One key consideration when planning a vacation is figuring out how to document your experiences. Apart from choosing travel-friendly cameras, monopods and portable tripods, as well as other equipment, you should consider how to minimize the impact you’ll make on the environment. Today’s generations of travelers should practice sustainable vacation photography to preserve our natural surroundings for future generations who wish to enjoy and photograph them as much as we are.
To aid in both the chronicling of travel and preservation of the environment, here are seven things you should do to prepare for sustainable vacation photography.
1. Educate yourself about environmental guidelines for specific sites.
In places of great cultural or ecological significance, there are protections or guidelines in place to help preserve the structures, artifacts, wildlife or plant life within a particular site. There are things you will not be allowed to bring. There are things that you are not allowed to do.
If you know that you are headed to a sensitive location that may have such guidelines, educate yourself to ensure that you comply.
2. Follow the rules.
Rules are for a reason. For example, if you see a “No Flash Photography” sign at a tourist attraction, do not disregard it. This rule may be in place because the authorities are trying to prolong the life of an artifact and flash photography may cause it to fade or disintegrate more quickly.
You may also be disturbing the animals who are living in the area, which can compromise your safety (and theirs).
To avoid situations like this, just follow the rules. Do not try to bend them just for a photo.
3. Do not take “souvenirs” from the scene.
It can be very tempting to take something from a particular spot and keep it as a remembrance, especially if the object looks rare or precious, or is simply something that you would not find anywhere else. But do Mother Nature a favor and leave it where you found it.
This will preserve the natural beauty of the place and prevent damage or disruption of the ecosystem. Just as importantly, it will allow other photographers to enjoy discovering the object and the place.
4. Clean as you go.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but it still needs to be said: Avoid littering. Better yet, pick up after others.
Leave all trash, especially water bottles and plastic wrappers, in designated disposal places that won’t do damage to the environment or the animals living in the area. Horribly, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation reported that, as of 2015, 9.1 million tons of trash in the form of plastic leak into the ocean every year and its accidental ingestion has caused death to wildlife like seals and seabirds.
5. Keep your photography gear to a minimum.
When you bring bulky photography gear with you to natural sites, you increase the risk of bumping into things or causing accidents. For instance, if you have a big tripod poking out of your backpack, one wrong turn can hit an artifact or structure.
If you feel that you must bring all your photography gear with you, then be extra mindful of both your belongings and your surroundings.
6. Use eco-friendly gear.
Choose cameras that were built to be environmentally friendly. If possible, look for models that went through eco-friendly manufacturing processes.
However, if you already have a camera, use that. Just make sure to avoid disposable cameras or cameras that require instant film, as these increase waste. If you are using a DSLR, mirrorless or any camera with interchangeable lenses, bring lenses specifically made for travel photography (these are usually the ones with longer focal lengths) so that you won’t need to get too close to the scenery to take a decent photo.
To reduce your ecological footprint even more, use rechargeable batteries and solar-powered chargers to eliminate battery waste. Additionally, purchase camera pouches, backpacks and straps made from eco-friendly, sustainable materials.
7. Respect the environment and the wildlife.
Never disturb the animal or plant life for the sake of a photo. Animals and plants are living creatures too, and they have just as much right to a peaceful life as we humans do.
Of course, it’s perfectly fine to take photos of the wildlife, but do it in a way that does not interfere with their lives or cause destruction to their homes and their natural habitats. Use a long lens, such as a telephoto or a long zoom, to eliminate the need for placing yourself in their immediate environment.
Remember that taking beautiful travel photos while preserving the environment, wildlife and resources allows us to accomplish two things: successfully document our experiences and preserve the same experience for others. Follow these seven tips and you will be well on your way to achieving that laudable task.