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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Mark Guinn's picture

Apologies, I probably should have clarified my name calling. A lot of the places that I consider my secret "fishing holes" are places that most tourists would have no desire to go. For example, I've gotten some great shots at my local reservoir/WMA. This is a place where you'll only find a few hunters during deer season and a few local partiers (the "trashy types" mentioned before) that use this as a prime Friday night drinking spot since the cops don't bother going out there.

I do agree that tourists can do just as much - or more - damage. We've had several areas around here closed in the last couple of years because of some jeep clubs that love to roll up the mountainside and over the rolls just to show off their articulation. I've found plenty of places that I'd never mention to anyone in those groups because they're likely to ride up there with 20 of their closest friends and tear sh*t up for the sake of a cool facebook picture.

Tim Behuniak's picture

Exactly. And if you were to promote that spot, hopefully you'd mention some sort of LNT principle in the caption. Or, you could post a photo from the spot, and not share the location with anyone. This wouldn't be selfish, you would just be thinking about the impact the land could have on it if people trampled and misused it. I don't think anyone owes anyone else a location to a spot, just because that theme is trending. Keep whatever you want to yourself, but if you do share an image from a beautiful location, you don't necessarily have to share the exact coordinates of said location. Sounds like you have some nice, private fishing holes, as most of us do. I'm certainly not going to give the ones I know of out to the general public anytime soon!

Brandon Dewey's picture

Great article Tim! I 100% agree!

Tim Behuniak's picture

Thanks, Brandon! I think this is an important topic that needs to be talked about more within our community.

As a joke I always tag locations of my very interesting locations with names of local strip clubs or dive bars. I really dont want to draw copycats and the thousands of people that come along with them to the most beautiful areas because many of them are sensitive habitats that cant handle a ton of people traffic.

Bodkin's Best's picture

Yup. When posting pictures of well fed bears, tag the photo at Jenny Craig. When taking pictures of mountain lions, tag the photo at your local bar on "ladies drink free" night...

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

Even better:
Tag it with completely different place to fool the search engine and other bot using your pictures track you.
do the same with friend's face and birthday/event dates. Juts stop giving away you privacy.

Bodkin's Best's picture

Couldn't agree more.

Whether it's some yahoo in town blabbing to every tourist he sees, the city center doing the same thing, or some other photographer taking entire groups of people to locations they never would have found by themselves, it needs to stop.

I visit a few locations that, over the last few years, have gone from beautiful spots teeming with wildlife to trash ridden pit stops where the ignorant decide to bring screaming children, dogs, and usually leave their trash.

When regaling others with tales of your adventures, be vague about location!

Turn off your house’s air conditioning, don’t buy new cars even electric ones every other year and stop flying around the world and explore local places and you will do more for the earth than turning off your geotags. Thank you “Adams Ruins Everything” for demonstrating how we concentrate sometimes on the wrong problems. Seriously - geotags are killing the forests.

Tim Behuniak's picture

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.

my argument is not whether there is a correlation; the question is whether or not we should hang our hat on this issue when there are more important and immediate impacts. No reason blowing on the candle when the house around you is on fire. I am also calling out hypocrites that fly in high carbon footprint planes every other day who want to preach environmentalism. Want to save the places you love; stop using so much fuel and electricity and take lots of geotags.

Jordan McChesney's picture

I can see both sides of the argument. On the one hand some of us have limited time an resources to go out and "explore", so I do appreciate when I see a photo with a tag of a place that would make a nice 1 or 2 day trip. On the other hand, it is terrible when places get overrun by tourists and damage is done to the environment. I think the solution is somewhere in the middle, your solution of less detailed tags, mixed with just trying to be better being people.

I'm OK with the idea of less detailed tags on social media, but I draw the line at things like books. I recently bought a book of Japanese waterfalls by two Japanese photographers. The only reason I bought it was because they included the names and locations of each waterfall. I see this book as a valuable resource for planning trips, and I wouldn't have bought it (thus I would not have supported two photographers) had they omitted this information.

Personally, I find out about most of my "hidden" locations through my job or by talking to locals while I'm traveling, I get to meet a lot of people, so we talk about travel experiences, hometowns, hidden gems, and I occasionally stumble upon something while just clicking around google maps.

JetCity Ninja's picture

sharing your photo of a beautiful vista is invite enough, location info or not.

so stop sharing photos of the outdoors. your photo is even more destructive than the location data if the view is especially unique and is mostly what will lure people to the location.

i have a hard time believing this is solely about "protecting the wilderness" and find it more believable that it's primarily about people wanting to protect their "secret discovery." i'm greatly against people who trample our natural resources but this general attitude taken by groups like the Center for Outdoor Ethics comes of as plain smug and arrogant.

JetCity Ninja's picture

leaving out the location data in a photo is not "doing something." if you want to do something, go out and pick up trash in high traffic locations or vigilantly patrol the low traffic ones.

there's a difference between "doing your part" and just being smug. the decade-long spate of "bringing awareness" to assorted issues has tried to move that line, but it's still there, indelible as ever.

Daniel Medley's picture

This. Every time I go out I always carry a trash bag with me so that I can pick up trash that I see. I think that does more than hiding a location on a photo.

JetCity Ninja's picture

leaving out the location data in a photo is not "doing something." if you want to do something, go out and pick up trash in high traffic locations or vigilantly patrol the low traffic ones.

there's a difference between "doing your part" and just being smug. the decade-long spate of "bringing awareness" to assorted issues has tried to move that line, but it's still there, indelible as ever.

Travis Woodland's picture

This post bothers me a bit. No one is entitled to a location and if I want to share it and other people trash it, that's not my fault. I take pride in documenting and sharing the beauty of the earth. It's not mine, it's all of ours. If a location I shoot inspires others to get out and shoot, that's badass. And vice versa, I often draw inspiration from my peers. On the other side, if you find a place that is dear to you and you want to keep it private, that's your prerogative. But don't assume I'll trash it. A lot of the photos I take are taken in San Francisco. Overpopulated and trashed by default. So my goal is to get creative and take photos others havent already created. I often fail in this pursuit! Lol But this article essentially asks other photographers to leave. I read it to say "stay off my turf, or youll destroy the environment". I understand the sentiment, but it sounds kinda insecure to me.

Tim Behuniak's picture

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. (Plus the type of use that's carried out on the land). I agree, it is your prerogative to keep a place "secret" if you deem it so. I'm not asking other photographers "to leave." It's not insecure at all. I think you greatly misread and misinterpreted the article. All I'm saying is to think twice before sharing an exact location to thousands of people on social media/think about the kind of effect this will have on the land.

Bill Peppas's picture

Let us stop teaching photography because... they might find an awesome place, geo-tag it, and then lots of crowds will gather there and hurt the environment.

Let us stop teaching people how to drive a car, because they might buy one and lose control and hurt somebody.
...
...

Tim Behuniak's picture

Just as you learn about proper driving techniques before getting your license, it's imperative that we start practicing proper stewardship of the land we take so much from, and start practicing proper stewardship. I'm not saying to stop teaching photography or stop going outside, I'm simply saying that we should think twice before posting an exact location to social media for thousands of people to see. 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.

This seems somewhat absurd. People can figure out where the photo was taken from other means as well. The harm isn't from geotagging, its from rude tourists.

Tim Behuniak's picture

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.

I've thought a lot about this, and for myself, I've landed on this as my guideline: If it's a widely known, recognizable, and popular spot, I'll tag it (example: Horseshoe Bend, Angel's Landing). If it's lesser-known or unknown, I won't, or I'll tag a general area ("Utah"). I'm happy to share secrets with friends or people who ask in a 1:1 situation (usually), but I don't want to push it out publicly.

Side note: Half the reason I don't tag the more secret locations is because there are so many "trendy landscape photographers" on IG who have no creativity and only want to take photos at a checklist of spots because that's the thing to do (i.e. Havasu Falls, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, feet out of a Helicopter, girl with floppy hat sitting on blanket in a canoe, etc), and I don't want to give them ideas.

Tim Behuniak's picture

I tend to drift toward the same guideline as well. Definitely agree.

David Pavlich's picture

This seems a bit over blown. Human nature, tends to make people go to places of least resistance....that built in laziness is quite powerful. :-) There aren't that many people that are willing to hike miles into the wilderness to take pictures. I'm too old to do it, so I'd be one that would shoot at all of the well known spots that are easily accessed.

And truthfully, how many people do you know that are willing to hike up big hills for miles that are slobs? Seems like an over reaction at least and an overt 'suggestion' at worst; stay away from my spot! That's not good.

Does the "Center For Ethics, Leave No Trace" have a building with a lobby, a receptionist with a jar of candies on the desk and employee lounge, etc?

Tim Behuniak's picture

Perhaps you don't know that Leave No Trace ethics have become the common base set of principles for nearly every national and state park in the United States. It's an extremely reputable organization with a just cause: proper stewardship of the land.

I didn't know that. Thanks Tim.

Here's a perfect example why, for all those of you thinking 'but why not?!': https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-how-the-quest-for-the-per...

I'll go one step further: Can we just stop obsessing over "bagging the trophy shots" at all the most popular, iconic spots around the American West, or the globe. Leave the obvious spots to the tourists who don't know any better. If you consider yourself a truly passionate photographer, who cares about the places they photography, (whether you're a landscape photographer, or just a portrait photographer) ...then you ought to understand that sheer volumes of traffic to certain spots will harm that spot in the long run, and we owe it to future generations to find ways to spread out the burden of foot traffic more evenly, as well as practicing more "leave no trace" tactics for travel in general.

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