I spend a lot of time on public lands and waters, where I see many amazing and delightful things. I photograph them and share them with others. It is not uncommon for people to say, “Wow, where was this taken?” In some cases, I might be very specific or give a general locale, but there are times when I might be loath to announce exactly where I have taken a photograph. Some of the reasons are ethical, some a sense of preservation, and some… a little more selfish.
I won’t disclose the location of bird nests or animal dens that I come across. This, for me, is an ethical one. If people learn of these sites, they may get drawn- with no harm intended- to try and catch a peek of these animals and they’re young. Even with the best of intentions, this can drive adults away, causing them to abandon eggs or young.
Spending too much time near these areas where young animals are, can get the young too used to people, can make them less cautious than they should be. Part of the beauty of wild creatures is that they are wild.
I will give general locations of animals, where people can come across them while they are out and about, but I try not to reveal specific locations that are important to their life needs. I might say “I often see Bobcats while kayaking on Tomales Bay.” I won’t say, “If you paddle to the second cove past the big rock (I’m making up these directions), you’ll find an otter den with several pups.”
I won’t reveal where I came across this mother weasel hunting for its young. Sorry.
Some locations I proudly announce the name of when I display my photographs. In fact, I would say this is the norm rather than the exception, especially with landscapes. People will often feel more of a connection with a picture, if it is of a place they are familiar with. It’s good PR and business sense to tell locations, because it offers that connection. If someone wants to go to the same spot and take one’s own version, fine. It won’t be the exact same picture, because of differences in composition, weather, and lighting. We all see things differently, and our photographs will often show those differences. If someone goes to the area, and they just aren’t satisfied with their own images after seeing yours, that’s fantastic. You’ve just reinforced in their minds what a good photographer you are. If you’re afraid of competition, then perhaps you’re not doing everything you could to make the images you want.
I’ll also tell or display where landscapes were taken because I want to inspire people to go out and visit their local parks. They are there for all of us, and the more we use them and show our support of them, the more likely it is that more parks will be created, preserving more habitat and beauty, whether it is on the municipal, county, state, or federal level. Also, the more attention our parks get, the more likely it is that they will continue to get funded. Here in California, when the budget has problems, it is often the parks that get hit first. Some of my favorite parks have been shut down, and others are now only open on weekends.
What will stop me from disclosing an exact location, is when an influx of people will change the character of a place, threatening the habitat or environment. Part of taking pictures of beautiful places is preserving them. While I want to promote my parks, I don’t want them to become over run.
Finally, there are a few areas I don’t share, simply because I know they are places where I know I can find a quiet spot to rest and get away from it all when I need to- places that are special to me. I have spots I’ve been going to for years, where I’ve never come across another person, even though they are on public land. I don’t want that to change.
Sometimes it can be tricky balancing the sharing of a place with protecting it. Sometimes I feel somewhat selfish, but I feel it is the wise choice to err towards protecting important places in the end.
I’ll happily let everyone know that I photographed this old railroad bed just north of the town of Point Reyes, on Highway 1. Stop at the first dirt turnout when the bay comes fully into view, and you’ll find a trail leading down the hillside. With this photo, I help give people a sense of the history and nature of the place. When I give more information, it gives the photograph more meaning.