Please Stop Tagging the Locations of Your Outdoor Photographs

Please Stop Tagging the Locations of Your Outdoor Photographs

Please stop tagging the exact location of your outdoor photographs.

I'm just as guilty of it as anyone else. I used to share mountain, lake, river, and scenic vista names for all of my Facebook, Instagram, 500px, and Flickr audiences to see. Through my own outdoor and landscape photography, I always want to encourage others to have their own outdoor experience and to understand why nature is worth loving. But then I realized the impact I was most likely having. 

Not only was I potentially getting other people to explore their backyard, but I was most likely also a cause for the backyard's degradation and eventual destruction. There is no doubt that ad agencies and individuals alike on social media play a role in promoting outdoor activities and locations, but have you ever thought what the impact is of those posts?

In recent years, the Center for Outdoor Ethics, Leave No Trace, has asked that we stop geotagging our locations on social media. If you're an outdoor sports, lifestyle, or landscape photographer, consider asking yourself before sharing a location with an image if it's worth it:

Will this place be negatively impacted if I share the location on social media?

Another point worth considering regarding tagging locations is that true adventure, in my opinion, is slowly being lost. It's now easier than ever to see an image of a place, then Google the location and find exact coordinates. It's very rare that we take out a map and compass in order to find a spot that's worth discovering for ourselves. Why not walk in the woods to discover your own beautiful location? Most of the time, putting in effort, blood, and sweat can make a place much more magical. 

So, if you are going to share an image of a beautiful landscape or outdoor location, consider tagging the region instead. Instead of tagging Mt. Marcy, for example, you could say, "Adirondack Park." Additionally, consider adding a caption about positive leave no trace principles, like carrying in what you carry out. You can help be a steward for the places you love while also promoting your work and encouraging others to get outside. 

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150 Comments

user-201297's picture

I applaud your motives but am unsure of the impact that omitting the tags will have. For most images, other photogs can get a fair idea of the location and my fear is that they'll wander more widely across the area looking for the site than would be the case with the tags. This may vary by site, but for a shot in a canyon in Zion, for example, seeing an outstanding image may just be a motivation for ducking into many of the side canyons to explore rather than just going into the one canyon. If you could keep them from knowing it was in Zion, it may work better.

Tim Behuniak's picture

I understand the point you're trying to make, but I think that you still shouldn't take an exact location. I think "Zion" is better than "Insert specific vantage point here." I think that posting a photo and tagging the general area is much more responsible. Plus, a caption could include the importance of staying on trails in National Parks.

user-201297's picture

As I said, I'm unsure which would have the bigger impact - it may vary by locale. Perhaps the problem is just too many of us landscape photographers out there and we're just debating whether a more broadly diffused impact is better or worse than a more focused one, though they're both bad.

user-201297's picture

Tim, one added thought. As I said in another reply, the geotagging dilemma depends on the impact of disbursed traffic versus concentrated traffic. The full solution would be not to post the pictures at all. Yes, we'd lose the street cred from posting photos of unusual sites, but we wouldn't fan the flames of people looking for out of the way locations. We could still enjoy the images and share them in less public forums with people of shared wilderness sensibilities. Perhaps a justified trade-off?

Tim Behuniak's picture

Very, very good point. I honestly think that's a great idea! Just out of curiosity, do you share the sentiment of this article in that you don't geotag your locations when posting? Or, do you not even post images to large social media platforms at all? I definitely agree with your point, but I almost wonder if not posting at all is the best solution. And if it is, I feel like our shoot-and-post culture wouldn't be ready for that suggestion.

user-201297's picture

I do post landscape images (on 500PX) but generally from the recognized trails or well known sites. In part this reflects my focus on the southwest where you mostly need to stay on trails due to the risk of damaging cryptobiotic soils. You can use slick rock or washes to get an angle on a subject, but you can't really go exploring too far. For example, I have a shot from inside Tower Arch in Arches NP that required a little slick rock climbing from trails end but no real exploring. I did explore more widely in Badlands NP, for example, where the official view is "go anywhere" since the top couple of inches washes off every year. Also, I only generally tag the image locations but more out of laziness and the lack of a GPS add on.

I would guess that you're correct about the culture, but even if we only reduced the volume it's progress. Also, we could work to make the challenge the quality of the shot, not the uniqueness off the location.

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

I’m tagging all of my photos “planet Earth” from now on. How’s that?

michael buehrle's picture

unless you get to ride on that rocket with that chinese billionaire

Tim Behuniak's picture

Thanks for passing it along! It's important info.

Mark Guinn's picture

Lol! You must be primarily a “city dweller.” When you spend a lot of time up in the mountains, you find out just how quickly an iPhone battery will drain as it’s on 1x and searching for a signal. I keep a compass and paper map in my bag every time I go out because, you know, safety. I may not use it every day, but I’d hate to be lost without it.

Michael Jin's picture

"When you spend a lot of time up in the mountains, you find out just how quickly an iPhone battery will drain as it’s on 1x and searching for a signal."

Solution: a 20,000mAh battery pack to keep your cellphone charged. :)

Mark Guinn's picture

True, those work really well until you fumble it into the creek. Or until you are in one of thousands of areas where there's not enough signal for Maps to find you.

The old school map/compass may not be the latest and greatest, but it's worked flawlessly for hundreds of years... even soaking wet and with no power source. ;-)

Han Seoul-Oh's picture

download the map to your phone and turn off reception. internal magnetometer, gps radio, accelerometer and barometer should then function for days if used sparingly. downloaded maps are the same as any other "analog" map: it just takes up less space, is easier to fold and nowadays, more accessible to most. it can also function without a gps signal and is able to be marked without a pen. used properly, it's an effective alternative but can needlessly be "iffed" to battery depletion.

plus, a map and compass cant call for rescue if you break a leg nor will the average hiker passing through know enough morse code to understand the flashes you make with the compass' mirror. furthermore, a map is generally as useless as a smartphone when either is dropped in a river... one may still function but the other will float away.

if you use a battery pack, dont use it around water. that's basic electrical safety and it applies in both the mountains and the city.

really, a hardcopy map, and knowing how to use it, is primary for anyone going into the backcountry.

however, we shouldn't be going into the backcountry according to this Center for Outdoor Ethics, so this is all for naught.

:)

Ansel Spear's picture

I agree. I always carry a back-up paper map when out in the 'countryside'. It weighs nothing and doesn't break.

Matthew Saville's picture

Solution: Put your phone in airplane mode, turn on the GPS only, and use an app like Backcountry Navigator. A 2-3K mAh phone can last for many days that way, if only used periodically to check forks in the trail etc. Also, there are ultra-light solar USB chargers. ;-)

Mark Guinn's picture

Great! So you understand the importance of having backup navigation tools! ;-)

Mark Guinn's picture

First, I really enjoy your chosen font (the sarcastic font is my default setting). Second, I agree with you about the organization. It’s groups like this that have locked down some of my favorite spots in the name of “preservation.” Why save it if no one can enjoy it? Instead, promote education and, for those that are determined to destroy and vandalize, push for harsher penalties.

Oh, and I remember those 3 ring binders! Lol!

Jefferson Ashby's picture

I agree with Mark here, compasses and real maps are both really important for backcountry travel. GPS and phones are useful tools, but shouldn't be relied on

David Pavlich's picture

If you're going to spend a load of dinars on a trip into the back country and you're going far enough that getting lost is a possibility or being injured to the point that you can't get out, invest in an EPIRB. Just go to epirb dot com to find out about this little life saver.

Simon Patterson's picture

Your "PETA" comment got me thinking you might be onto something there.

I'm getting mighty tired of groups who purport to advocate on behalf or something (or someone) else, but then mainly communicate "shut up" to the rest of us.

This does look very much like another such group. "We represent the environment so please shut up about geotags".

If we start to see the "geotag police" start hounding photographers who disagree with their viewpoint, then we'll know for sure it's another PETA-style movement.

Tim Behuniak's picture

Most people who head into the backcountry use a map and compass, and if not, it's highly advised. What if a cell phone dies?

Mobile phones are utterly useless in remote areas. No cell phone reception. A map and compass will always work.

I'm in my 30's and still use a map and compass.

Ryan Davis's picture

I'm 45. I never use a compass- I navigate by the stars, and tree moss, as real men do.

Jon Dize's picture

Real maps? You mean no batteries required?

Jon Dize's picture

When the fecal expression merges with the rotating airfoils... those who can read Hard Copy Maps and a Compass WIN ALL THE COOKIES!

An alternate solution would be to change random numbers in the Lat and Long numbers in the geotag. That could lead to some really lost copy cats. I've heard of some fishermen doing this to their catch and release photos to protect their honey holes.

Bill Peppas's picture

Stuff to laugh about.

Daniel Medley's picture

I live in and am a product of the mountain western US. I do a lot of traveling and hiking into wilderness or near wilderness areas. I take photos. I often times geotag them. I plan to keep doing so.

In my opinion it strikes me as a bit condescending and selfish to keep something hidden from others simply because some may be irresponsible; behaving as some sort of on high gatekeeper. Also, if someone uses my geotag to locate an area and they behave irresponsibly, I in no way share blame or responsibility for the actions of others. Also, who am I or anyone else to impose my sense of "true adventure"? Personally, I love going on adventures. But there are times in which I want to go to a specific location and I don't want to go on an adventure to get there.

We can't control the behavior of others but that doesn't mean that others don't have as much of a right to visit public spaces as me or anyone else.

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