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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149 Comments
Deleted Account'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.

Deleted Account'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.

Deleted Account'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.

Deleted Account'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.

michaeljin'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. ;-)

JetCity Ninja'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.

:)

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?

Pieter Batenburg's picture

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

Ed Rhodes's picture

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!

Gregg Mad's picture

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.

John Tyson's picture

Bingo. Why should we assume the worst of everyone? Why should we assume 1) anyone would even go there after seeing the tag and 2) they would actually harm the land? The desire to share this beautiful planet with others should come before the tendency to assume the worst and "hide the sweet spots."

Brandon Dewey's picture

I don't see it as selfish, I found a location by doing my own research, and I have no doubt if I found it, other people will also. I don’t want to keep an area all to myself; I want other people to experience the beauty of any given location. I have found the more effort I have to put into finding a new location to explore, the more connected I become with that location. If people have to put in a lot of effort to find a location then 1) it will help keep the foot traffic down, which will help pressure the environment, and 2) people that put effort into finding the location will usually be a lot more respectful of the environment, and 3) if they are lucky, while they were researching this location, they also found two or three other places to explore, which will also help spread people out.

Daniel Medley's picture

Personally, I get much of the same personal pleasure as you do in finding and exploring places, but projecting what you or I want onto others just seems a little, for lack of a better phrase, off putting. Deciding what is best for others comes across a bit arrogant in my opinion. Plus it doesn't take into account the fact that there may be those who for whatever reason aren't able to wander around the countryside looking for a particular place; they just want to go to a specific location.

Duane Klipping's picture

It is not about deciding what is best for others but what is best for the environment. People are pigs and ALWAYS discard items rather than take it with them. A pristine condition that took decades or centuries to get can be destroyed by uncontroled heavy foot traffic alone.

Tim Behuniak's picture

All I'm suggesting is that we use general locations rather than specific ones, as mentioned in the article. And a caption could include positive LNT practices.

Daniel Medley's picture

I get what you're suggesting. I would be on board with the LNT practices, but the obscuring of the location I'm not really on board with. I think your intentions are in the right place, but I just don't see how a photographer tagging the location is in any way responsible for knuckleheads that abuse the land.

Plus, what about those who may not be as physically fit for whatever reason and are not able to traipse around the country side in the hope that they may find a particular location?

Matthew Saville's picture

Daniel, you're overlooking two important aspects of the whole equation: Firstly, if someone is disabled or not physically fit, and wishes to see a beautiful location that is very obscure but still within their reach somehow, there are PLENTY of ways for them to contact the right people, make a few new friends online, earn trust, and get to a location.

Secondly, regarding the not seeing how "photographers geotagging is in any way responsible for knuckleheads..." ...it's just a matter of statistics. Every photo that gets tagged, every thousand or ten thousand people that see that photo, ...there's going to be 1% or even just 0.1% of people who are reckless, disrespectful, or just self-absorbed and unwelcome in the outdoors.

So yeah, part of it is "you're not welcome here". But if they're the type of crowd who loudly parties in the wilderness with their beer and annoying electronic music, even though other people are trying to truly experience the wilderness just around the bend in the river, then I have no sympathy for them if they get frustrated about having to "work a little harder" (on the internet, from the comfort of their own homes, I might add) to find an exact spot.

Jason Nash's picture

Why? If it is so important to prevent others from visiting the same location, why did you go there? You probably stepped on wildflowers, insects and destroyed their habitat with your big old foot. Sorry, but this is just virtue signaling. "I can go and not disturb pristine locations, but others cannot be trusted". BS. Bad people will be bad regardless of where they are located and responsible people will be responsible.

Tim Behuniak's picture

This is not the point of the article, and a wild assumption to make. The point is to be better stewards of the land, and think twice before posting. Buy a guide book - no one is obligated to share a specific location to thousands of people on social media.

Jason Nash's picture

Why do you believe you are a better steward than someone else? I agree you make assumptions of others. No one said anyone was obligated. I just disagree with your big brother logic and I am not the only one. Too much virtue signaling going on.

Matthew Saville's picture

There's nothing "condescending" or "gatekeeper" about it. The bottom line is that people put in the hard work to find a spot, and they don't owe anybody anything when it comes to sharing that location with strangers. The unfortunate truth is, YES, there are "bad apples" out there who ought to be slightly less able to find certain delicate locations.

So, yeah, go tag the heck out of places where other humans often go, where there's a decent infrastructure in place to accommodate the foot traffic. But when it comes to delicate hoodoos or high-value petroglyphs or flora/fauna, DO think twice before just putting GPS coordinates out there.

Also, at the same time, everybody should be earnestly working to ensure that the next generation is raised with more respect for the outdoors, and any location/property that isn't theirs, for that matter. With populations increasing everywhere, the %% of "bad apples" increases too. Which is why we need to work hard to educate our kids so that they don't turn into the next A-hole who goes ATV-ing across delicate soil, or defacing delicate rock art, starting fires where it's extremely risky, etc. etc.

All I know is, my parents raised me right, and I know there are way too many others out there who were NOT. So boo hoo, I'm not sharing exact details about every spot I go to...

Daniel Medley's picture

"... there are "bad apples" out there who ought to be slightly less able to find certain delicate locations."

Yes, nothing gatekeeper about that.

Matthew Saville's picture

I believe Galen Rowell called it "good stewardship".

Again, this is just a matter of a sense of entitlement VS an honest, earnest passion for conservation and stewardship. Just because I post a photo on the internet of somewhere I go, doesn't mean I owe the internet anything more than the picture itself. I captured the photo for the purpose of helping the general public realize that the places ought to be preserved, not necessarily trampled over by every epic-selfie-spot-seeking millennial.

Tim Behuniak's picture

Well put. Many are calling me something along the lines of entitled for this article, but I couldn't disagree more. I think they're misreading it. I'm simply suggesting second-thinking location sharing to thousands or even millions of people, for the good of the land that we take so much from.

Dana King's picture

you should join the "Let's reduce the population to 500 million squad" because your alludes lean in that direction. All the land for me and a special few, F-@#$ the rest.

Matthew Saville's picture

How can you think that, Dana?

This is literally a matter of saying, "no, I'm not going to do an easy 10-20 minutes of internet research for you, and hand you something on a silver platter that you're not paying for and are asking of a complete stranger."

There is no "special few" here. There are just those who do the little bit of extra work to figure out something themselves, and those who are so lazy and selfish that they expect it to be handed to them, for free.

Nathan Farber's picture

https://www.theringer.com/2016/11/3/16042448/instagram-geotagging-ruinin... A good article that explains the idea a little better. Not saying it will change your mind but its another way to look at things.

Daniel Medley's picture

It doesn't change my opinion. It actually bolsters it. The headline itself is absurd; How Instagram is Destroying Our Natural Wonders. As if IG is responsible. I'm not sure how or why this approach ever gained traction, but IG is not responsible for destroying natural wonders. The people that treat the natural wonders without respect are responsible.

Compared to 30 years ago, there isn't a place around that doesn't have increased traffic; there are more people in higher concentrations. It's a matter of public policy being developed and implemented to address these issues.

Keeping locations secret is not the solution.

Tim Behuniak's picture

You're right, the social platform is not responsible, the people on the social platform are. But think - why is there increased traffic? People (myself included), advertising certain places to literally thousands of people through platforms like Instagram, Facebook, 500px, etc. are certainly a reason for increased traffic in certain places. Public policy is struggling to keep up. It's naive to believe that there's no correlation between the places we post about online and the amount of people that end up subsequently visiting them.

Daniel Medley's picture

I understand that. But it's a band-aid fix that in the long run will fix nothing. It's not addressing the issue in a really meaningful way. Plus, it assumes that everyone is a bad apple.

Sometimes solutions to problems require real work. I know that keeping a place secret is easy and can make one feel as though they're actually part of a solution, but it's not a real solution. Plus, it's demeaning to those who behave responsibly.

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