The Leave No Trace Principles of Adventure Photography

With the super bloom happening in California now, we’ve all seen the photos of people trampling the flowers to get their iconic Instagram shots. What they don’t know, or simply ignore, is that their actions have major effects on the landscape. In fragile places, like the meadows in California, it takes as few as 10 people following one person off trail to create a path. Once this happens, it takes several years for plants to overtake the path, but only if the path isn’t used.

Quite frankly, if everyone were to wander wherever they pleased in nature, we wouldn’t have any untouched wilderness left. As an adventure photographer, I feel that it’s my responsibility to educate my clients on the do’s and don’ts as we use these beautiful spaces as backdrops for capturing special moments.

Below are the leave no trace principles I apply when I explore with photos in mind. These guidelines, along with good judgement and common sense will help keep our wild spaces beautiful.


1.     Plan and prepare

  • Look up regulations before your visit

  • Research if a permit is required for commercial or portrait photography

  • Pay for parking or park access where required (this helps fund the park’s upkeep!)

  • Only bring dogs or pets in areas where they’re allowed and always follow leash rules

  • Know the maximum number of people you can bring with you if you’re eloping

  • Prepare for extreme weather and emergencies

2.     Stay on paths and hard surfaces

  • The use of undesignated trails can lead to erosion, vegetation damage, unsafe trail conditions, and impacts to local wildlife according to this study

  • Areas like meadows, wetlands, and places closed for restoration are especially fragile and easily damaged

3.     Leave what you find

  • The photos are your souvenirs

  • Resist the temptations to pick flowers, stack rocks, or carve your name into anything

4.     Pack it in, pack it out

  • Simply pack out your garbage, but also know that things like confetti, as well as biodegradable foods and their peels (apple cores, orange peels, banana peels, etc.), need to be packed out as well

  • Look at this graphic to see how long it takes things like food and cigarette to decompose

5.     Respect wildlife

  • Give animals their space, don’t try to feed them, and always control your pets or leave them at home

  • Keep in mind that disturbance from humans can indirectly effect animal’s fitness and population dynamics through energy loss and opportunity costs of risk avoidance in wildlife according to the science behind leave no trace principles

6.     Be considerate of other visitors

  • The wilderness belongs to everyone, and simply because someone is documenting a special moment there does not mean they have privilege to views over others.

  • If you’d like privacy, or not to have strangers in the background of your photos in popular places, consider doing your photos at sunrise, sunset, on a weekday, or avoid peak season  

I hope this helps set expectations of adventure photography. As with photography permits, parking passes and all the details of adventure photography, I’m here to help you sort out the details and choose a location that fits you and your needs.

If we respect our land, it will be beautiful for years to come, and I promise, we can still get stunning photos while following these leave no trace principles. Below are a few examples of these principles in practice.


Shae and Jordan are walking on a hard rock surface in order not to trample wildlife


Even though it doesn’t appear like it, both the couple and I are on an established trails


Mavaney and I visitied this popular location at sunset to avoid crowds


Mavaney, on an established trail


Sam and Gabe dancing on a hard surface


Zoe and I arrived right after sunrise to take photos at this popular location so we wouldn’t be in others way and we’d have more privacy

Iyanna, Michael and I waited until fall to take photos at this popular summer destination to have more privacy