Caption this : preservation or promotion?

Have you seen image captions like this on Instagram:

What a stunning location to explore! I love adventures like this and when I got there, I couldn’t help but place myself in the picture for scale. It was pretty hard balancing on a wet log in front of a pumping waterfall, but after a few tries I did it!  Hidden gems like this are a wonder to behold. I won’t name the waterfall in this image as I prefer to keep it unknown

Or how about something like this?

Don’t bother trying to find this location in the wilderness. To get here would take at least a week by foot but fortunately, I and my fellow adventurers were able to arrange a chopper flight to a nearby drop off point before tramping through wild terrain to witness these amazing scenes. If you want to experience pure and pristine wilderness like this, sign up to one of my wilderness tours on my website in the profile link

These captions are not taken from real photographers, but they do represent attitudes toward landscape photography and social media that I would like to explore. They tread the tightrope of promoting a sense of environmental preservation vs self promotion.

This image from Yorke Peninsula is not a frequently shot location. I’m not likely to directly state where it was taken, but I also won’t make it a point in my caption that I won’t disclose its location.

Breaking down the first example. The intentions are seemingly portrayed as noble. The image is taken from a sensitive environment and therefore limiting the impact of the social media ‘crowd’ may protect the area from erosion and irreversible damage. I think it’s quite hard to argue against that principle if you have any desire to preserve the environment. The last sentence about not revealing the location opens a can of worms though. The issue I take with this sort of commentary is that it assumes what I believe, is a contentious core belief:

That you are ‘allowed’ to keep visiting this location along with a select group of like-minded individuals who know of this location. Who knows how everyone in this group discovered the location in the first place, but quite likely through asking someone else who was willing to disclose the location? Everyone else should not find this location: on the assumption that they will not treat the environment with the same respect that you do, or possibly that sheer numbers who find out will result in degradation of the area. My questions to this viewpoint are:

  1. What makes you believe your assumption that you look after the location better than another who would make the same journey?
  2. Why is your desire to adventure inherently more valid than another’s?
  3. Why are you standing on a log in your image? Is it for scale or is it for the social media impact of having human presence in an image that will result in more engagement – and therefore, what exactly was your motivation for posting the image in the first place?
  4. If you believe that numbers will overwhelm the location – why are you not part of the problem? These days, those who are determined to explore, will do their due diligence in research and find these locations.
  5. Is it more acceptable for those to find locations through research and tramping through off track terrain rather than those who are given a direct route?
This image was taken at dawn from Mother Cummings Peak looking toward Mount Rowland. If others want to have this experience, I would encourage the experience of witnessing the light creep across the land at dawn.

The second caption (to me) is even more problematic. This comes off as not showing a desire to protect the environment but instead, a sense of elitism as well as self-promotion as means for others to join an exclusive club. If we’re talking about environmental protection and preserving wilderness, what is the impact of chopper flights to a remote location? I don’t know how to quantify the answer to this, but it seems counter intuitive to the concept of wilderness preservation.

This image from the Bastion Cascades walk was a wonderful discovery with the family. I researched the location as well as receiving advice from landscape photographers I admire before embarking on the walk. Perhaps having a conversation with someone wanting to find a location is a good way to to understand someone’s intentions rather than at times, assuming the worst.

So, what’s my approach to all of this? I recognise that my intentions aren’t all noble. I view my photography as an expression of exploration, which is largely about a desire to explore and to see new places. I do care about preserving the environment but I do not pretend that this is my main focus for wilderness photography (when I get the opportunity to truly explore). I like to think that my efforts to leave no trace are at least adequate, but I stop short at assuming that my intentions, and the environmental impact I leave behind are any better than the next person I have never met. I take great personal joy in these adventures and their benefits to me as a person are immeasurable. Therefore, by presenting images I’m hoping to inspire those who might be struggling with their inner demons, to try a path of experiencing the therapeutic effects of being in nature and capturing that beauty. And let’s face it, we would be lying to ourselves if the validation of ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ on our images plays ‘no’ role in sustaining the practice of posting on social media. Over the years, the latter has been a dwindling driving force for presenting images on social media.

I personally like this image I took on a magical morning around Tullah in Tasmania, but I haven’t posted it because I don’t think others would be particularly fond of it. Recognising that kind of thinking at least reveals a truth to me that perceived popularity of an image still plays a small role in which images I choose to post.

Due to the above personal factors, I try to keep my captions as simple and as positive as I can without revealing any kind of agenda. Because photography is still a glorified hobby, I don’t feel the need to self-promote, or to forcibly create images conforming to current trends. I have seen others post images of sensitive locations requesting that those who choose to visit, take care during their journey. This also ‘works’ for me in that it’s merely a request without the danger of presenting mixed messages.

Many feel that taking the middle road is a ‘cop-out’ or the ‘easy road’. I don’t believe that this is the case. To keep a truly open mind to any issue requires a genuine effort to understand the rationale of opposing viewpoints and exposes you to criticism from those on either side of the fence. I expect that for this kind of article, I might incur the wrath of those with a strong sense of environmentalism as well as those who use nature photography as a means for income and self-promotion primarily. I’ve found my peace with this and all I can hope to achieve with these words is that they allow you to consider your own viewpoint more carefully.

Reflections of a burning dawn at Yorke Peninsula. Despite my efforts to walk the middle road, I still have biases that pull me one way, just like an imperfect reflection. I would ideally like to promote the simultaneous ideas of self preservation and environmental preservation. Perhaps it may be all too difficult.

To close my thought bubble, keep on exploring and keep on showing the world the beauty of what you have experienced. Let the images do the talking!  I leave the written message of your images to your own discretion 😊 After all, you don’t need my validation to do so!

We’re making a return trip to Lamington National Park next week! Hopefully we’ll get to see some places we’ve never seen before and who knows, if you ask me where they are, I might tell you even if I haven’t stated it in my caption 🙂