Ethics and Getting the Shot

Ethics and Getting the Shot

Written by Julie Boyd | Photography by Julie Boyd

The trail from the top of Snoqualmie Falls to the viewing platform below was a short, steep, climb through moss covered trees. Maples were still turning gold, even though November was ending, and the cool mist from the river filled the crisp, autumn air. I walked hurried, full of excitement, to get the shot I had seen on Instagram of the falls from below.

Photography Ethics and Getting the Shot
Fall Colors in Snoqualmie Falls

Have you seen the shot? A quick search #snoqualminefalls will take you there. A rocky riverbed serves as a stunning foreground, as the water tumbles over the craggy face of the falls and continues down into the frame of the image. Sometimes a human is there for scale. A lone adventurer staring up at the enormity of the scene, or perhaps into the distance as they contemplate the meaning of life, or more likely what they will have for lunch.

When I reached the end of the platform, my heart sinks. We are still about 30 feet above the river. There are stairs, which are gated, and locked, with a bold “NO TRESPASSING” sign. I look over the rail. There are a few of those adventurers below, creating that very same image. No doubt they climbed over the fence to reach their spot. The climb is dangerous, and illegal.

Snoqualmie-Falls, Washington

For a moment, I considered joining them. I had come all this way. I knew the best perspective of the falls would be from below, but what was the cost of getting the shot?

Is it worth risking your life, damaging the landscape, or breaking the law all for a photo?

I thought back to my adventures over the last few months. A similar scene in Oregon, at Toketee Falls, where photographers had to climb through a hole cut into a chain-link fence, and scale a rocky cliffside all to get the shot. I decided it was too dangerous. Another in Point Reyes, along a crowded trail, where photographers would have to ignore signs telling them to stay on the path and to not go to the cliff’s edge. I decided not to set a bad example because I knew others would follow.

Photography Ethics and Getting the Shot
Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park

I am guilty of chasing “the shot.” I am guilty of climbing over a fence to get a different perspective of a waterfall in Yosemite, and going off trail to find the secret hidden cave in Johnston Canyon. I am proud of those images because I captured a beautiful place using my skills and artistry. I want to create more images like them. I wanted to on that day at Snoqualmie Falls.

However, for some reason, in this moment, standing on the viewing platform, I had enough.

In the age of social media, it is hard to be unique. It is hard to create images that people haven’t seen before. It is hard to resist wanting to go to the same places and recreate the same images that have scrolled across your feed. After all, these places are usually pretty incredible. The Wanaka Tree, Horseshoe Bend, Moraine Lake; they are all breathtakingly beautiful.

Photography Ethics and Getting the Shot
Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Maybe it was hearing about the impact of tourism at Horseshoe Bend, and having a viewing platform installed. Maybe it was all of the images I have seen of people standing on the edge of a slippery rock above Sunwapta Falls on Instagram. Maybe it was hearing about the young college student who fell to his death at Crater Lake while taking sunrise photos. I am not sure, but it had an impact one me.

I am not saying don’t push yourself to create beautiful images, or to stop visiting destinations that you see on Instagram. I will probably continue to be influenced by social media as well. I enjoy seeing the beautiful places that are on this planet, dreaming about seeing them with my own eyes, and then bringing those dreams to fruition. However, I do think it is important that we consider the impact we are having when we visit and post about these beautiful places.

Photography Ethics and Getting the Shot
Crater Lake National Park

What is the solution? How do we enjoy and share our experiences outdoors without causing harm? I wish I knew the exact answer.

For me, for now, I will continue to be mindful and ask myself what impact will my actions have? If they can potentially harm myself, other people, or the ecosystem, then the shot simply isn’t worth the risk. I want to set a precedent for how people should behave when they interact with Earth’s natural landscapes, so that others can continue to enjoy them for the years to come. In the end, that means sometimes I will just have to pass on getting the shot.

4 thoughts on “Ethics and Getting the Shot”

  • Keng says:

    Thank you, Julie, for this post. It’s very thought-provoking. Let there be less nature destroyed, no law broken, no lives lost from people trying to capture those shots. Similarly, when I see aerial shots of places that look like they were taken using drones, I hesitate to “like” because I don’t know if the photographers shot them legally. Beside, I dislike the noise that drones created in nature.

    • Julie Boyd says:

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read this Keng. Drones can really enhance our perspective of places, and I enjoy so many of the images I see online, but I really dislike it when people fly them in National Parks. I see it all the time, not only in person, but on Social Media as well. The rules are in place to help preserve the wildlife, and it is very frustrating when people think they are special and don’t have to follow them. IN addition, drones are also noisy, which ruins the experience for so many of the people who are there to get away and enjoy nature.

  • Anja says:

    I love your photographs! It probably takes a lot of dedication and early starts to get these wonderful photographs. Nothing is missing at all . I respect photographers much more who will stay within the given boundaries than those who go anywhere for the shot. These reckless people who disrespect nature are to blame that access is getting restricted or visitors are getting banned altogether, not to mention the irreparable damage they may do to the sites they photograph. I’d have no hesitation reporting any one who causes damage to others or communal property.

    • Julie Boyd says:

      Thanks so much Anja! I’m not a morning person at all, so those sunrise shots definitely take some extra effort! Thank you for your thoughtful insights about respecting nature, and for calling people out who fail to do so. I try to do my best to educate people, and hopefully the more awareness that is spread, the more people will take care of the planet.