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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I have a hard time fully agreeing with this. Your point is well made and I agree that there are many people that do not respect the environment. However, the other day I was telling my son about how a selfie killed a man because he fell to his death. He quickly pointed out that the selfie didn't kill the man, the fall did. Likewise, sharing the location of a photo does not ruin the environment, careless visitors do. Would you encourage locations like Horseshoe Bend or Glacier Point to ban selfies? I doubt it. You encourage people to be careful. In this instance we should encourage people to visit places and be respectful. In order for people to really start caring about nature they have to find a place in their heart for it. They're not going to appreciate and truly love the natural environment by looking at an Instagram photo.

With that being said, I think I will start backing off on sharing the specific coordinates of my photos and step back and just share the general location.

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. And I agree. This is why I mention in the article that perhaps image captions could/should include educating people about proper LNT practices.

Matthew Saville's picture

If anybody doesn't believe there is a correlation between internet information and increased visitation, just consider Reflection Canyon. It was completely unknown to the modern world until Michael Melford "found" it in 2004/2005, and then it was featured as an Apple desktop wallpaper a few years later. Now, I'd estimate that dozens of people make the non-trivial trek into the wilderness every spring to visit the place. There is no trail, no water, and yet people still go to that exact spot, 8-10 miles into the middle of nowhere, just for the one composition. I did it myself in 2016, and it was only through the aide of online postings (NOT social media, mind you, but plain ol' website surfing....) ...that I was able to plan the trip and get there.

Tim Behuniak's picture

prime example, thanks for sharing.

I'm wondering if we should just refrain from sharing on social media photos of places that we love. If just sharing a photo like Reflection Canyon results in people visiting the location then just posting the image seems to be all that it takes for a beautiful location to potentially go viral. Did Michael Melford or Apple provide the exact location the photo was taken or did others figure it out?

Matthew Saville's picture

It's a bit more complicated than that. The story of Reflection Canyon is a long-term one, that took multiple instances of publicity, including being published in National Geographic, (worldwide readership) and being used as an Apple Mac wallpaper. (Again, worldwide reach)

At first, for years, only one person ever bothered to re-trace Melford's steps, and even then they did it in a totally new way, apparently. You can figure out who this is with just a little bit of sleuthing. But then, it really picked up after social media communication in general picked up, and the Apple wallpaper showed up. That's when larger groups of adventurers started going there. By that time, about a half-dozen different KML files could be found on various websites that chronicled people's adventures. THAT is what allows people to get to Reflection Canyon in particular. Because quite honestly if it weren't for people publishing GPX files etc. on their websites, seeing a random picture on social media would not be enough to help this many people get over the hurdle. It's just that brutal of a hike.

I went in 2016, and I suspect that to this day my friend and I are still the only two people to ever spend two nights at Reflection Canyon, in modern times at least. We captured this photo. (see below)

While we were hiking in, we actually ran into another hiker on their way out, someone who I actually recognized from my own hometown even. Small world! Even more crazily, this person told us that he had also run across a group of 5-6 who was also out there. We didn't run into these other folks, though.

Since 2014-2015-2016, more and more have done either a day hike there, or a 1-night hike. If I ever go again, I suspect I may not have the viewpoint itself all to myself for 36 hours, like I did before.

But, when the conditions get this brutal, I don't mind crossing paths with a few other adventurers. Because when you're this far out into the wilderness, you're usually meeting competent, respectful people who would never do something as horrible as carve their name into a rock, etc. You're meeting like-minded individuals who have the utmost respect for the outdoors. Even though some of them are only there because they got GPS info on the internet.

Unfortuantely, this will indeed change over time. I've already heard 2 reports of individuals who almost died trying to get to Reflection Canyon because they were underprepared and the conditions were just too insane. If it were only a few websites with GPS info, this might not happen, but the combination of BOTH social media popularity AND private websites that chronicle peoples' adventures, that is what gets scary results.

Someone mention educating people. I believe thats the answer. Teach people to respect these environments and to enjoy them without damage the nature around them.

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. And I agree. This is why I mention in the article that perhaps image captions could/should include educating people about proper LNT practices.

Geoff Thompson's picture

I agree with the sentiment but the horse has probably bolted.

Tim Behuniak's picture

Why not try to help mitigate the issue??

Geoff Thompson's picture

Fair comment Tim. I don't tag any photos for a start.How do we influence people about ideals? It is very difficult as there are so many worldviews.We can use blogs, ted talks,youtube, fstoppers.Problem is you can only do so much. One example is we should all love each other unconditionally(thats part of my belief) but people choose what they want to do. Love all, love some, hate some but love others and other variations of this My comment on the horse being bolted was that every spot on earth pretty much is already tagged by google earth.I could write a few more paragraphs on this and maybe I will later.One of the recent dilemmas that has come up in Australia was that the very elusive Australian Night Parrot , that many thought to be extinct, was recently re-discovered, and the locations have been kept under wraps to avoid people threatening their existence. Of course people will probably still go and try to find it and photograph it.People also speculate about whether the Thylacine(Tasmanian Tiger) is extinct in Australia.If that is re discovered like the night parrot that will be another interesting exercise. I do what I can.

Please stop telling people what to do. If you dont want to, cool. But I'm gonna do it, so deal with it.

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.

It's also naive to think people are finding out about these places on Instagram. 99% of the time these places are popularized because of travel websites and "hidden gem" articles. NOT from Instagram.

Jonathan Reid's picture

Why not just stop feeding the beast that is Instagram?

Dan Marchant's picture

I geotag all my photos and will continue to do so. The coordinates I use are for a dark cave that is inhabited by cannibals. So far none of the 'grammers that went in have made it out alive.

As an example of beautiful locations becoming inundated by the madding hordes of selfie-stick toting “It’s about me” Instagramers I nominate Iceland. When I was at Jokulsarlon, bus after bus unloaded its cargo of disruptive, noisy tourists for their 10 minute “get in everybody’s way” fly-by visits. I’m afraid to go back.

Michael Moon's picture

While I agree that the LNT practices should be talked about, preached, etc...I don’t agree with the tagging issue here. If you’re not going to tag the specific location, you might as well not tag anything. Using your logic, by using a geotag someone out there will go to said location and potentially harm the land, but using a general regional tag people won’t go exploring said location potentially harming the same land? That’s naive. Chances are, you’re not the only person that knows of said location...and definitely won’t be the last. Humans are explorers by nature. While I think your intentions mean well, I can only half agree.

Before you copy and paste your response of “its naive to believe theres no correlation...”, I’d suggest you consider the good that can also come from tagging the location.

I can’t help but feel this is more of a “this is my spot and don’t want anyone else using my location” kind of logic. 🤷🏻‍♂️

I know alot of these articles are just to grab attention but there is also an element of not want others to find the exact same place after some photographer takes a photo of it. Photographers often like to think they've just discovered somewhere but its often the case they are only following the same well trodden path of previous photographers. Why should others not enjoy the same location. Yes it runs the risk of idiots polluting the area but that's an individual responsibility.. Photographers often spend thousands on gear and yet bring a packed lunch from home when visiting an area rather than supporting the local economy by eating there. You can't eat scenery.

Dana King's picture

With this logic, maybe they need to shut down Yosemite National Park or the Grand Canyon both btw wouldn't be a park without photographers' taking photos. Unless you can come up with actual, real data, showing that geotags are causing the destruction of any said location the point is mute. Why mute? I highly doubt if I post an image and give its exact location of the shoot, 200,000 people will flock there trampling all the nature away and building up shopping malls in tribute. I am being overly dramatic to point out; you are being overly dramatic.

Aaron Bratkovics's picture

Mmmm. No. I'll go where I want when....I want to see what I want.......whenever I want lol. I like to get lost too but sometimes it's nice to find a spot see it with my own eyes and venture on. I'm not throwing trash anywhere or destroying property. I obey laws and regulations of not trespassing (lol) etc. Where would we be if society didn't share locations. I love travel photography.

We wouldn't be posting on Fstoppers because Napoleon would have never stolen a ship from Great Britain to find America during World War Two. What is the difference if I use a map or social media...or I dunno a magazine? Immmma get there anyway. #rideordie

Strawberry Milkshakes. Goooodnight #tequila

I love the sentiment but feel like there needs to be a critical mass of people behind the idea before it will get anywhere. A lot of the devices and social media services capture the coords etc in metadata/exif by default don't they?

Jonathon Rusnak's picture

Just stop going outside.

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

I understand the point about land degradation but in some ways it feels somehow selfish. What I'm trying to say is, for example, I'm taking a beautiful landscape photo and post on social media and do not let anyone know where I took it. So in a sense it's like saying: "Hey look how beautiful it was there but you cannot experience this yourself because I will not tell you where to look for it since you would surely create negative impact on the environment."
It's ironic how for decades various outdoor recreation organizations like ADK were promoting outdoor activities and all of a sudden they want to impose permit systems because they feel like abundance of hikers and campers are creative negative impact on the environment. The key of course is education (as it is with most social problems). It should not matter whenever 50,000 or 200,000 people climb Mt. Marcy annually. The rock can take it. The problem is people who throw garbage around just like they do it on the street where they live. So we have to either close those places completely for public or start educating people.
Few years ago I was camping at Lake Colden with my friends after we summit Mt. Marcy. At 9 PM ranger woke us up and informed we are camping illegally. Apparently our tents should have been located no further than 14 feet from a marker and we were located some 20 feet away. I told the ranger this was the only feasible piece of ground as it is flat and there is not even a patch of grass which makes me believe people set up tents here all the time. The ranger said "I know because every time I come here there is a tent and every time I issue a citation". I would think this would be a sign for authorities to make better efforts educating hikers about all camping rules (I know I was not aware of them) but apparently it is more convenient for them to make some extra money. That's how seriously authorities approach the issue.

Tim Behuniak's picture

I see your point. I agree, ADK is always promoting people to come hike and recreate in the park and on the land. But there also has always been an emphasis on education. You make a good point, and I agree, there should definitely be a sign in that specific spot that says "no camping." Not sure when the last time you were in the ADK though, especially the high peaks, as overcrowding and improper use of the land has become a serious, serious issue in those mountains. Authorities are struggling to produce and keep positive, lasting solutions. You would think the rock can handle the volume of people, yes, but that's when they actually stay on the rock. SO many people either disregard information about doing "the rock hop" or simply are unaware, but many people repeatedly step on fragile alpine veg. Further, yes, summit rock can handle that volume of people. But the trails in the woods, especially when they're mistreated, cannot. Part of the problem regarding a lack of education is that the NYS gov. has not put enough and adequate money toward funding the NYSDEC and trail crews. Rangers that used to patrol the land and educate hikers now spend a vast majority of their time simply rescuing hikers, which takes away from their role of educators and stewards. I recommend these two links for more information about this topic:

https://soundcloud.com/footstuffpodcast/fsp-031-add-nys-rangers

http://localadkmagazine.uberflip.com/i/1029965-local-adk-fall-2018/27?m4= (start on page 28)

Guilherme Checchia's picture

I have less than 250 followers in instagram, so I think it's safe for me to tag the locations... 😂

Tim Behuniak's picture

Think of the domino effect

Tim's point is an important one. There are plenty of remote places that will be damaged by a large influx of people. But generalizing the principle to include ALL outdoor photos (as the article title suggests) isn't a targeted enough suggestion to help.

Does it help the environment to hide the fact that a shot was taken at Zion? The park gets 6 million visitors a year. Are we supposed to not mention that we're photographing Delicate Arch or Skogafoss? These are places that the tour buses go to. They're marquee locations in the photog universe. I definitely wish I was the only person shooting Delicate Arch but we can't go back to an earlier, pre-internet time.

The point is that there are many outdoor locations that are known throughout the world and are able to handle the traffic. Many outdoor locations have large parking lots, paved paths and fenced observation points. There are other spots that are remote or ecologically delicate. We as photographers need to take on the responsibility to see the difference -- and as Tim reminds us, get the message out to treat those areas with extra care.

We don't want to do more damage to our delicate ecosystem than we've done already. But as a creative community, we also want to be able to share our work and experiences with others -- in the right way.

Emilykate Nappi's picture

As an Adirondack native, I find this post irresponsible. Yes there is magic to using a map and compass, but in the face of reality its not common at all. Considering I was born and raised here there are more people I know that end up lost and or stranded in places scattered across the ADK than there are that utilize a compass. Sure you lose some of the adventure, but geotagging something does not encourage the average hiker to litter. If anything geotagging has promoted job growth here, the increase in foot traffic has forced certain parks and trails to increase their staff. Its actually GOOD for the local economies. The problem with the new hiker is that they don't understand a lot of the rules of mountain parks. But that's not to do with geotagging but everything to do with education prior to the camping and adventuring itself or even on the mountain itself. Instead of stopping the use of geotags (which actually encourages more dangerous practices) we need to increase our summit stewards and park rangers, if anything.

Tim Behuniak's picture

As an Adirondack native, I'm honestly alarmed by your comment. I would consider myself born and raised in the ADK Park, and have quite a different view. I've also discussed this topic with multiple natives of and tourists to the ADKs. I agree, we need to increase education and staffing. Perhaps you need to read more on the issue involved with that, too. Refer to these 2 links:

https://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/37167/20181008/pressu...

http://localadkmagazine.uberflip.com/i/1029965-local-adk-fall-2018/27