Why leave no trace applies to photographers too…

October 20, 2021by quentinjmurphy0

It’s important that any couple who work with me knows that I am a Leave No Trace Photographer and also has an idea of what this will mean in actual practice. So, first things first: what’s Leave No Trace (LNT)? In a nutshell, Leave No Trace (LNT) are guiding principles and ethics to help maintain and protect the wild places and wild life that call those places home. Here’s a few tips and thoughts based on those principles.


  1. Plan ahead and prepare. (have a plan. Be prepared for that plan, be prepared for that plan to not go… well, according to plan. Have water, have food, have a first aid kit, know the weather and difficulty level of your activity, have more than what you need, know where you’re going, have a permit. Be safe.) 
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces. (Travel on rocks, sand, dirt roads, washes, paths; any surface that will be unchanged by thousands of footsteps. Avoid crypto, alpine tundra, moss, lichen, alpine meadows, etc because these surfaces are super fragile and can hardly withstand one set of footprints, let alone hundreds.)
  3. Dispose of waste properly. (pack it out, people. Your trash, your poop, everything. Even biodegradable stuff like orange peels or an errant flower bloom. If something isn’t natively found in an environment it’s very important it doesn’t accidentally get left there.)   
  4. Leave what you find. (leave the rocks, plants, pine cones, etc where you found them. If the urge for a souvenir strikes, take a picture or buy a magnet from the gift shop  )
  5. Minimize campfire impacts (be careful with fire). (Only set fires in fire rings and only when it isn’t windy, save fireworks for the 4th. As of my writing this there are three wildfires devastating Arizona, two are from irresponsible people recreating in the outdoors. Not following this particular principle can have hugely devastating effects.)
  6. Respect wildlife.  (Don’t feed them, don’t touch them, give them lots and lots of space. For example, do not put your child on the back of a bison. They are wild animals (re: unpredictable). We don’t want to hurt them, we don’t want them to hurt us.)
  7. Be considerate of other visitors. (Basically, don’t be a jerk. Be aware of the space around you and the other humans in it.)

So what does this mean for you?

First and foremost, I do my best to follow these principles while on a shoot. I for sure make mistakes but in general, do my best and encourage the people I’m with to do the same. What does this look like in action? Here’s an example:

Cryptobiotic soil is this really amazing crust that holds the desert together and keeps the whole desert from blowing away. Sounds cool, right? I like the desert, you like the desert, neither of us want it to blow away. 

What’s the intended use for flares and smoke bombs?

  • Flares are used for marine distress
  • They are designed not to be extinguished easily or quickly. 
  • They contain chemicals 
  • And can burn at temperatures of 1600°C – the melting point of steel.
  • Smoke bombs are mainly used recreationally in paintballing and war games
  • They also burn at high temperatures 
  • They are designed to be used in wide open spaces. 
  • And they are dangerous for those who suffer from asthma

Although smoke bombs and other props can help your shot, be mindful of the environment and make sure you leave the area the way you found it.

Smoke bomb photography is trending on social media, and it has become popular amongst wedding photographers and other events because they level up the production value. Since smoke bombs are pyrotechnic, you must know how to handle them, where to use them, and the risks.

Photography and videography have been a major driver of tourism and with more people travelling overseas to some of the most beautiful and environmentally sensitive places on the planet this has led to more destruction of the habitats that attract the most tourists.

People who are away on vacation naturally want to make the most of the time that they are away. This can often lead them to go off the beaten track in the search of the best photo opportunities! As understandable as this is, it also leads to the damage being caused to the habitats in which the animals live.

If only one person did this then the impact would be very slight however, given that millions of tourists have the same idea each year the cumulative damage can be quite significant!

National Parks, and other sites that are regularly visited by tourists, often complain that people are ignoring park rules to get better photographs! This is often due to a lack of understanding on behalf of the tourists rather than a desire to damage the ecosystem. In most cases, once the tourists understand the situation they are much more respectful of the park rules and the environment in general.

A prime example is Horseshoe Bend.

“It was just a local place for family outings,” recalls Bill Diak, 73, who has lived in Page for 38 years and served three terms as its mayor. “But with the invention of the cellphone, things changed overnight.”

Horseshoe Bend is what happens when a patch of public land becomes #instagramfamous. Over the past decade photos have spread like wildfire on social media, catching the 7,000 residents of Page and local land managers off guard.

According to Diak, visitation grew from a few thousand annual visitors historically to 100,000 in 2010 – the year Instagram was launched. By 2015, an estimated 750,000 people made the pilgrimage. This year visitation is expected to reach 2 million.

Numbers used to peak in the summer but tourists now stream in all year round – nearly 5,000 a day. And fame has come with a dark side. In May 2018, a Phoenix man fell to his death when he slipped off the cliff edge. In 2010, a Greek tourist died when a rock underneath him gave way, police said, as he took photos. Like the recent death of a couple taking photographs in Yosemite, the incidents have raised troubling questions about what happens when nature goes viral.

“Social media is the number one driver,” said Maschelle Zia, who manages Horseshoe Bend for the Glen Canyon national recreation area. “People don’t come here for solitude. They are looking for the iconic photo.”

Something to think about for sure.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: