Ethical Photography: Respect for All by Kristen Langeste
Ethical Photography: Respect for All
Banff and Jasper National Parks are pictured in photos that can be found all over the internet. People talk about the parks looking like surreal places, places that could never exist in reality. As someone who has been able to visit the parks countless times, I feel lucky to know Banff and Jasper as magical places that are, at the same time, very real and alive.
My experience with the parks shifted as I got older and I developed a love of photography. Now, they are not only places I continue to be drawn back to because of the wonderful sense of calm and peace the parks provide to me, but also as a limitless subject to explore through my lens.
When I was younger, I had a simple, small, point-and-shoot camera that was easy to carry with me and took no time to set-up time. I have since graduated to a small but powerful digital SLR camera (Canon T3i with 18-135mm lens for those who are curious) that occasionally requires the use of a tripod. This adds a lot more bulk to my camera equipment, and I find myself remaining conscious of this fact so as not to get in the way of other park visitors as they see the sights.
This brings me to the one word I would like to focus on regarding the use of our national parks: respect. I feel this is the key to allowing everyone and everything to coexist harmoniously in our world, but its significance is often forgotten. Respect from all parties is absolutely crucial, and it becomes disheartening to see this golden rule disregarded so frequently.
As photographers, we have an added responsibility to exemplify respect for our surroundings. Not only must we show respect to other photographers and visitors of the parks, but we must inform ourselves of the regulations regarding wildlife, land, and photography. Parks Canada has outlined best practices for wildlife viewing and photography that includes rules and regulations, as well as safety precautions (1). Among these is the reminder that “photographers who travel the park in search of good photo opportunities have a special responsibility to wildlife and fellow visitors,” and outlines safe distances to keep from a variety of animals (1).
Parks Canada also posts information about trail and road closures that occur seasonally in order to protect visitors and wildlife. Although some visitors may view these closures as optional, they are in place to ensure the safety of all parties involved. Another important section of the park’s guidelines concerns stewardship. It may seem relatively insignificant to take a rock or some other small part of the natural landscape home as a souvenir, but “all… natural or historical objects in a national park are protected by law” and must be respected as an important part of the park (2).
Other organizations such as the Nature Photography Network have synthesized a document containing best practices for photography ethics from a variety of sources. These include but are not limited to giving wild animals their space, knowing when to use a longer lens, familiarizing yourself with the rules and regulations of the location you are shooting in, and the importance of keeping yourself and other photographers accountable for behavior within the natural surroundings (3 ).
Something I found interesting when reading about wilderness photography ethics is the importance of photographers being role models for other visitors. With national parks such as Banff and Jasper, many visitors come from around the globe just to experience the beauty of our natural landscape. However, not everyone who enters the parks understands or is aware of the responsibilities that come with visiting a protected area.
While at Lake Louise in February of 2016, I witnessed some behaviors that were disheartening: an abandoned pop can floating in what little water was left unfrozen, and a park visitor feeding and encouraging local wild birds to land on his hands. Littering not only adds to environmental pollution of protected areas, but also creates a different dynamic for photographers coming to revel in the natural wonders of our parks. Visitors who ignore regulations of the park in place to encourage respect and protect all things within the environment have the potential to create dangerous situations not only for themselves, but those in the surrounding areas as well.
As a photographer, I felt troubled and had the desire to say something about the disruptive and potentially dangerous interaction with wild birds at Lake Louise that day, but as a human being I felt something stop me. Maybe it was the fear of being seen as a know-it-all or someone who just wants to ruin the fun. Maybe it was the fact that we as humans in the western world tend to be socialized to mind our own business. Maybe it was the fact that I’ve seen this kind of behavior a number of times since I was a young child visiting the parks. Whatever it was, I sincerely hope I will have the courage to find my voice next time I witness this kind of behavior.
My most recent visit to Banff National Park was filled with respectful and encouraging experiences as well. I was fortunate enough to visit Vermilion Lakes for the first time, which is just outside of Banff town centre. A series of UNESCO information panels on the edge of the parking lot describe and illustrate the lakes and their environmental importance. It was exciting to see easily accessible information for visitors to take to heart the importance of preservation of the natural landscape.
The information panels talk about Vermilion Lakes being marshland – extremely rare in the Rocky Mountains and “increasingly rare and valuable everywhere,” which is part of the reason it is so highly protected (4). They also discuss the importance of marshes and the extremely diverse ecosystems that rely on these specific conditions to thrive (4). During my short photography session at this site, I was treated courteously by other visitors who saw me setting up my tripod, and I was able to read all the information signs alongside multiple other visitors. It was encouraging to see people keenly interested in the information behind the protected area. This leads me to believe that many visitors do care about respecting and cherishing the parks as much as I do.
Reflecting on my experiences and my research, I believe it is important that all visitors of our national parks be aware of the basic levels of respect asked of them while enjoying the beauty of our protected parks. The responsibility of photographers should be, as outlined in Parks Canada’s guidelines and elsewhere, to take a leadership role within the parks by familiarizing themselves with regulations and best practices. As photographers, I believe we have an added responsibility to be role models within our national parks, so that the natural ecosystems that we enjoy observing and photographing can continue to thrive instead of being disrupted and changed by our behavior.
1. Parks Canada. (2015). Wildlife Watching & Photography. Retrieved from http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/banff/activ/photographie-photography.aspx
2. Parks Canada. (2014). Banff National Park: Backpacking Safety & Stewardship. Retrieved from http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/banff/activ/randonee-backpacking/dangers-hazards.aspx
3. Nature Photographers Network. (2016). Nature Photographers Ethics Resource Page. Retrieved from http://www.naturephotographers.net/ethics.html
4. UNESCO World Heritage Site Information Signs
All photography by Kristen Langeste