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Sustainable Photography Guide: 5 Simple Changes to Make Today

While photography is a relatively low-impact practice, it can be made even more sustainable with a few extra considerations.

Written by
Annie Button

Photographers around the world love nothing more than looking at life through a lens. Whether capturing portraits in a bustling city or waiting patiently to capture a rare bird from some hidden perch, these artists are committed to their cause—and the world is a more beautiful place for it.

But what about sustainable photography?

Photography is a powerful tool for documenting climate change. From highlighting the devastation deforestation is having on natural habits to following the shrinking ice caps, photographers and videographers provide us with essential visual evidence of our planet’s shift, which would be impossible to fathom otherwise. And while the practice itself is relatively low-impact, it's made even more environmentally sound with just a few extra considerations.

Here, five simple ways to become a more eco-conscious photographer.

How to Practice Sustainable Photography

1. Take Pictures Locally

Social media platforms (and audiences) tend to reward the work of globetrotters—but why not capture some moments right where you are? No matter how swoon-worthy your destination pictures may be, there is no avoiding the environmental burden of travel. And while exploring the world is an inherently human desire, it’s not essential to jet across the planet to achieve amazing photographs.

Explore your local environment! Check out a new hiking trail or stroll along an unexplored street. For metropolitan shots, travel to the nearest large city via public transit (or bicycle!) to achieve the same spirit of photos taken in New York, London, or Tokyo. There’s beauty to be discovered everywhere, even right outside your door. (With the right lighting and a manual focus, vivid macro images transform the mundane into art.)

2. Consider the Circular Economy

Make a positive impact by pausing to consider the camera gear that you buy (or don’t). With the constant release of new models and equipment comes an urge to purchase ever-more shiny new gear. But why not invest in the circular economy instead?

A circular economy reduces demand for production and consumption favoring repairing, reusing, gifting, and recycling existing materials. Rather than springing for the next best thing, consider how much life is left in the equipment you already have onhand. If you must upgrade, do your part by selling or gifting used gear through an online marketplace and providing it a second life. Good quality, sustainable photography gear is built to last, so it’s possible to pick up pre-loved cameras and items for your pleasure without needing to buy new. 

Bonus: Research shows that 7 in 10 photographers recognize that selling or trading unused items makes the field more accessible by making the gear affordable for those with modest budgets. Because beautiful photos are for everyone!

3. Invest in High-Quality Equipment

If you are purchasing new or used equipment for your camera, direct your dollar toward top-quality offerings. Do your research to find the most durable, reliable, and effective gear so that what you are buying will stand the test of time. 

Again, the less equipment you have to buy, the lower your impact will be!

4. Reduce Your Power Use

Photography isn’t an artform that screams waste—but those gadgets don’t charge themselves! From lighting equipment to the battery packs that ensure you don’t run out of juice mid-shot, there are many, many electronics required to get that shot.

Reduce the environmental impact of your devices through good energy consumption practices. (For example, turning off your cameras and gear when you aren’t using them.) This avoids unnecessary power waste, and offers an alternative to leaving fully-charged batteries on charging docks for hours on end; some modern devices stop charging to preserve the battery quality, but if it’s plugged in, energy is still being utilized. 

5. Respect Your Environment

When capturing images in nature, it’s crucial to be aware of your impact on your surroundings. It may be tempting to take an off-trail romp to find a better angle or break off a branch or two to improve your framing, but this could negatively influence the area that you’re trying to honor. 

Rather than manipulating your location, put your creativity to the test and try to achieve remarkable images without trying to bend nature to your will.

Leave No Trace

It’s not uncommon for photographers to leave evidence of their encroachment into nature, from the aforementioned broken branches to forgotten waste. Bring a backpack and stay within the Leave No Trace principles by packing up anything you toted along with you in the first place. 

And since photographing nature is better when the wild world is pristine, why not pick up some trash between snaps?

Follow the Rules

Respecting nature also requires that you follow any given directives. Don’t jump the fence. Stay on the trail. If an area is closed for rehabilitation, trust the signage and give the natural world a chance to heal. Yes, there are likely plenty of beautiful things beyond the boundaries, but they are there for a reason: to protect ecosystems.