I freely admit that I spend waaaaayyyyy too much time online.  I spend my working days staring at a computer screen and when I get home what’s the first thing I do?   Yep…fire up the laptop.  I see who has posted what on Facebook..what sort of images have been posted on Google+…any e-mails?  What bout good stuff on craigslist or ebay?  I’m hopeless and I know it.  But as much as I enjoy online time occasionally I run across something that disturbs me.

A very talented young woman recently fired up a new website with some amazing images of owls.  The website tells about her images and her efforts to never infringe on a creature’s space.  She’s very aware and avoids stressing the animals while creating some amazing images.  One of the comments posted detailed a photographer’s recent trip to British Columbia to photograph a large concentration of Snowy Owls and the details of other idiot photographers trampling delicate marshland and even chasing the owls to get the “in flight” shots.  And that’s what disturbs me.. that so many other photographers, some of whom are quite famous, have so little regard for anyone or anything but themselves and getting the shot.

I’ve been thinking back this afternoon of the instances I’m aware of where a photographer showed little or no concern for his fellow photographers or in some cases for his subjects all in the effort to get the “shot.”  I won’t share any of the names but let me relate some of the instances that I’m aware of.

First and foremost and quite possibly the most offensive happened in my own backyard.  I think it was about 15 or 20 years ago (the memories get a bit hazy at my age) when I saw a news report about a photographer taking a shot in Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs of a Juniper tree with it’s branches framing one of the sandstone formations.  He then pulled out a saw and cut down the juniper tree.  After his arrest he told the rangers that he got a great shot and didn’t want anyone to ever be able to duplicate it.  I’d like to think he spent some time in jail but probably not.

In a similar vein, I was talking to some friends and fellow photographers recently at a gathering of Rocky Mountain Nature Photographers when a story was related about a very famous photographer that currently has a nationally broadcast TV show.  My friends encountered this photographer and his TV crew while in the field during wildflower season and were talking about photographing this location when the TV show was done.  My friends returned later to find a whole field of flowers trampled to the ground and upon encountering the famous guy and his crew later they were told he did that so my friends wouldn’t be able to duplicate his images.  Unbelievable!  What arrogance!

But not all damage is intentional.  There’s the tale of the well-known photographer who was leading a seminar on night photography at Delicate Arch in Utah a few years ago.  To illustrate the concept of light painting he and his students packed in a bunch of presto logs to Delicate Arch and built a fire underneath the arch…and the creosote in the logs created a stain on Delicate Arch that will probably be visible for decades.  He was subsequently arrested, tried, and ended up paying a healthy fine.  I don’t know if that’s also the reason behind the closing of his gallery in Moab, UT, but I’d like to think the locals were suitably outraged and ran him out.

And sometimes it’s just plain ignorance.  If you’ve ever been to Yellowstone you’ve seen this on display many times.  The tourist with a PHD (Press Here, Dummy) camera trying to get a portrait of some critter or another.  The move closer and the critter moves away.  They pursue and the critter moves away…and so on.  I never wish ill upon anyone but sometimes you can’t help but hope the idiot tourist gets stomped or bitten a little bit.

So what do we do about it? Well, the best thing you can do is police yourself.  If you’re a landscape shooter, be aware of your surroundings.  If you’re hiking and run across an empty water bottle or candy wrapper, pick it up.  Don’t trample a bunch of flowers on your way to get a shot of that perfect flower in the middle of the meadow.  If you’re a wildlife shooter, study your subject and it’s habits BEFORE you head into the field.  If an animal changes it’s behavior you’re too close.  If you notice signs of stress, back off.

When I was studying Forestry in college I spent a couple of summers working for the Forest Service in Washington State.  One summer I spent a week posting signs at trailheads leading into the Glacier Peak Wilderness.  You’ve seen them before..”Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs.”  Let’s be considerate and hope that others can enjoy the outdoors like we do.