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Ethics of location sharing

This is a question that comes up in photography circles often and I don't really have a good answer to it, so I figured I'd ask how other people handle it. How to you feel about sharing exact photo locations? The issue comes up because of the risks of damaging an area by over visitation.  

Here in Northern Virginia, we have a protected park. It's gorgeous. A true thing of beauty. And the wetland it contains is a rare and extraordinary treasure full of wildlife.

Unfortunately, it is also overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who go there. The results include:

  • Elevated boardwalks that are overburdened by the number of people who go there raising concerns about their possible collapse.
  • People shouting at and otherwise disturbing wildlife. 
  • Crowding to a degree that makes it difficult to even walk through the park.
  • Vehicles (scooters and bikes) being driven through the park despite prohibitions on doing so.
  • Physical injury to wildlife (e.g. turtle shells have been seen cracked open with footprints still visible on the shells)

It's kind of a poster child for the dangers of too many people--and too many of them not interested in or not aware of basic ethics. E.g., Leave No Trace.

My usual solution is to be vague, especially on social media. Notice, for example, that I haven't named the park. I'll tell people a location is in Fairfax County, Virginia or it's in Shenandoah National Park, for example. But I avoid giving the exact spot, especially if it's a fragile area.

Of course some people see not sharing locations as some form of policing or setting up barriers.


24 Replies

For the same reason that all of us post in these forums. Humans are social creatures who typically have an urge to share our experiences with other human beings. I imagine the drive served us well early in our evolution when it would have allowed us convey information about where food and shelter could be found and about what that food might look like. And we have used images to do that since pre-historic times. Think cave paintings, for example.  

These days we still have the urge to share. But we also have instant image generators in just about everyone’s hands because cell phones with cameras are ubiquitous. And there are now so many of us that when we tell others where to go, we can end up with so many of us that we end up damaging or destroying the place.

Photographs are a kind of art and also a way to communicate.    Both of those things are generally positive. 

  I think the problem is, when crowds of people arrive it becomes necessary to construct crowd-control infrastructue like parking lots, toilets, wider trails,  fences and such.  Promoting a certain view to the point of crowding means destroying all of the other things that surround that particular view. 

I just visited a place I haven't been for 10 years and nowadays there are parking lots and signs pointing to certain views.  In the old days you had to decide where to stop on your own.  You got to pick your own views. 

There is not much you can do about national and state parks, you are not a ranger and if you try to correct someone, your in the wrong, just the way the world works now. Best you can do is pick up trash when you see it, and try to be a good example for other to follow.


The smaller out of the way places you stumble a pound when out exploring, you can pick up the trash and make it a nicer area then keep it to yourself or a few like minded friends. Some people won’t understand why you don’t share your places, but those are the people who don’t get it, and never will.

Landscape / Nature Photographer in training

I can understand folks concerns.  You have the overcrowding, extra impact of camping and foot traffic.  There is also a catch.  if the "sport" does not grow, thee is less money to spend on items (i.e., facilities, camping sites, etc.).  Folks want more money to improve the parks and trails.  how do you do that if more folks are not using them.

Even Machu Picchu had to start limiting access due to foot traffic on the stone (and yes some trash).

Also, magazine often put out articles on less travelled trails (etc.) which can bring more folks to those locations.

As with anything (tools, etc.), the issue is not those items.  The issue is us (people/humans).

I know one place that suffers from trash and other items.  The plastic trail markers (blazes) can show signs of being used for target practice.  And, I don't think that backpackers are the only folks using the location as it has been quite trashy.

In Ohio the National forests are camp where you want.  At the one (which is the placed that is fairly trashed), there are plenty of sites that have already been created.  so, there is not much need to pitch your tent where ever you want.

In Ohio the State parks have established camp sites.  Those are where you have to pitch your tent.  However, this also creates some issues.  What do you do if you are hiking along and for some reason cannot reach the one further along the trail?  The distances between these campsites can be fairly large.

Also, what do you do about ones that require that you register for a particular campsite.  and that is where you have to stay.  So, either reach it or ...

I think we need to think about how do we create/maintain these areas.  Things like solar powered/composting toilets rather than outhouses (pit/hole in the ground).  Things like bear boxes.  Don't really need those hear in Ohio (at least yet).  More facilities and campsites more often (say maybe every 5 miles; just throwing out a number here).  More trails and those need to be maintained and blazed.

I am certainly not excusing folks for bad habits.  I am just thinking that we need to consider all things including bad habits.

John L.



May be share the location vaguely so the real hiking lovers would dig in and find the hidden natural gem places. Just an idea.