Should Photographers and Travellers Share or Secrete Beautiful Locations?

I can almost guarantee that, in terms of modern day travel,  there’s no such thing as secret location anymore. And unless you’re willing to travel hundreds of kilometres deep into the alps or rainforests of distant lands, you’re not going to be the first to discover a picturesque scene.

A recent article from Annabel Claire discusses whether photographers should share the locations of their photos, and to what extent it becomes beneficial over being detrimental.

So is there really any reason to keep the location details of your latest photo a secret?

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Environmental concerns are real.

Earlier in the year I read two articles by Project RAWcast which really made me rethink about the impact I have on a location, both in and out of photography situations. The first article, an open letter of sorts on the responsibility of photographers and nature, and the second, a rebuttal to the first article. These articles raise what I believe is the most important topic on landscape and travel photography – environmental damage.

The reality is when a photo is shared to social media and it attracts a lot of attention, so will the location it was taken. The more people that visit it the higher the chance it will be mistreated just so they can claim their “me too” shot. This is obviously a problem, but I don’t think the photographer should be held responsible (unless they have caused direct damage themselves.)

From what I have read from the photography community, photographers are probably the most conscious of environmental preservation amongst all visitors. The real problem comes from careless tourists who just want their social media snap, disregarding the people and places around them. I’m not saying all tourists are like this, but I’ve seen this a lot from many of different places.

However, the solution isn’t reservation – it’s education.

The Catch 22 of social media.

Social media is the world’s biggest tourism pamphlet filled with photos, videos and stories from travellers all over the world. So it’s only natural that you hear about new locations through social media, right? As I mentioned before, more exposure will mean more tourism which ultimately leads to more damage in the area. Yet without discovering these places through social media, would many of us be having this conversation about environmental preservation? 

Annabel said on a recent Instagram post that if it were not for Instagram she never would have known about and visited the Figure 8 Pools near Sydney. It was only because someone had shared information on how to get there safely and the best time to visit she was able to do so. So, although Instagram exposure has made this area as popular as it is (and caused damage to the pools), it has allowed more people to share extensive information about how to better protect the area and themselves.

If this information is readily available to travellers and tourists the better the chances we can continue to visit these places with as little environmental impact as possible. Not knowing means people will create their own paths and (often unintentionally) disturb nature. Annabel’s blog focuses on directions and instructions for the places she visits, and it’s a damn good step in the right direction for all of us!

What I foolishly thought was a secret waterfall at Leura is one of the most commonly photographed on the track.

What I foolishly thought was a secret waterfall at Leura is one of the most commonly photographed on the track.

The human race is inquisitive and stupid.

Have you ever heard of the Devil’s Pool in Zambia? In a nutshell, it’s a small pool at the top of Victoria Falls (one of the largest waterfalls in the world) with the only thing stopping you from falling to your death is a slippery rock embankment. Despite the obvious dangers, tourists flock here and risk their lives to take photos of themselves to impress friends and social media strangers.

I have no hesitation in believing that if people can be this careless with their own lives that like-minded people won’t give to seconds of thought to their impact on nature. As well as hurting themselves, humans are more than capable of misjudging the stability of paths, trees, rocks, sand and more, often causing a domino effect of harm to the environment.

Social media and travel-focused platforms celebrate those risky situation photos and label it “adventure”, encouraging more people to follow suit. With all this said, my concern is that without proper education people are going to try anything to reach the oasis social media promises. This includes, but not limited to, walking over native plants, breaking tree branches, disturbing animal habitats and leaving other trails of damage (litter, sunscreen in waters, etc.).

Does this mean everyone is going to seek out these instructional blogs and avoid damage? No. But if it can educate even one person it’s definitely worth the effort.

Secret or share?

I personally believe that keeping a location secret has the potential to do more harm than good. It’s all about education – if you do your research and stay environmentally conscious there’s no reason to not explore, and sharing all your knowledge can create a preservation effect for future generations.

Remember, the world is only as beautiful as we keep it.