Once you find a great location, do you share it or keep it secret? If you keep it secret, why? Are you doing it to protect a fragile location or to protect your investment in searching it out? Do you have other reasons?
Thomas Heaton's recent vlog recap of his early morning landscape hike above the valley of Glen Coe in Scotland is a fantastic trip and so is worth a viewing for that reason alone. Watch both the hike and the recap for the best scenery. I'm a big admirer of Heaton's work. On a YouTube full of talking heads, Heaton's videos are full of both practical advice and beautiful landscapes (and recently soundscapes).
However, what really got my attention was Heaton's off-topic comments about keeping locations secret. He touches briefly on his thoughts about sharing locations with other photographers and the internet as a whole. Intrigued, I reached out to Heaton who responded with a series of even more interesting comments.
If you've been following along with Fstoppers recently, I'm sure you'll have noted the recent debate about revealing locations through geotagging. Check out:
- Jack Alexander's article on geo-tagging newly discovered caves,
- Tim Behuniak's articles outlining his opinion on geotragging,
- Behuniak's related article providing some results to back his opinion, and
- Alex Coleman's recent article discussing Jackson Hole's request to stop geotagging specific locations.
All caught up?
In our correspondence, Heaton explained that if his locations are close to roads or are long-time secret local spots he won't share them. This makes sense to me, at least in part. If a place is susceptible to being overrun, publishing its location is likely to have only one outcome: destruction. I also have no issue with keeping a location secret if it took me hours or weeks of research to find it. It's my sweat equity.
Sharing / not sharing locations is a complex issue.
I have to stress that I'm not a fan of the idea of being a self-appointed steward. I'm barely a fan of private property if it keeps me away from something beautiful. For example, having recently traveled to Oregon, I jumped up and down in excitement when I found out that the entire coastline had to have public access. Even on the few areas of private coast, the law requires a public easement for access. This was far different than my experiences at some coastline castles in Scotland that required hours of hiking just to run into fences. I've been following this debate on Fstoppers closely. I've had a really hard time coming down on one side or the other.
Heaton agrees that sharing or not sharing locations is a complex issue. Heaton explained that, in his opinion, small, hidden, sensitive locations should not be shared because of increased footfall.
. . . small, hidden, sensitive locations should not be shared because of increased footfall.
Heaton's approach isn't strictly protectionist (which, for the record, I don't entirely disagree with). Heaton went on to explain that he will often share just enough information so that photographers who wish to put in the effort and do some research should be able to find his locations. To me, if your concerns are environmental fragility, this is way to go.
In my opinion, if something is too easy to find or to get to, it will mean larger crowds. Larger crowds will mean that there is an increased chance that the location will be overrun. There is also a greater chance that more people, or at least someone, will not take proper care.
On the other hand, if you require that others put in an effort to find your location, it's likely that they will develop some kind of commitment to the location. And, in my opinion, that will mean that they are more likely to respect it. If someone respects something, to me, it's likely they will take proper care.
As Heaton puts it,
I'm usually torn. I want to share and help others, but I have learned over the years that it's not a good idea to give everything away . . . I will usually give my general location such as the national park I am in, but not necessarily give the GPS of where I parked my car.
I'm also torn. I want to share. I generally don't feel that the natural would should be kept private based on stewardship principles. Good stewards educate and then share. But, increasingly, I'm bearing witness to the destruction of some easily accessible wonders. I'm even seeing some really hard to get to wonders get trampled down. I think Heaton has helped me to finally come down on one side. Share, but share in a way that requires the recipient to educate themselves and, hopefully, as they become educated, to want to protect the location.
I'm likely to tell you exactly where I was standing to get:
You won't even have to buy me a drink. It was after all only a few steps off the path; on the way to the biggest attraction in Bhutan (keeping in mind that not that many people are willing to make the trip all the way to Bhutan).
I'm happy to tell you that this next shot was taken in Phobjika Valley, but, I'm unlikely to tell you where. The valley's Black Neck Cranes live in a very delicate balance. If you really want to see the prayer flags, you're going to have to put in some work. I'm assuming most won't and this means the cranes will get a break.
Last, I'm almost positive I wouldn't share the location of:
It's certainly not my best photo. The sky certainly didn't cooperate. But, it took several days of driving to get there. Several days of dusty, bumpy, winding roads that clung to the edge of 700 foot cliffs. It was in Eastern Bhutan, I'll give you that. It took a lot of effort to get guides and drivers this far from the west / central. I'm not sure I want to share. Call me selfish if you want. But I put in the work, that's my prerogative. For a few drinks and some decent conversation I'm likely to tell you the name of our driver and guide though.
Of course, I'm still firmly in the camp of refusing to share for selfish work product reasons. That's each individual's choice. I just don't want to see them clothe themselves in the garb or self-righteous, err, self-appointed stewards.
Where do you come down? I'd love to hear why you agree or disagree.