"Putting Nature First"

June 29, 2021

One of the biggest motivations in sharing my photography has always been in celebrating wonders found in the great outdoors, and the hope of opening eyes to the beauty that exists all around. I’ve always found deep reverence and connection in the natural world, and my photos are documentation of the special times I spend there. I’ve long hoped that if my work might inspire others to appreciate nature, perhaps even encourage them to get out and experience such moments for themselves, they too would understand the need to protect it.

I guess I just assumed that this was a common mindset in the nature photography community, or that anybody who ventured into wild places would feel their heart touched in a similar way. However, as I got deeper into the profession I began to hear, and experience, troubling examples of photographers behaving badly. Stories of people venturing off trail- by foot or vehicle- and destroying fragile environments. Baiting wildlife for close-up shots. Rude, arrogant behavior that detracted from the experience of others. I never understood how someone could act this way to begin with, but when it became clear their motives often centered around taking photos, I was really offended. How backward thinking would one have to be to value a photo over the well-being of the scene they wished to photograph? How self serving? How ignorant?

With the proliferation of photo sharing on social media and users obsessively chasing “likes” the problem only seemed to grow. Stories became even more common- people crashing drones into thermal pools in Yellowstone, trampling wildflowers or cutting fences on private property to recreate popular selfies, coming in droves to overrun iconic locations. I was saddened to learn areas I’d once visited, and others I’d long hoped to, had sustained extensive damage or were being closed to the public as a result. It went beyond the clichés of “why we can’t have nice things” to paint a disturbing picture of the modern human condition, and the disconnect so many have in not understanding how their actions directly impact the natural world.

Fortunately, other photographers were upset by this too. In 2018 a small group of friends met in Ridgeway, Colorado and discussed these concerning trends. They all agreed that something had to be done. Conversations grew out of this initial meeting and a set of core principles was determined, with the Nature First organization to follow. The belief was, as my own mentioned above, that there does exist a common ethic, and even a kindred spirit, amongst photographers who care deeply for this world. And despite growing examples to the contrary, it was believed that most people are willing to take the best interest of nature into account- some just need a little extra guidance or education to get there.

They couldn’t have been more correct. In the three years since Nature First’s founding, the coalition has grown to over 3,500 members, representing 53 nations around the globe. I proudly joined on as soon as I learned of the movement- right after the group went public- upon seeing that the principles which photographers are asked to pledge to are lock step in line with the standards I have held myself to all along. Since, I’ve enjoyed following the coalition newsletter and advocacy work on social media, along with the sense of camaraderie I feel with others who adhere to similar values in the field.

This spring I learned that Nature First was seeking a couple more volunteers to help fill out its writing team. I’ve been making a concerted effort to put myself out there more, and trying to get involved in ways that I can devote myself to defending our environment, our public lands, and the places that I love. This seemed like a great opportunity to do so, and to join other caring, like minded photographers in building on this movement to advocate responsible behavior. I was admittedly a little nervous- I didn’t know if I was up for the added workload with several other projects in progress- but at the same time this was something that I care very deeply about, and I knew I wanted to try and contribute if I could. I reached out to the coalition, and after sharing my credentials and some work samples, I am extremely excited to announce that I was invited to join the writing team.

My first piece was published on the Nature First website last night, and will be shared on the organization’s social media channels in the coming days. Fittingly, another of my photography goals has always been to share the beauty of my home state of Iowa, so it was kind of extra special to be able to include that angle, along with a few photos to make my case as well. You can find my story at the following link-

“To the Roads Less Traveled…”

Additionally, I’ve also volunteered for some public outreach while exhibiting at art shows. I am frequently approached by photographers of all skill levels at these venues, often seeking advice or just wishing to talk shop. This presents a great opportunity for me to introduce others to the coalition, and I’ve started displaying a Nature First sign in my booth and handing out informational cards and stickers to help spark conversation. Already this season I’ve visited with dozens of people (and one dog in a tutu…) about the organization, and have had some really meaningful conversations about our mission. People are very enthusiastic when they hear about what we’re doing, and I love encouraging them to join us. I do have a full line up of appearances still to come this year in both the Midwest and Mountain West (2021 Schedule) so if you or someone you know is in the area and would like to learn more, by all means come and see me!

Finally, I do want to stress that Nature First is for absolutely everybody. Not just professional photographers, but for anyone who enjoys or partakes in photography at any skill level. It doesn’t matter if you spend 300 days a year out in the field, or just take the occasional sunset picture on your cell phone during a family trip. The same principles guide us all, and the movement is built on education and pledging to behave responsibly. You can find out more by exploring the Nature First website (HERE) and become a member simply by taking the pledge (HERE.)

I’m honored and excited to be a part of this awesome group, and am eager to further do my part in advocating on behalf of our natural world.

Posted in Photography and tagged Nature First, writing.