Should You Disclose the Location of Your Photos?

At the alarming rate of destruction and wanton littering and waste that is happening globally, is it time for us as photographers to stop publicly announcing the location of our shoots?

The world is there for us all to explore and discover new places or for us as photographers to get the bucket shot and then go on to explore and try to get a unique perspective on any area we travel to. Posting pics as we go, beautiful scenery in abundance, stunning sunsets/sunrises, unique vantage points, then sharing on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or wherever. Showing the eyes of the internet what a beautiful world we live in. Some people will never get the chance to visit some of the places, so seeing them captured as a photograph will allow them to see what a beautiful world this really is. This is what we do. We don't do it for acclaim, we do it for passion. We do it because photography is our passion and we enjoy exploring, discovering, and putting into practice what we are learning. Perhaps it's your hobby, perhaps your profession, but it's something you love to do. So, why are we, in a way, being punished for our passion with more and more restrictions being put in place?

Paradox

So, you are heading to (insert country name here) in a few month's time for a vacation. You are planning to visit all the bucket shot locations. Where do you turn to for photographs of the destination to research? I'm going to hazard a guess here and say Instagram hashtags. And quite rightly so. I do the same myself. But, here's the thing: so does everyone else. Now, I'm not saying that no one else should visit these locations except for photographers; the world belongs to us all. What I am asking is: how do we transform the thought process when visiting locations? The logical answer seems to be by educating people about destruction, littering, campfires, and leaving no trace. How that is done, though? I really wish I had the answer, I really do. It is a minority that is to blame, and it's this minority that is causing restrictions for everyone, not just photographers.

How can we find a location if the location can't be hashtagged? 

What did we do before that? We'd research the countries that we were visiting via other methods, and I'm sure you did that as well. So, how do we as photographers slow down the onslaught of destruction at these locations when others are not as thoughtful? Do we stop hashtagging the exact location and just mention the country? Take Iceland’s majestic Fjadrárgljúfur Canyon for example. After a pop video was made there by a musician, the foot traffic nearly doubled there in 2017/18, causing damage to the local pathways and vegetation, which in turn led to the canyon being closed for two weeks in March by Iceland's Environmental Agency, then later extended until June 2019. Prior to all of this, the canyon was really only visited by locals and adventurous tourists.

Now, that is not the musician's fault by any means, as I'm sure permission was sought and granted to film there in the first place. The blame, in my opinion, lies with the uneducated and disrespectful tourists who traveled there —  uneducated and disrespectful from the point of view that the focus was where the video had been shot and not the surrounding environment and the damage being caused.  That is a very sweeping statement, and I am tarring everyone with the same brush, but it's just to get the point across. I have traveled to some filming locations that I wanted to photograph, took my photographs, been aware of the environment, and hopefully left no trace.

What Can We Do?

Ultimately, I've hit a full stop here. I wish I knew the answer. Logically, it's through education, but not everyone is open to that. So, is there anything that we can do to even start to mend the damage that has been done? I don't mean literally. I mean, is there anything we can do as photographers? When we share our photos, should we just mention the country and not the location? I personally love exploring Google Earth for the countries I am going to visit, and yes, that's after searching hashtags. But I love the excitement of that as it feels to be a part of the process, the planning, and the discovery. 

Posting

As of 2018, over 50 billion photos have been shared on Instagram since its inception, and with an average daily user count of around 500 million, I'm sure there are enough location hashtags to last a lifetime. Everyone knows the iconic places and everyone wants a piece of the photo action in the form of a selfie at the location, as photos with faces get 38% more likes. I mention Instagram here only because of its popularity and not to appoint blame. Personally, I love Instagram and the inspirational images that are there. They really do inspire when looking at locations, and that is in no way a bad thing. Instagram is changing, though, and is not just a photo site anymore. Very recently, Adam Mosseri openly spoke about the changes underway. 

The Real Truth

Once it's gone, it's gone.

Noticeably, I haven't tarred any photographers here with the wanton destruction brush. And by that, I'm being in no way elitist. I am only thinking that instead of adding to the problem, we help, even in a small way, to abate it. But what can we do? I wish I had an answer, but that's the reason for the article, to cause a debate, and hopefully, someone will have an idea of what can be achieved if we work together.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, as I'm sure someone will have an educated, long-lasting idea on how we can help to solve this problem and perhaps heal the damage that is being done.

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27 Comments

J.d. Davis's picture

MANY cellphones geotag images...so best of luck with that!

Gary McIntyre's picture

You can turn that off though in most cases. We may possibly be past the point of undoing the current damage. Perhaps though we can slow it down?

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

If you upload to the social media sites, they strip all exif data anyways.

J.d. Davis's picture

Not always!

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

When i say social media, I'm referring to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And, yes, always. Instead of assuming, actually test it. And, think about it. Can you imagine how dangerous it would be if people could find out the exact location of people that posted a selfie in their room, birthday photos, family bbq, etc.

J.d. Davis's picture

My iphone has city & gps coordinates on all the photos

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Omg, you are not understanding. smh. Yes, your iPhone has GPS coordinates on all the photos. But, when you upload to social media (FB, IG, Twitter), they are stripped. They are gone. They are no longer there. They've been removed. They've been wiped off. lol

J.d. Davis's picture

You disappoint -

A Facebook representative said via email that Facebook does collect and process Exif data, including “information like the make and model of the device used to take the photo, the camera settings, and the date the photo was taken . . . to make your experience better and to keep people safe.”

If you don’t want to provide such data to Facebook and other companies at all, you can remove it yourself before uploading a photo.

So before you shake your head from its mount or tell me that I'm not understanding, be certain of your facts. Just because they are not available to the public does not mean that someone isn't mining your data and using the information to sell you shit that you don't need!

DO YOUR HOMEWORK BETTER NEXT TIME!

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

--- "Just because they are not available to the public does not mean that someone isn't mining your data and using the information to sell you shit that you don't need!"

Holy cow, c'mon man, now you are just grasping at straws. This whole article is in regards to making the locations "public", not social media data mining.and selling your shit. wtf lol

You might want to do yourself a favor and read the article...and read your initial comment.

SMH, again.

J.d. Davis's picture

rightON whippersnapper!

Ed C's picture

One can always strip the data if one knows how to use the conversion software or Photo Mechanic or any number of other programs but you can't count on all social media to strip it.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

1. It's very unlikely people taking photos with their phones are going to do all that.

2. Do you have examples of where social media (FB, IG, Tiwtter) didn't strip the data?

Tom Reichner's picture

Gary McIntyre asked:

"How can we find a location if the location can't be hashtagged? "

That's easy! Many of the photos that I love and want to try to get myself are not hashtagged, nor is any specific location information given. Yet I find the precise location with little difficulty.

How?

I send a message to the photographer and express that I am very interested in photographing the subject matter that is in their photo. Then I ask, "do you have any advice as to how I could go about finding similar opportunities?"

Nearly always, the photographer will give me very specific information about where and how they took the image. Often, if it is local to them, they offer to meet me and show me the place personally - to guide me around and show me what their area has to offer.

There is a vast difference between sharing information with an individual who is very serious about traveling to an area and photographing it to the very best of their ability, versus putting specific info out there for the whole world to see. The individual who takes the time to send a message and do proper research on a location is far more likely to treat that location with respect than are the masses who just go following hashtags around the globe.

I think this also answers the other question that the author asked:

"I am only thinking that instead of adding to the problem, we help, even in a small way, to abate it. But what can we do? I wish I had an answer, but that's the reason for the article, to cause a debate, and hopefully, someone will have an idea of what can be achieved if we work together.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, as I'm sure someone will have an educated, long-lasting idea on how we can help to solve this problem and perhaps heal the damage that is being done."

Gary McIntyre's picture

Totally agree Tom, expecially with 'The individual who takes the time to send a message and do proper research on a location is far more likely to treat that location with respect than are the masses who just go following hashtags around the globe'. Do that myself and am happy to share with folks that ask, although these days not publicly. As you say, the ones who take the time to contact.

Rayann Elzein's picture

Wow, photographers in your area must be a lot nicer than me! When someone asks me out of the blue, even if super politely, "where did you take this picture" or "how do I get there", and I have never interacted with them before on any level, usually they don't even follow your (Instagram) account but just somehow found that picture... I will 99.9% of the times say sorry, but I don't disclose locations to people I don't know. Most don't even say "hi" or "please" in their messages, so it's even easier to turn them down.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Oh I definitely understand this and agree with you. I have been shooting professionally fir 50 years. Most of my work is in Russia and other European countries....landscapes, historical, religious and some street photography. There are many locations I have done which no one would know where they are unless they were there or someone who knows the place tells them. Of course these are landscape photos. The reason is because I shoot them on slide film. Today one would be hard-pressed to find a beautiful location without everyone and their cat not knowing where it is. Glad I still shoot film. I do shoot digital, just never for my professional work.

Gary McIntyre's picture

Good to hear that there are still some places that are not well trampled Timothy. There are many even here in Scotland that perhaps are not just as iconic as the bucket shot but my they are beautiful. I tend to just enjoy my time at these ones and take a few photos as keepsakes.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Thank you sir McIntyre. I really need to get to Scotland for some incredible scenery. It's the heritage of my mother...the Gunn Clan. When I do come there, I'll be looking you up???

Gary McIntyre's picture

Definitely do

Timothy Gasper's picture

Definitely will. I'll be coming for your Knighthood. Just let me know the date. We can also do Russia or anywhere else in Europe. I miss the old countries. 😁

Charles Mercier's picture

A growing population of billions of people are simply swarming the planet. With the masses come careless and selfish people.

Gary McIntyre's picture

Very True Charles. It's a shame that the careless and selfish may ruin it for everyone.

Christopher Corey's picture

Leaving the location of the photo out of your posts to Instagram seems to be a simple solution to me. It’s not necessary to include it, and people who want to can usually find the location by other means, which means-doing their own research. Leaving the specific location off of photos also makes it a bit more difficult for the careless masses to trample a site to death. Photographers have a responsibility to refrain from contributing to a site’s destruction. Leaving out the hashtag or details of a site is a step towards conservation. Of course this would not apply to iconic places, but everyone already knows where these places are anyway. Consider leaving details out, especially on the lesser-known scenic areas. There’s a lot of beautiful scenery out there, so get out and discover some on your own, and leave the hashtag and/or locational information out of it.

brokenlandphotography's picture

"Should You Disclose the Location of Your Photos?" No

Steve Powell's picture

If it’s a pristine, and isolated location, I do not mention where it’s at.

J H's picture

This is not a problem for film photography.

Chris Gallego's picture

Hi everyone. I'm sorry in advanced my English skills.

I'm not a photographer but I do location Scouting for movies and advertising and like in other parts of differents countries, the island where I live is full of instagram spots that had been transform to a kind of photowall.

I personally have some spots locations that could work perfectly in tons of productions but I decided to regret them (the locations) to avoid that massive crowd that I know will destroy these spots. And not because of they could leave garbage or whatever but because of the volume of people that a place can support per day without break the location. Is not the same one person running for some minutes than hundreds of people running the same day through a same place. I hope this example has some sense.

Just because of that increment of people visiting some places that were "virgins", some years ago, administrations had to place fences or limit access to some locations. There are no toilets on these places so it means tons of people doing browns and yellowish things (haha, I really don't know how to say this... ) around these places creating new tracks, leaving wet towels and paper and so on.

There is a beach here where the "sand" is a kind of little white rocks that looks like popcorn. Well, these "rocks" are been taken as a souvenir so the beach will be change in not too much time becasue everybody wants a "rock" that looks like ...

The same happens with the "dragon glass", obsidian. This island is volcanic and this kind of rock is stolen every year. Well, because of that and more stupid acts that humans (locals and foreign people) do, administration will put more restrictions rules that affect to people like me and our job.

So by now the solution for me is please, if you want to tag photos, don't share the location but the country or region. It is not the solution.

It is a so sad situation like the ones are shown as example in this post. Living in a small place like an Island, these human acts are more noticeable in time.