Leave No Trace Principles for the Adventure Photographer

leave no trace principles for the adventure photographer

There's been a lot of chatter among the adventure photography industry on the topic of "Leave No Trace" - with the increase of popularity in adventurous weddings and elopements leading to an impact on our public lands. It's important to keep in mind a few details when you're heading out to shoot.

Know that it's OK if you're unfamiliar with these principles or you're just starting to dive into exploring adventurous pursuits outdoors, this was written to empower people to stay adventurous with our public lands and any impact we might cause in mind. 

Full Disclosure: a fantastic article on this same topic was written by fellow Adventure Photographers Nate and Megan Kantor of Cedar and Pines Photography, take the time to check out their article and their incredible work.


Let's start with the basic principles of Leave No Trace and then I will dissect them individually to be applicable to the adventure photographer. 

1.) Plan Ahead and Prepare

2.)Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

3.) Dispose of Waste Properly

4.) Leave What You Find

5.) Minimize Campfire Impacts

6.) Respect Wildlife

7.) Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Courtesy of Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics Website, visit their website for more information at https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles


1.) plan Ahead and prepare

Know the area before you arrive at your destination. This goes so much deeper than making sure your camera batteries are charged.

learn about particular rules/regulations in the area

Questions to ask yourself- Is there a required permit for me to shoot within this national park? Is my drone allowed- PSA: drones aren't allowed in ANY of our National Parks. Is there wildlife in this area which I'll need to know how to properly react to if we cross paths? Are there any regulations that are not common like in other areas, such as the need to pack out human waste?

learn about fragile/endangered ecosystems in the Area

Fellow Adventure Wedding Photographer, Abbi Hearne of The Hearnes, touched on the fragile nature of Cryptobiotic Soil Crusts in Utah and the Southwestern portion of the US and how simply walking on these crusts can result in years of regrowth or recovery. A general rule of thumb if you're simply unsure of what is acceptable to walk on- if you see any moss, lichens, or any biological crusts- DO NOT STEP ON IT. 

prepare for the worst- check the weather, Know how to React to inclement weather, check Avalanche conditions, and carry extra supplies.

This goes much deeper than a potential liability claim on your business insurance policy. If you become stranded and call for help, the personnel that rescues you will likely leave a great impact on the land to come to your rescue, avoid that by staying prepared and proactive. 

  • Avoid using your traditional weather.com resources and opt for NOAA's detailed weather resource where you can search by geographical area, looking at the detailed forecast of areas/elevations.
  • If you're traveling in the mountains during the winter time, it's essential that you check avalanche conditions and/or are comfortable using an Avalanche Transceiver, Snow Shovel, and/or a Probe. 
  • If you're going to remote areas, make sure you're prepared at the very least with a First Aid Kit, Extra Food, Extra Layers (down jackets are amazing and compact) and a Water Filtration System, in the case you are hours or days away from help. Bring that first aid kit you think you'll never need (ALWAYS for that matter), a box of Smores pop tarts, and a Sawyer Squeeze. 
  • Read Megan and Nate's post for more important details in regards to the weather- they did a great job describing how they prepare for inclement weather.

2.) travel/camp on durable surfaces

only travel on durable surfaces and avoid stepping on moss, lichens, or other biological crusts. 

  •  Durable surfaces include established trails, rock, gravel, dry grasses, and snow.
  • If you're setting up camp- do not make a new site; use established sites where the terrain is worn or resilient (rock, gravel, dry grasses, and snow)
  • 200 feet from any body of water

3.) dispose of waste properly

if you pack it in, pack it out. except for your poop (sometimes you must though- go back to #1).

  • This means florals too- even though they're found in nature, one flower could potentially be carrying a foreign pest/disease which could affect an entire area. 
  • Toilet Paper/Feminine Hygienic is included- pack it out- for the ladies, opt for a Divacup
  • Deposit human waste in catholes dug 6-8 inches deep and again, 200 feet from water. Or as Nate and Megan noted - just go before.

4.) leave what you find

don't take rocks, don't carve your initials into a tree, and don't pick your bouquet from the wildflowers in the valley. 

  • Another important reason to take your bridal bouquet home with you is that a non-native species could potentially overtake and disrupt the ecosystem. 
  • Always respect this rule, but it's no joke in Hawaii- I've heard those volcano rocks will haunt you. Literally.

5.) Minimize campfire impacts

  • Check for Fire Bans & Restrictions
  • Use established fire rings
  • Keep fires small. Use only sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn wood to ash, put fire completely out- scatter the cool ashes
  • Don't bring firewood from home/unknown areas- this can bring pests/diseases which could affect the surrounding area

6.) Respect the wildlife

  • Keep a distance between you and any wildlife- do not approach or follow.
  • Do NOT feed the wildlife- including birds, chipmunks, etc. This can disrupt their health and create dependency issues on humans for food. Feeding wildlife can often be a death sentence for wildlife, especially for animals like bears- where a bear knows they're fed they will return and humans aren't keen on running into bears at their campsite. 
  • If Camping- Keep all food and trash stored in approved containers and out of wildlife reach (ex: bear canister + hung from a tree)

7.) be considerate of other visitors

  • Keep your music on your Bluetooth speaker at a low volume or keep it short and away from any visitors/campers/hikers, etc. in the area
  • Yield to any hikers going uphill if the trail is narrow, step to the side so they can pass. This is hiker etiquette. Announce your presence if you're about to pass them, a simple hello will do. 

My intentions with writing this article were simply to touch on this important topic to empower others to become aware of how to preserve our beautiful public lands and keep our environment a thriving and lively place. I've talked to fellow photographers who were completely unaware of how their choices were frowned upon or potentially damaging. I'm not a perfect person either and I know I've made a few of these mistakes myself while I was first exploring my personal passions for outdoor adventures, we can only learn and grow- knowledge is power!

I hope this was useful for others- If you have any questions or further comments, please feel free to comment, email me, or even call me for that matter. 

-Marie