe it's not so much fun in the long run, sticking to paths and being careful is something I strongly emphasise on my workshops from the word go before we even start.

A couple of tips to help conserve these little flowers whilst still be able to take photographs:
  • Stay to the marked paths, there are normally many good opportunities to photograph them from the paths you just need to take the time to look and be creative.
  • Don't take your children, pets or models into these delicate carpets for the sake of a photograph and keep your dogs under control so they don't run through them either.
  • Be careful where you're putting your feet, tripod, bag etc, just make sure it's not on top of the flowers.
  • Encourage friends and fellow photographs to think more responsibly too.

So is it just bluebells?

Well, no quite simply. I was lucky enough to photograph some beautiful orchids last summer, only to hear reports a few days later of the areas being completely trampled including other orchids all for the sake of a photograph and in one case two days later an orchid going missing completely. Some orchids can take up to six years to flower and may only do so once in their lifetime, worth considering next time you're out.

It's not just plants, the same can be said of many different species including amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and invertebrates, all of which have become photographic trophies at one point or another. I have seen on more than one occasion people disturbing, moving and in some cases harassing species purely for a photograph that might win them an award with absolutely no regard for the stress they may be causing or potential long term damage. It is possible to get some beautiful photographs if you just take more time over them and be careful and watch where you put your feet, tripod, bag etc. It just takes some careful thinking.

What about organisations and Competitions?

We are constantly being encourage to go and take photographs by various organisations be it for social media or for competitions, so should these organisations have more responsibility to promote responsible photography rather than just encouraging people to take photos?

Personally, I think yes they should be promoting responsible photography rather than just saying get out and take photographs, be it to share or for a competition. If they are encouraging people to go and take photographs then they should be providing information on the importance of being responsible about it to protect nature, otherwise there are those that will do whatever it takes to get the shot at whatever cost to the subject if they think it will win them a competition or a whole load of sharing and likes on social media.

So here's some food for thought next time you go out to take photographs, be it for a job or just for fun. The welfare of your subject is the most important thing you need to consider, you should never put your need for an image before the welfare of your subject, and it certainly isn't worth damaging nature in the short term or permanently just because you may win a competition. Our nature is undergoing enough challenges right now, we don't need to add careless and thoughtless photographers to that mix. To all those careful and responsible photographers out there, great job keep it going and encourage others to do the same.

Thank you for reading, have a lovely weekend and remember to be a responsible photographer if you're heading out this weekend.