I remember a time when it was a rare thing to meet a fellow landscape photographer in the field. Indeed, on the few occasions that I did, it was a pleasant experience. A meeting of minds that extended courtesy and respect towards each other. But thirty years on, such encounters are rarely pleasureable.
Take my recent trip to Assynt for example. In the space of 5 days, I had my tripod stolen from the side of the road one day. The next day, a group of “tour photographers” screeched to a halt, jumped out their mini bus, set up their tripods in front of me ruining the shot I’d spent an hour setting up. Later that day, another photographer ruined the reflection in a lochan at sunset when he started wading and splashing around the edge of the water. But the worst was the potentially fatal episode where one photographer screeched to a halt on the blind summit of a road. Oblivious to the traffic, his girlfriend stood in the middle of the road snapping away whilst the boyfriend got out and shouted threatening abuse at the queue of traffic. It simply beggared belief!
When I mentioned my experience on the social media, it was concluded that such behaviour is down to the mass explosion and affordability of digital cameras. Certainly, when you consider this photograph, it’s easy to see why you might come to that conclusion. For the most part I would agree, but my experience is somewhat different.
Whilst on any given day, you can witness plagues of digital photographers photographing the landscape, the vast majority are friendly, considerate and respectful. The same however can’t be said of the growing number of medium and large format photographers taking to the Scottish Highlands in the past few years. Their behaviour is that of arrogance, disrespect and selfishness.
Take my recent trip to Millarochy Tree for example. One such photographer arrived at the famous tree some 5 hours before sunset and set up what can only be described as a camp. This prevented all the tourists from capturing an image of the tree and he was not for moving. More recently, I was left speechless by the sheer arrogance of another large format photographer. Whilst sitting having lunch one day near the Forth Bridge, the photographer set up his camera in front of one of the viewpoints. All fair and good I thought, until he proceeded to cordon off the area around him so that no one would get in his way.
But what fuels such behaviour and why is it on the increase? Well, you could argue that the sheer and growing volume of photographers will account for a fair share of eejits – statistically speaking of course. But, in my experience, the behaviour is overwhelmingly influenced by online photo-sharing sites such as Fllickr and 500px. You see, these sites have daily showcase pages and voting features that turn countless photographers into creatures of obsession. I know many photographers who venture into the landscape every day to capture sunsets and sunrises. No sooner have they filled a 16gb memory with images than they are back home, in front of a computer to process and upload to these sites in the hope their image will make the showcase pages. Indeed, I have met photographers in the field who have uploaded their images from a laptop.
It’s become a sport in my view, and it’s not always light hearted or good natured. No, there are certain individuals who take things to aggressive levels and fights have broken out at certain iconic locations. Then there are the online trolls who claim to own locations, claim originality for the same and make threats against fellow photographers. And let’s not forget the online photography clubs who make threats towards each other and sabotage workshops. Wasn’t photography supposed to be a gentle pursuit?
But it’s the impact that many landscape photographers are having on our countryside and our flora that concern me most. Fueled by the competitive desire to capture iconic views throughout the seasons, photographers are causing damage to the very land they stand upon. Take the famous Kinclaven bluebell woods in Perthshire for example. Year on year, photographers are traipsing through the woods carving paths and trampling large patches of bluebells. This year alone there were huge areas of flattened bluebells before the season was in full swing – ruining parts of the display for many people.
The same can be also said of the damage caused by photographers at the foot of Buachaille Etive Mor. At times there are perhaps 80-90 photographers trampling around a small area of river bank, flattening plant life, wearing down rocks and leaving litter. In winter, the foot traffic it is so bad that the ground is a quagmire where nothing grows. Look at the ground beneath your feet and you can literally see hundreds of tripod holes and there have been recent reports of arguments breaking out.
Of course, it goes without saying that the behaviour I’ve described is only a very small part of what actually happens in landscape photography, but there’s no denying that it’s on the increase.
Welcome to the sport of Landscape Photography!