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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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..."'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.

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.

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 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.

Jon Dize's picture

Way too damn sensible Daniel... I hope you're wearing a spit shield.

Too easy to reverse image any IG photo and figure out the location

Simon Patterson's picture

I'll be interested if you can determine the lat and long of the cover image of this article. He's given us the general location in the article.

Tim Behuniak's picture

It's in the Adirondacks, but not Marcy!

Tim Behuniak's picture

Where is the image from the cover photo taken, then?

Allan Savage's picture

"Too easy to reverse image any IG photo and figure out the location".

Sorry, but that really is up there as one of the most inane comments I've ever read. I could easily and quickly find a dozen (dozens, hundreds ...) of my landscape images and I'll guarantee you could not determine the location. If you think I'm wrong, answer Tim's question: where was the cover photo shot?

John Tyson's picture

The concern for the POTENTIAL negative impact on the places we tag is understandable and admirable. That being said, I think it is important that we DO tag the locations. More and more people are turning away from outdoor exploration and more towards gaming and online activities. If a person, who rarely gets out, sees a "rad photo" on IG and sees the location, and visits that may have just created a new outdoor enthusiasts. A person who starts to appreciate and respect the environment. Protected lands are under attack right now. We need land activists, not Instagram "stay away from from secret awesome spot" people.

Tim Behuniak's picture

I agree, somewhat. I think that you can tag a location: "Adirondacks," rather than a specific place: "Mt. Marcy." This is still promoting visitation to a place but not directly to one that could receive tons of traffic which potentially isn't healthy for the land.

Sam Hood's picture

Your point is flawed Tim, if you tagged the photo "Adirondacks" people could still potentially go there and drop litter. I completely agree with you John, geotagging is also a great way to plan a trip abroad where you simply might not have the time to go searching for specific spots. By using geotagging in the past, I've been able to fit more trips into my holiday because I know where I'm planning to go.

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