Do We Have An Obligation To Not Disclose Locations For Nature’s Sake ? – Kevin McNeal

One of the main objectives for any landscape photographer is to photograph new places. Landscape photographers spend countless hours on the Internet,researching, hiking, and exploring all in the name of discovering and being the first to photograph a new place. For obvious reasons we aren’t the first people there but we may be the first to photograph it. So you come back excited from finding this new place, process the image, and then finally post it. Now that you have posted the image, the reviews are in and people love it. But they now want to know where this place is? You know the question I am talking about: “ Love the image and I was wondering if you could maybe tell me where this image was?” I have even been asked even if I could provide GPS coordinated for a particular place. This is where the focus of this article arises; do we have an obligation as a nature photographer first and foremost to reduce the impact of man’s footprints. Does this include not divulging certain locations when asked by fellow photographers. I know I have been guilty of providing locations that I have photographed previously. Whether this is right or wrong the issue needs to be addressed. Forget the fact, that for some professional photographers this is a competing business of locations.

If we go this route, then we have to be aware of the GPS metadata and whether we should remove it before we post. I know with some forums they give you the option to remove the ability to identify the location of your image from other viewers. When I have gone this route I often get emails asking me why I did this and whether I  would provide the locations to them anyways. They seem to be annoyed with my lack of forth coming; any other photographers experience this ?  Then there is the subject of tagging and keywording the location that allows the image to be “googled” and thus allow the image to get more traffic. This in turn can be good for business.

One of the main problems is with Internet and the popularity of photography forums. A photographer can post an image of a unique place and within days the same forums are filled with similar images from the same place. We often feel the need to share locations to avoid the label of being “selfish”. I am sure there are other words better then selfish but I will stick with that for this article. While teaching workshops I come across many other photographers who hold other photographers in contempt for not sharing. So what is the right thing? I guess this is why I am writing this. I feel an obligation to nature to reduce the impact from other photographers flocking to these areas. I do have a responsibility to keep areas of nature untouched the way they were suppose to be. But is this good for my business, especially in a market that is so competitive for every penny. The counter argument is how can a few others really do any damage to any location. Well in short, it only takes a few opinions’ like this to add up and over a short period of time the damage is irreversible. Many photographers online can receive over 20,000 views on a particular image; that is a lot of photographers that will now want to visit that certain location. I am not sure if there is any answer other then taking away the stigmata that comes with not disclosing locations. As nature photographers we need to avoid asking others where the image was taken or if they can provide any details on the place. It should be okay to say no to these questions. This is just my two cents. I would love to know what you think?

Any suggestions to this dilemma?

~ by photocascadia on January 9, 2012.

89 Responses to “Do We Have An Obligation To Not Disclose Locations For Nature’s Sake ? – Kevin McNeal”

  1. I think GPS coordinates should never be published. You can give a general description of the location without disclosing the exact spot – which protects both your business as well as nature.

    • I think you are right about that.. except when I don’t fully explain where.. it seems to really get people even more agitated.

      • I’m sure as photographers you run into the same issues I run into as a professional musician (I play in the symphony with Chip). People expect us to work for free all of the time and it’s absolutely maddening.

        I’d say use “agitated people” as a learning opportunity for them – explain that this is how you put food on the table and that part of what makes your photographs valuable is that they are taken in locations that nobody has photographed before. People should understand that and if they don’t, well it’s their problem, not yours.

  2. I think if it’s that we can damage it and it would take time for it’s recovery we should think about not giving out GPS coordinates or directions to it. If it’s a place full of rocks on a trail and tons of people visiting isn’t going to affect the ecosystem then it doesn’t really matter.

  3. I believe that as photographers, we have an even higher obligation to keep nature unspoiled and undisturbed. We may hike to places to take our cameras and work, but we are (or should always be) mindful to “leave no footprints,take only pictures”. I agree that we can give a location, i.e. Rocky Mountain National Park, Oregon Coastline, etc. but part of being a photographer is discovering places. Asking for a GPS locator is, well, lazy. I think part of the appreciation of making images is in the discovery. Get out and find them! If someone gets upset about not sharing where it was done, well, sorry. You did the homework to find it and get there! If we give out info to everyone, we cannot be stewards of nature or protect it as we should.

  4. I have the same feeling and do not care what others think. Photographer puts his blood and sweat to find a location and then puts all his experience to shoot that location. Then you have heaps of people who start bugging the photographer for the location. that is totally unfair! BUT I would love to share the location to those who are passionate about nature ( could be photographer or a trekker or a pure nature lover). That is just my opinion!
    great photos anyway, always I admire of, some time I should visit those places 😉

  5. I couldn’t agree more with your post and the comments above. Interesting article, Kevin.

  6. I try to not disclose the exact location of any place that is unique, especially one that has taken a lot of effort for me to get to in the first place. I have gone as far as not even sharing images on a large scale, to keep special places off of the radar at large (Arrigetch Peaks in the Brooks Range of Alaska in the early 80’s). My latest images from a very special place, that I have sent to some agents, are merely captioned- “Four Corners area. Southern Utah…”

    • Brad – I am sure you have seen some stunning places and have been asked by either publishers, agents, or even been pressured by colleagues to give up your locations.. good for you for holding out.

  7. Ya Kevin, I totally agree with everyone else posting here. I usually give a general location, and other people can easily find these places, many of them are just off the road. But if I’m hiking into the backcountry and have a special spot that is not photographed too much, I won’t say exactly where it is, just the general location once again. I would say a lot of it has to do with laziness and people not wanting to put in the time to research certain areas. I mean if you really want to, all you have to do is type a few words into google, or even use that new picture search thing google has, and you can find out a lot about where an image was taken from. At the end of the day, it’s your decision whether to share or not to share, but don’t let grumpy people upset you!

  8. I’m based in heavily populated southern Ontario and some of the locations I shoot are on private property, or require crossing private property to reach them. I try to put the interests of the property-owners ahead of popularity with fellow photographers.

    • Thanks Brook, that is another element to this dilemma – what do we do when we are crossing private property or maybe close to it.. I can think of a few areas along the Oregon coast that one particular photographer, Marc Adamus had found that meant crossing property and he was right not to disclose this location as much as the other photographers wanted him to.

  9. I think that it’s ok for photographers to have their own “secret locations” if they have put a lot of work into finding a spot that is relatively unknown, they had to hike for ages to get there, or they invested money into buying a boat to find the location etc. Not only does it protect the environment, but it protects the investment of time and money on the part of the photographer. On the other hand, if it is a place that is already well known like say Glacier Point at Yosemite, there would no point in not disclosing that. I too like to research where to go when I am travelling and have limited time to find good spots for photography, but I’m ok with it if a photographer just says which park it is in or the general vicinity. Like you say Kevin, you did the work and so should I. Thank you for a thought provoking post.

  10. Personally I enjoy not sharing locations where I spent time to come up with some unique viewpoint. Having images that other people can’t get without spending lots of time to research and spend physical efforts say rock climbing or lots of hiking or backpacking to get there makes them a little more personal to me. I’ve been called greedy for not sharing locations I have shot. You can save all this info and write a book on it later. Don’t think anyone would respect an author’s efforts so people will post all this info later on a forum for free though. That’s kind of sad that people do that all the time.

    It’s really hard when it’s someone taking your own workshop, that’s when I’m more likely to give out some info but that’s usually easy walking type of locations. With random strangers on the net it’s a lot easier to nicely not give a location. We have people that frequently comment on our images here on Facebook, now those are a are someone you really want to give a longer explanation to why you can not. There should always be some you will take to the grave with you. I like to look at this way. I’m not a pan handler of locations, it’s a big ass world out there and nothing is stopping me or anyone else from stepping away from the certainty and going off and taking a risk on finding something worth shooting. Maybe that is part of makes photography memorable. I’ve talked to David Muench about this and if it’s fragile he doesn’t share where something may be. If it isn’t he will mention the name of the mountain range or desert park. I find all of that respectable enough. I don’t think him not sharing where something is, is part of his success, it’s just that he out or has been out there all the time.

  11. Tough questions that I’ve pondered myself, Kevin. But I’ve decided to share my locations with others – they aren’t really “my” locations, but places that I have found filled with natural beauty. Have I thus increased “traffic” to these locations? Yes.

    But on the other hand, many of the places I take people on my tours have been visited by thousands before us and show no discernible negative effects. Think of someplace like Schwabacher Landing in Grand Teton National Park. An iconic location that doesn’t show up on the park service maps but is visited by hundreds weekly. Why shouldn’t I share the location with others? Someone shared it with me and I’ve visited it dozens of times and left nothing but footprints.

    With the advent of GPS, I doubt there will be many “secret” places left in the world. And as a photographer, I don’t mind others standing in my footprints and shooting away – their interpretation will be different than mine because of so many factors.

    Ansel Adams work has led possibly millions to the Snake River Overlook. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but a good thing. And if Rockefeller had not been led to Teton Point Overlook by Horace Albright, much of the Jackson Hole valley would have been commercialized beyond repair. I digress, a bit – but none of us can ascertain exactly what our sharing will do – whether help or hurt in the long run. But some of the most beautiful places in the world have been preserved because of photography and because someone found – or shared – a location.

    • Thanks Jeff. Great to hear your feedback. I can agree with you about places like Snake River Overlook and other places in the park. I think the area for some professionals becomes sticky is when the spend days and hours exploring for places way off the beaten track and then are asked to give up that location. I don’t there is a right or wrong answer.. wow this article has raised more questions then answered.
      Thank you again for the feedback.

  12. I can totally respect all of the reasons that were given for not sharing a location with the world. As an amateur photographer that does not do this for a living, I can totally respect a professional decision not to share a location.

    I have learned a great deal from all of the free information that is online by all of the professional photographers and would like to give a formal THANK YOU!!!

    It may be helpful to provide a workshop, ebook, webinar, ect, on how to find great places to shoot. I read a free blog page about this topic of how to do the research for finding great places to shoot, which was very good. I believe it may have been on this site.

    Thanks you professional photographers for all you give back to the community.

    • Thanks Guy. I have also been guilty of researching other places from other photographers online and then visited the same place. Someone posts an amazing image of somewhere and it makes me want to do nothing else on this planet until I see that place.

  13. I love to know where a photo was taken, but I agree with giving minimal information. If you did the work and got there, others should have to do the same.

  14. I agree that you should not feel obligated to divulge the specific location of photographs to other photographers, especially if you have gone to great lengths to find and shoot a particular scene. However, if a client is interested in purchasing a photograph, not recreating it, by all means a general location, not specifically where you were standing at the time, should be provided. I’ve been burned a few times by wannabe’s asking the location and then entering the same scene in shows and art fairs.

    • I can definitely say that I have been burned as well Diane and felt contempt after; vowing I would never give a location again. But weeks later I find myself doing the same thing again. Funny how that is.

  15. Nice, thought-provoking post, Kevin. Steve Sieren brings up a lot of points that resonate really well with me.

    There are obvious times NOT to share an image’s location, many of which have been stated above: the image is in a fragile area, or it requires you cross private property, or the location was passed on to you from another photographer who scouted it.

    For the most part though, I do share my images’ locations. Certainly not the exact GPS coordinates of my tripod legs, but the general area, yes. Why? Part of it for me is a bit of an ego trip: like Steve, I enjoy getting off the beaten path, often hiking or climbing to spots the average photog is never going to get to. So when I share the locations of these unique vantage points, it’s a kind of flag-planted for me. “Yes, I was here! And if you want to go here, you better be prepared to put in the time, sweat, and effort.”

    Another reason I don’t mind sharing locations is that if another photog wants to copy my shot, fine. One, I’m flattered. And two, that photog is pigeon-holing himself to always be a copier. He may be an outstanding shooter, but if every image in his portfolio is just his take on a well-known spot, I don’t think he’ll get respect as a serious photographer. Part of the thrill of photography is getting outside your comfort zone, taking some risks, and putting your own stamp on the world. In my opinion people who are content to copy don’t get as full of an experience.

    The last reason I like sharing image locations is something that hasn’t been touched on yet: raising public awareness. I have a two-fold reason for this one: first, I believe that letting people know where an image was taken adds to the story of the shot. A beautiful image is only a beautiful image until people know where, when, and why it was taken. Then the photo comes alive in the mind of the viewer. And that story of the image is almost as important as the image itself. Secondly: Outside the photographic community, I’ve found the public’s awareness of the profound beauty of our planet to be seriously lacking. How many times at an art show have I heard “THAT’S Yosemite?!?! I’ve lived in California my whole life and never been. Now I have to go!” Too many to count. It seems to me that the average person has a hunger and a thirst for natural beauty but that they don’t know where to go to get it. My feeling is that if I can educate the public in my small way about the beauty that we live so close to, that awareness leads to appreciation and eventually to stewardship. In other words, I want as many people to know how amazing Yosemite is so that they’ll help protect it.

    So because of those three things, and the last in particular, I am content to share my locations.

    • Just for clarification Joshua, you have ego trip right next to my name. You are not insinuating I am on an ego trip are you?

      I don’t think you would say that about me unless it was in an indirect way. Just clarifying.

      Are part of my explorations ego driven? Yes they are, in a way no different from anyone else posting their images online in hopes of getting comments. Many of us have experienced some iconic place with no one else around, purely by luck. Maybe by severely bad weather or showing up on a Wednesday. Some people blaze their own trail and some follow others footsteps. You can ague that either way it’s ego driven or you’re just out there finding your own voice.

    • Thanks Josh. You know I never though much about the community outside the photographers. You are right about a serious lack of knowledge with these people and knowing the locations might spread valuable information to people who otherwise might never have known this place existed. Also, there is something about getting out and doing the work yourself and getting the content that comes with that. Thank you Josh for contributing. I appreciate it.

  16. This is ultimately a problem that comes with the territory. You want to promote your talent and your business. Your images are your livelihood. They are your resume, your fine art sales, they fill your workshops and tours, they get you published, win competitions and get national recognition.

    No you don’t have an obligation to share locations. Will it hurt your business, perhaps not, but it might annoy some enough to go away. You can take the moral high ground and keep locations to yourself (for your business or to protect the ecosystem), but with today’s internet, someone else will get there and give locations. If you want to promote your business, you have to promote your images and with that comes the masses.That said, you have to suck it up, take the good with the bad and make the tough choices right for you.

    With great respect for you and your choices, I would not share or promote an image where I couldn’t share its location with other eager, excited photographers. I understand that by doing so, competition for that shot may become fierce. Perhaps the promotion will spoil its uniqueness. If I share a shot that’s great, that’s the risk of sharing it. If I use it to promote my business, others will want to as well, it comes with the territory.

    In terms of protecting delicate ecosystems, I don’t feel the need to be the gate keeper to these lovely places. I do my best to be sensitive to my surrounding. I just hope that other photographers respect nature as much as I do. If I was there treading on delicate ground to get the shot, I don’t feel comfortable suggesting that other photographers shouldn’t be there too.

    • Thanks Perri. It is the part that comes with the business and if you want others to take your workshops from you then this is a necessary evil that comes with the territory. Very nicely put Perri.

  17. This question has also created a lot of conflict for me surrounding the abandoned buildings I photograph. Same goes for my situation, I often spend hours researching a location to figure out where it is, how to get in, etc and sometimes sharing that information feels hard to do.

    Some people become very frustrated when you disclose the location because they fear people will frolic there and not treat it with the respect you have. Others become upset when you don’t share the information, saying that being secretive is in a way disrespectful to others and we should share the amazing places we’ve discovered.

    I have always been one to post most locations because I tend to post the history surrounding the buildings (which is different than your situation) however, there are some locations that I have kept quiet because of the sensitivity.

    In the end, it’s your art. You have the right to decide. I think there’s a happy medium though; share some locations and keep some quiet. You then don’t seem like a curmudgeon, but rather a person who shares a lot of information with the world, while only keeping a few quiet.

  18. 1. I do not think any photographer should feel obligated to provide detailed location information. As some of the other comments echoed, anyone upset st not being told specifics should just ‘get over it’.
    2. In some cases, where traffic or other factors could negatively impact the environment, the photographer has a responsibility to keep the location secret, or limit the distribution of the information.

  19. So you can be trusted not to harm a particular location, but no one else can? This is snobbery, pure and simple. If your business depends on the secrecy of the locations you shoot, then you’re doing it wrong. Your business is about the work that you do to arrive at an hour that no tourist or casual hiker would be interested in. It’s about the vision you bring to the location, about the work in post that you do.

    To set yourself up as a member of a club (of people in the know) and then rather visibly decline admission to anyone else is an act of great disrespect to your customers.

    I think Joshua Cripps has it about right.

  20. Hi Kevin,

    I asked you that very question about an image you posted from Colorado on G Plus. I am not sure you ever answered, but I don’t really care. I was just interested in what part of Colorado the image was captured. I wasn’t looking for specifics like GPS coordinates.

    Anyways, I think this is a great post and raises very real questions. I think a lot depends on the size of the place and how easy the image is to photograph. I think giving information about the state and possibly in a national forest or national park is good enough. Giving specific names of waterfalls, mountain peaks, etc. I don’t think is necessary, but if someone asks for that information I’ll personally provide that for them.

    For me, the images whose location that I want to protect – I simply do not post them online, except for on my website. I feel that If you post publicly on a social networking site, your opening the door up for people replicating what you do and asking you these sorts of questions.

    Overall, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to the question. It’s all personal choice. I try to go by the golden rule of doing one to others as I would like them to do for me. If I ask then I would like an answer and conversely I’ll give people information if they ask. I would draw the line if it is an issue of a direct competitor like someone that works the same art shows or publishes in the same magazines or galleries.

  21. Also, another opposing viewpoint to consider is this: my girlfriend told me that she thinks other photographers won’t share locations because they are insecure that others will go to that location and do a better job at taking a photograph than they did. I am not going to say that’s 100% true, but I think if we are honest with ourselves there is some truth in that statement.

    If you have ever used an photographers website as part of your research for trip planning, etc. then the right thing to do is provide at least some information on some images and give back to positively contribute to the process.

    • Wildmoments, My mother visited the Mountain Light Gallery with me and gave me all the praise I needed and said you can do all all this. Sometime we need that special pep talk from someone other then ourselves even if it does nothing but just make us feel better about ourselves.

      Some people just don’t understand how many different trips, time spent exploring a certain area to find that special viewpoint, and then the time spent to catch it again in good light. Why should you be entitled to know exactly where to be to get something similar? I wish I could go on just copying images from other photographers feel great about it but I don’t feel like an artist way. I do not get upset wants to be unique and not share more then just the general area of where they took an amazing photograph.

      Insecurity has nothing to do with it, if you want to be someone else then spend the time and effort. Instead it’s left Starbucks at 5am, hiked the trail with hot coffee. Shot the icon or iconic view, hiked back accidentally dropped the coffee cup somewhere along the trail oh well, why go back and pick it up because I can be home by 10am if I don’t.

      Is there any respect for individuality in photography or must everything be copied. If not exactly at least the general idea. Why is there such a need to copy? I copy ideas and it never makes me feel proud, yeah I show it to someone that doesn’t know where the general idea came from and that it surely wasn’t mine.

      All the praise you need is in the saying, be yourself. Are we all the same or are we all unique individuals?

      • Steve,

        Maybe you misunderstood or didn’t read my first post. The view point of not sharing because of insecurity is only one particular angle. I do think that many photographers have huge egos and are very competitive, but that wasn’t my point. I think most landscape photographers spend long days studying landscape photographs as well as doing hours and hours of research on various + unique locations.

        That’s not all what I am talking about here. For instance, if I come across a shot of a place that looks interesting, I may not even care for the picture, but would be interested in learning more about the area for a possible visit. In that case, geographic information is necessary. On top of that, it is nice to know what you are looking at.

        Now, this doesn’t have anything to do with not being original. I think it is wrong to assume that just because someone asks you for a location of a shot (even if they are a photographer) that they are trying to rip you off. Maybe they are just a lover of nature and the place captured their fancy and they want to check it out themselves.

        My opinion is that most photographers want to be original and of course there are different levels of originality. For instance, Mesa Arch may be considered different or original to someone who has never heard of it or seen it before. Some photographers will go to well traveled locations like Zion and come back with something unique. They take original photographs, but maybe they don’t put in as much work in the research up front. Others are looking for the yet to be discovered icon/hero shot. Another person may not be an avid photographer, but may just be passionate about nature and uses photography as a hobby.

        Landscape photography is a lot of fun and for those fortunate, talented, and passionate enough to make a living from doing it – it is obviously a blessing. That being said, as photographers we shouldn’t get caught up in being sanctimonious defenders of the natural world as it is a myopic view of the much bigger picture (excuse the pun.)

  22. I enjoyed reading this very thought-provoking essay; thanks! It raises several really important issues that I believe we all need to be aware of, but it also leads us to the edge of what could be a very slippery slope. So here are some random thoughts.

    If a location is in a public area (such as a park) or even a wilderness area where people are allowed to go (hike, camp, etc.), then anyone who wants or can get a permit can go there, and there are other people responsible for protecting the park. I’m not suggesting that any photographer is required to share the information about exactly where a picture was taken; i like the idea of a general area and allowing people to explore and discover on their own.

    What I am more concerned about is the question of photographing in an area that is so ecologically sensitive that we feel we would have to hide it from others … then what the heck are we doing there in the first place? Or if the location was “off the trail” or “on the other side of that fence” or on private property. That slippery slope i mentioned becomes an argument that sounds kinda like “it was okay for me to be there, and i posted a picture (and hopefully made some money off it) of that location, but now they should lock the gate behind me and not let anyone else in.”

    Every landscape photographer that I know is ecologically and environmentally aware, and cautious, and careful about where they tread, and most are fairly socially aware as well. We all have the ability to choose what information we share with whomever, and to filter that information as appropriate. People who visit Maui who are serious and reputable photographers, I have no problem taking them to places that most of the public doesn’t know about. On the other hand, if it’s a “tourist photo tour”, there’s lots of postcard vistas that we can drive to.

    Kevin — thanks again. Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks David. The argument is a slippery slope and one where there are no right answers for everyone. It really comes down to a personal opinion at best. Thank you again for the input.

  23. I find it somewhat hypocritical to not reveal a location because you are worried about the potential damage to nature. You yourself are causing damage by being there. It’s impossible to leave no trace. Yes you may take a great deal of care to minimise your impact and others may not but by with-holding this information for these reasons, then you are assuming and judging.

    If you don’t reveal a location because you want to protect your income stream, then fair enough. But I have to say I think this is a misguided sentiment too. How many people are going to carry kilos of equipment up demanding trails to take high quality fine art images? How many people are going to rock climb to get unique viewpoints? How many people are going to wait for the right light? I would hazard a guess that it wouldn’t be many.

    Having said all that, I do believe it to be to detrimental to give exact locations away. Let the person asking find their own unique viewpoints and composition. Let the person research route, time and weather. Make a point of the need to minimise impact. But don’t deny others the opportunity to experience natures beauty firsthand.

  24. While I’m not into the GPS coordinate route, I think everybody should have the chance to photograph a beautiful location (if they can get to it). It’s not a matter of being “pigeonholed as a copycat” as another commenter put it – I simply want a chance to see and photograph for *myself* this special scene. And who is to say that my photo would be *exactly* like someone else’s, anyway? The lighting, season, and weather conditions might be totally different and give one a totally different view. Think of how it would be if national parks – with all of their pristine beauty – were only available to certain groups of people, and not to the entire public? While some out there might think that is a good thing, I think places of beauty should be available to everybody, so that they can not only appreciate the specialness of this particular place on our planet, but also perhaps realize for themselves just how important it is to “see” but not “touch” in order to preserve the location for future generations. Yeah, yeah, there are always those who would want to screw up a good thing, but I hope that the fraternity/soroity of photographers would police these areas during our visitations and watch over the locations while sharing them at the same time. Make sense?

    • Thanks Rebecca for the comment. It is kind of scary to think of what the National Parks would be without the word of mouth that originally occured. It is a fine line and not sure where to draw it.

  25. Hi Kevin. While I can understand why professional landscape photographers want to keep locations secret for financial reasons, I feel they lack confidence in their work and photographic abilities if they refuse to divulge locations that others may want to view, enjoy and/or photograph. While I think you are a great landscape photographer who inspires and gives great enjoyment to others through your wonderful photography, I remember when you asked me the location of a photograph that I took (High Rock Fire Lookout). Do I sense a bit of hypocracy here Kevin? I hope that you aren’t offended by my comment Kevin because I like you and respect your work, but you did ask for feedback on this matter. Every photographer can give his/her unique perspective on a subject matter for the enjoyment of others. If the subject location has environment concerns, then voice those concerns when divulging the location.

    • Thanks Dean for the feedback. I am the first one to admit I have several people for locations. But that is why I put it out there.. I am then a big part of the problem. I have always been one to explore but more of someone to shoot images that others have shoot. But I have never asked anyone for GPS coordinates and that I think is the difference between what is acceptable and what might be crossing the line. Good to hear from you again.

  26. Nice write up Kevin. As far as releasing details of a particular location for reasons OTHER than being considerate of the protection of the area, I think that is totally up to the photographer. We certainly don’t owe anyone the information and should not feel guilty if we choose not to share it.

    As far as the specific way you posed the question I am really on the fence and try very hard to remain neutral. Some would say that 1 person going to a location is too many and why should one photographer, no matter how careful they are, have a “pass” to visit and shoot a location but then expect others not to? I am certainly not any type of authority on the impact that we have in the areas that we traverse but I think it is safe to say that some would claim we/they are doing no damage at all while others would say that we/they are doing some level of damage every time one of us enters a specific area.

    That being said, I believe there is a large gray area as well where some “protected areas” are most certainly needed and others are being protected to protect profits. There just seems to be so many variables. For example, take an area like Silver Falls state park where I actually got in an argument (it was almost a fight really) with a fellow photographer who wanted to shout at me for standing in the creek to shoot. I did not feel that my feet were doing any more damage than the tons of water that flow by every second but he did not agree. He said he cared too much about his state parks and I told him I certainly did too. The fact is that this once wild area was turned into a place for visitors to see and the state to profit on. Trails were blazed right through the forest. Trees were uprooted. Plants destroyed. I’m sure animals make have lost their homes….all so we could share in the beauty. Then, signs were placed to protect the rest of the area. 🙂 I am willing to bet that if there was a massive land movement in an area like this that destroyed the current pathways that new ones would be built at the same expense of land and animal life.

    For me, it comes down to two things… that myself, my feet and my images are no more important than anyone else’s and carry the same potential for damage no matter how careful I am and that I agree we should all try to visit all locations without harming them if possible.

    Thanks for the thought provoking write up.

    • Hey Aaron great to hear from you again. Man I still remember that story from Silver Fall SP when you told me. Sorry for that. Some people take things a little too serious. You are right about there being a huge great area and it should be up to the individual for certain. I realize that one person is too much but say you are getting 20,000 views on an image; do you realize how many of those are going to want to see that place now because of your stunning image…I am sure that Picture Lake was peaceful at one time and no look.. just thinking out loud. Thanks again Aaron.

  27. Selfish? It’s just good business.

    I’ve made my career shooting sensitive and difficult locations. These are not nature locations, they’re mostly abandoned sites and junkyards.

    I get pressed to reveal my locations EVERY DAY. I seldom do it, especially to people I don’t know personally.

    I lost my favorite workshop teaching site last year (The Pearsonville Junkyard) because the owner was tired of being overrun with photographers asking for access or just sneaking in. He ended up demolishing and scrapping of the location.

    • Thanks Troy for putting in your two cents. You like Mark Metternich have really made a living of certain secret locations and understand this better then anyone. I am sure you have been pressed for locations on a daily basis. It is your business to protect your locations and I bet it hit you hard when you lost one of your fav locations due to the overrun of photographers. Well thank you so much for the input.

    • Troy, I’ve got your book. I spoke to one of your workshop participants that went to Pearsonville with you and he openly said in another crowd of people that the place isn’t even closed at night. You don’t have to sneak in, it’s never locked up. I’d think someone would have a little more respect to not share certain information so openly.

  28. Excellent pov and comp on this magnificent scene. That pathway really pulls the viewer in and onward superbly. Beautiful works Kevin.
    I received and read your post earlier on a Photocascadio email. I understand your valid points. This is a dilemma for each of us. My images are viewed by a LOT less people than yours, so the impact is far less. I do provide the location info as most of my viewers won’t go there, just like to virtual visit and travel thru my images and are curious about where it was taken. I’m a nature nut so am always very careful and respectful of where I trod. I would hope other photographers shooting nature feel the same. I also try to find unique, unusual perspectives that would be challenging to find, as I don’t use gps settings and my info is not specific enough in those instances. Our images serve an educational and informative purpose as well. So, at this time I’m a location provider. But that may change down the road. It will be interesting to see what comments you receive on this personal decision. I look forward to following your incredible works, and words, Kevin.

    • Thanks Philip for the kind words about the image. You have brought up some good points the problem might be that not everyone will treat the environment the same as you and to assume that every photographer treats nature with respect would be far from the truth. I really appreciate the input Philip.

  29. Is the assumption that (the generic) ‘your’ photograph and your footprints less intrusive than others? I’m not sure I see any issue with revealing location. I agree with Derrick

  30. BTW: I’d add to that, Your business is landscape photography and workshops… aren’t you offering up some of your favorite locations in workshops for your income stream? Or are the workshops just the ‘ok’ locations? :o)

  31. Nature photography can really be a double-edged sword. As photographers, we want to share the beauty of nature through our images and when people see them, they obviously want to visit the place(s) they saw. I don’t blame them, I love seeing and being in beautiful places too. Unfortunately, the more people that visit a particular spot, the more damage it receives. One could argue that by photographing a place (and sharing it with others) we as photographers are actually helping to destroy the very thing we love. How’s that for a paradox?
    Then again, one could argue that photography can help protect a place from, for example, logging or mining by showing people how beautiful the place is now. And of course, there are also professional photographers out there, such as Darwin Wiggett and Samantha Chrysanthou (, who donate a percentage of their annual profits environmental organizations and charities.

    Personally, I’ll admit, I’ve asked other photographers for location information a handful of times. Not because I wanted to copy their images but because I was curious to know where the shots was taken. I’ve also purchased photography guidebooks. And really, isn’t the act of buying a guidebook or an app the same as asking the photographer about locations?
    I’ve also been on the other side and have had people ask me for location info… Here is my philosophy on the subject. If the place is by a road or easily accessible, meaning people are bound to go there anyway, I will share the location but, if on the other hand the photograph is remote I will just give a general area of where it is.

    • Hey Tom,
      Great to hear from you again. You raise some great points especially the fact that people like Darwin and Samantha contribute a percentage of their earnings. I like many others have been guilty of asking for locations from other photographers. And yes I have bought several books and guidebooks and it is the same thing; I am just taking the locations off the books but I think I look for general areas rather then a specific location. Such as I would look at Abraham Lake as a place but I would never want to know where a particular shot on the lake was. Thanks again Tom.

  32. I’m a “sharer”. Photography is my avocation, not my vocation. If I were trying to earn a living at this, I might well have a different opinion.

    I take a lot of photos in and around Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. As a “transplant” from Chicago, I’m totally in awe of all the beauty around the Inland Northwest. I think the folks who’ve lived here all their lives might not always appreciate this area as much as those of us who have lived elsewhere, Therefore, I’m proud to say “Yes, THIS is Spokane, folks. You don’t get this in Chicago!”

    I have received so much wonderful help from local Spokane & Northern Idaho photographers and in the greater Flickr world and I like to give back when I can. I trust that when I share a location, others are not going to take and post the same exact shot. Each of us has his/her own take on scenes and some of us like to PS with textures, compositing, … whatever … to process the image in our own unique style.

    So I have to agree with those who say it’s up to the individual photographer as to whether to share or not. I have no problems with those who don’t wish to share, and I greatly appreciate those who do.

  33. Hi Kevin,
    This must be very tough for professional photographers who have more opportunity than ever to share their images via social media but still must make a living at it. As a serious amateur, I love looking at professionals’ work and am interested to know where they are taken as a mere reference point. However, I do not think that a professional photographer should be obligated to give a GPS location. It’s like asking an artist for all his/her materials, canvas type, paints, etc. I live on the east coast (NC) and don’t travel all that much. There’s so much beauty here in North and South Carolina and I love finding my own unique shots. However, for me, knowing the general vicinity of where a photographer takes an image opens up a whole new world and makes the image come alive. When you love photography, it’s a great joy to see all those amazing places you have never been and most likely will never go (although one can always hope). But at the end of the day, I think the exact location should be photographers privileged information. By the way, my husband and I still hope to make it out to Palouse for your Spring 2013 workshop. Thanks again for sharing all of your sensational work!

    • Thanks Elle for the response. It is very tough for me to make decisions between business and the environment. What is the right thing ? It is hard to make a living at this and still be generous. I look forward to seeing you and your husband in the Spring.

  34. I believe I may have been the first to seriously put the Cape Kiwanda Arch and Cave on the map as a fine art landscape photo (before Marc and others). I only told one friend, but by the images getting out publicly others were inspired to find and photograph it. Once that happened everyone started shooting it (and even downright copying the images – “comp stomping”). The arch has fallen, so that is not an issue any more. But during that time I got a lot of emails from photographers inquiring of the whereabouts of the shot(s). In that case I felt the area was sacred and fragile and so I told no one. There are some recent locations I have put in very very hard work to get to including one recent spot on the grand canyon I know no one has ever stood (takes serious rock climbing and is so remote, in the desert, no one would even have a to reason try – until now!). Now people want to know where it was taken. My resounding answer is pure silence! Let them pay their own price to find things special. Recently, I posted an image of a particular remote SW location that took me 4 years to find and eventually capture it in a moment of light that only happens once or twice a year (at best – some years it does not happen at all) for a few brief minutes. This is a sacred location (less than 5-10 people know its whereabouts in my estimation – I may be wrong) and is nearly impossible to go to without a very difficult relation established with very specific locals. I will never tell of this location. In my mind I sort of rate areas. If it is really special and people don’t, at all, know about it, then I am tight lipped. If it is already known slightly and a little bit popular, I might tell my best of shooting friends and tell them to keep it low profile. If it is a popular location that everyone already knows and cannot ever be kept secret, well I might even list the location in my post. Lastly, I have done a lot in forums, behind the scenes when I have posted special locations that a few others knew about. Sometimes in their replies they have mentioned the name of the place. I have always emailed them and asked them to change their post excluding the info. So, yes, I want to find everything (with in laws of course) but NO I do not want to popularize them! It is a fine cutting edge that often has a lot of grey area. It will remain controversial because there will always be fanatics on both sides, especially when dealing with the environment which is some peoples religion!

    • You know Mark when I come to think of it.. this subject really applies a lot to you as you really have put so many places on the map due to your stunning images. I know that when I saw your images of Cape Kiwanda keyhole, I like others wanted to know where that was. You put in so much time to find new comps, locations, and subjects all in the name of photography. Then on top of this you continue to revisit the locations until you find just the prefect light and time of year. Your efforts are relentless and if anybody should have a say in this matter it should be…

  35. “I find it somewhat hypocritical to not reveal a location because you are worried about the potential damage to nature. You yourself are causing damage by being there. It’s impossible to leave no trace.”

    Not only is it often possible to leave no trace, but it is even possible to leave a place BETTER than you found it. It can piss off some folks when we don’t divulge a location, but that is the price we sometimes pay to protect. When people don’t have to work hard (sometimes very hard) to find places I believe it often cheapens the location.

  36. GREAT blog and subject BTW KEVIN!

    I also love David Muench’s approach: “…if it’s fragile he doesn’t share where something may be.” Fragility and sacredness is the key IMO. Look at how sacred of a place upper Antelope is (one of the most beautiful locations on earth) but how destroyed/exploited it has become!

    • Thanks Mark. It is definitely one thing for us to say we can’t tell you where it is.. considering the damage we do ourselves. I also agree with David Muench if it fragile that is something that needs to be seriously considered.
      You know I think I am even more complexed then I was before I put this out there.

  37. Great thought provoking article …I am kind of in this situation now. In one of my new workshops I will be taking a select and VERY small group of people into a magical place that I went to a few months ago. I had it on my shoot list for years and vowed that I would keep it a secret even though MANY photogs know it and others recognize it. When I posted the photos on FB of course, I was asked immediately; “Please tell me where this is”….all I said was the region of the US and that I would prefer to keep the exact location to myself so it doesn’t become another “Antelope Canyon” that is being loved to death. I got some push back for sure but I didn’t care. The photos that I shot of this place are some of my favorite and ones that I worked hard to get and am very proud of. I share them on FB, my blog as well as my website with only my unique title (no location info) so I feel ok about that but thought long and hard about making it a stop on this new workshop. I do not name the exact place in the detailed itinerary – I just say a “rarely visited and sacred place” that they will learn about on the 1st day of the workshop. I feel like if I approach the location with reverence and respect and ask my workshop participants to do the same and possibly keep it to themselves maybe they will feel the same as I do.

    Bottom line, we all know how hard it is to make a living in this business…some have more revenue streams than others…mine is mainly workshops and selling prints through my galleries, and we know how the art market is right now, so workshops are key for me. I have to offer something unique and different and draw on the extensive knowledge I have of the area that I specialize in that has taken me over 22 years to amass……I live and breath my work and at times am saddened by the over crowding at places I go back to shoot that used to be quiet and peaceful….I struggle with that…….it’s a double edged sword for sure but know I will NEVER stop shooting…it is who I am and what I will always do! So it this the LONGEST response you have ever gotten?? 🙂

    • Thank you Cheyenne. You like many others such as myself do workshops which make up a good portion of our earnings. It is essential for you to keep those places as sacred as possible. With your following you have the potential to really have your followers in the years to come make that another “Antelope Canyon” . Thank you for your reply and interesting feedback.

      • Thanks Kevin……and we definitely don’t need ANYMORE “tripod zoo’s” like Antelope although I did hear a rumor you aren’t even allowed to use your tripod in Antelope anymore. It has been 15 years since I have been there and I doubt that I will ever go back even though I really need (and want) new photos of it with pixels……….mmmmm… for thought for sure…..

      • Just a quick post script……the location that I am speaking about is clearly named with detailed directions to it in a VERY popular “photo guide book”…..not that it makes it “right” for me to take people in, if that is what I decide to do (4 people a year…this workshop is very exclusive) but I just wanted to mention that since it is out there for the world to find…….ok….I’m done! 😉

  38. For our love of nature … keep it quiet … they can locate a site just as you did … maybe you could take a few extra shots you could send to their portfolio …lol Is this not about being creative ..should we all not find our own way …. taking a shot that has already been taken seems counter to what we got into this for in the first place … that is my feel for the hobbyist

    Pro vs Pro ..this may seem cold …. but … every man for himself
    Maybe I had a rough day … lol

  39. I am in agreement with most here. A general location unless you are privately asked. If you are privately asked, you have to make the decision of whether it would be good stewardship or not to give exact locations. I also agree with the poster that said part of getting the shot is the journey itself. People may get a general idea of where it is and end up shooting something else entirely.

    Having done the majority of my photography through tent camping and hiking, I have to say that the spots where people know the location get trashed and spoiled relatively quickly. The parks and forest management services don’t have the budgets any longer to even maintain, let alone clean the used areas.

    So, in short, give out general locations. Those that put the effort into finding exactly where it is are more likely to be a good steward of the land anyway.

  40. Weird, I posted here and it seemed to disappear…

  41. OK, well now it re appeared! I’m losing my mind, sorry… 🙂

  42. To me the special thing about each of those images is not the uniqueness of the location but that of the light and the atmosphere. Sadly folks do tend to seek out places as a sort of conquest which I totally understand as it’s a ritual I still am drawn to participate in. However, for my own sanity as well as the betterment of myself I seek to use light to transform the mundane into the magical. To me, this is the challenge of photography. After all, the accomplishment of far away land captured in beautiful light is more an act of good planning than mastery of a craft.

  43. I’ve spent the last half hour reading through these post. The bottom line is I would share. I don’t think I could really trust my motives for not sharing. Could I really have such pure motives to only think of nature and not my livelihood or ego? We are (or should be) all grownups playing in this fantastic visually rich world and I couldn’t say that only I have the right actions and motives and others would destroy. Besides, it is apparent that you travel to some remote locations that only a few have the time, energy, and money to follow in your footsteps. Your work is fantastic; I could only hope someday to capture such beauty but I guess I’ll have to find another virtual photography mentor who will help me grow (when or if I ask which I doubt I ever will after reading all these opinions). Maybe I’m nuts but I think connecting with people might be more important than connecting with nature… gosh sorry… I think I’m turning this into a moral issue.

    • Thanks Patricia for taking the time to read the post. I really do appreciate it. There is nothing wrong with thinking the way you do. Connecting with people is what makes us human first and foremost. Thank you as well for the kind words about my photography.

  44. I don’t have a problem telling people about new locations….or at least ones that are new to them. I think maybe the best way to keep a place to keep the traffic down is to remind them that the location is in bear country and you have to hike out a couple hours in the dark after sunset to really get the best light! haha!

    I think photographers are pretty good at “leaving no trace” and whatnot….so I doubt that the landscape would be too messed up. God made the world for us to care for…and enjoy…and share. It’s one of the things I love about photography. Instead of just describing what you saw, you can actually let people take a view through the window of a sharp photograph. I guess I might be more careful about giving someone a map to an ancient petroglyph…but other than that…I like to share.


  45. Just another quick thought… I realize that some places have been jacked up by all the traffic….(Antelope Canyon, etc)…but I think that’s because those places are low hanging fruit and easy to get too. Places like that will always see too much traffic. I think the coolest and most pristine places are WAY off the beaten path…and that is why they will most likely stay nice.

  46. Re remote locations….here (bottom of the world, turn right) there is both a felt obligation to increase public awareness to save wilderness areas from mining/forestry/hydro-electric damns etc. as well as an awareness that increased exposure to people wreaks its own havoc, especially when they are easily accessed and people have no clue how to be in the wild places and leave no footprints….sometimes a vague location which still hides the spot can work….I certainly feel an obligation to be very selective about information on locations and who it goes to, having seen the way many behave in the natural world, and the woeful ignorance and lack of care and respect displayed by an increasing number.
    I recently walked into a coup zoned for logging to take images to use to lobby for protection from forestry: 7 hour walk through dense rainforest with no track, fast and freaky river crossing, and then 3 hours of horizontal scrub….not many would make that journey to a place never before visited by humans….
    ….but the natural world was not put there for us….and we have an obligation towards it to nurture, and treat it in a way that renders its integrity sustainable.

    • Thank you so much Hillary. Very nicely put. First and foremost we have to remember that the natural world was put there not for us.. and we have to always be cognizant of that. So thanks again Hillary.

  47. Obviously, I’m all about sharing, but I did struggle with this issue some when writing “Photographing Oregon”. There are a few locations that I was hesitant to include, a few that I was purposely a little vague about rather than give exact directions, and yes, some that I left out. I’m not really concerned so much with others copying compositions or wanting to have my own secret spots, but I am very concerned about the potential for damage. Much as I would like to think that nature photographers are all hyper-vigilant about protecting the environment and the beauty they seek to photograph, experience has shown that to not always be the case. So yes, sometimes it’s necessary to be circumspect about a location, but for the most part I think it’s good to share. Personally, one of the things I like about photography is sharing, showing my photos as if to say “Look what I saw!”, and wanting others to be able to see and experience for themselves what I found.

    • Thanks Greg. It is great to get your input on this matter. I am sure writing the book with some of the locations must have been hard for you. There is some valuable information in that book and I know that people are a huge follower of your work. I agree we need not be specific when the location is a sensitive environment.
      Thanks Greg.

  48. Interesting read, Kevin. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Also interesting I follow Greg’s post, as one part of my response coincides; “Try writing a Guidebook.” I’m working on the NorCal version for the same series that Greg had done.

    For a super-special or extra fragile location like Mark mentioned, I’d simply say “Location Unknown” and leave it at that.

    As for the nature of the nature photo beast, this is just the way it goes sometimes; once a location gets out….

    I personally know of a couple instances where Galen carried another photographers image out in a field to help him find a location. One of those places is now regularly over-run by photographers seeking their own trophy shots.

    If an area is ecologically fragile, I have no problem giving a general geographic area, but sufficed to say “it was shot in the Vermillion Cliffs area” – at least that narrows it down a bit.

    But the dissemination of information these days is so fast, by the time a fragile area becomes a trophy hunting destination, it may be too late…

    Cheers & Happy Trails.

  49. A couple other examples off the top of my head, I know the Racetrack at DV has become an ever-increasing photographic destination. One zealous photographer happily showed off his ‘unique’ image of the rocks on a flooded playa; obviously shot in a blatant disregard for all the warning signs that say “Don’t walk on the Playa when it’s wet.”

    There was also a more recent instance of photographers working their way out to Double Falls at Glacier at a time when the area was closed, and the after talk was basicially ‘well, we were extra careful, and we went out of our way to avoid damaging … yada yada yada.” The end result is the motivation to shoot a fragile or closed area was still greater than the need to protect the area or obey posted restrictions.

  50. Thanks Gary for the feedback. It is always great to read your blog. I wish I was as active as you but can’t seem to do it. The Racetrack is a great example of this. I know how sensitive the area at “Double Falls” is and yet is constantly being shot even when the warning signs are there. I have got several emails telling me that photographers aren’t the type of people who would disobey signs and that they are always aware not to damage anything.. well we know that is not true. Anyways thanks again.

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