Beyond The Lens: Local Park Conservation

Brooklyn Arnold 

Kathryn Albertson Park is a public treasure to many Bosians. Located near downtown Boise, it is surprisingly abundant with local wildlife and plants that inspire those who enjoy nature. One might expect to see local birds, flowers, rabbits, and even the occasional deer. Frequent attendees will also note a significant sighting of another species too: photographers. 

While photographers have thrived in their artistic creations at Kathryn Albertson Park, some have allowed their art to negatively impact their surroundings. Responsible artists and locals have noted an increase of litter from confetti bombs or damages as a result of props. Some have noticed trampled and damaged landscaping from overused areas used for staging. This has resulted in signs around the park warning photographers to always stay on the paths, a feature that was not displayed in years past. Photographers in particular play a significant role in capturing the beauty of our world, documenting moments, and sharing visual narratives. However, their presence in local public spaces has a bigger impact on the environment, wildlife, public access, cultural sensitivity, and ethical considerations.

Many professional photographers have voiced concerns about the potential repercussions that might follow if the rules are not enforced. There could be permit fees enforced, or worse, an altogether ban of photography on the property. While photographers fear the loss of their natural backdrops, locals and authorities fear the destruction of natural habitats.

As a seasoned photographer of over twelve years, I am in many local photography and modeling groups for social purposes. These groups have recently stressed the addition of the signs and patrols in parks such as Kathryn Albertson. Many photographers, myself included, have noticed more local patrols enforcing tickets at the parks to individuals who do not follow the guidelines as outlined. While this seems to have sparked concerns primarily in hobbyists and entry-level professionals, many of us that are tenured appreciate the addition of rules. I see this as the perfect balance to allow professionals on a budget access to their favorite locations without a permit. Fees and penalties offer the opportunity to deter disrespectful individuals, regardless of their talent or title. 

Local public spaces often house delicate ecosystems that require preservation and protection. Frequent foot traffic and equipment setup by photographers can inadvertently cause damage to these ecosystems. Trampling on sensitive vegetation, disturbing fragile soils, and disrupting wildlife habitats are some of the unintended consequences that may arise.

Kathryn Albertson Park has relandscaped the location in recent years to be more inviting to local vegetation and wildlife. Cut grass was replaced with local botanicals, and river rock was carefully laid to help with pooling areas. The last two years proved to be problematic when invasive photographers and clients took to the areas in peak seasons. Many flowers were flattened from trampling, resulting in a demand for landscaping maintenance. 

While photographers strive to capture breathtaking images, they sometimes fail to prioritize the conservation of these environments. Ensuring photographers adhere to designated trails, minimizing their impact on vegetation, and using non-intrusive photography techniques are crucial steps in mitigating the potential harm caused to fragile ecosystems and wildlife.

Photographers seeking the perfect shot may inadvertently disturb the natural behaviors and routines of wildlife. Animals can be easily stressed or frightened by human presence, leading to behavioral changes or abandonment of habitats. Nesting birds, for example, may abandon their nests due to the disturbance caused by photographers, affecting breeding and population growth.

At Kathryn Albertson Park, I have watched in horror as photographers capture kids chasing small wild rabbits through the park. One of the most terrifying scenes I watched unfold was a photographer trying to pose an expecting mother as close as possible to a wild deer as she tried to cross through the park. Each of these scenarios likely stressed the animals that would have otherwise remained undisturbed. This also placed an unnecessary risk on the photographer and client alike. 

To minimize disruptions, photographers should maintain a respectful distance from wildlife and refrain from approaching or chasing them. Familiarity with the behavior and needs of different species is essential to capture stunning images while ensuring the well-being of the animals or clients being photographed.

The growing popularity of local public spaces as photography destinations can lead to overcrowding and limitations on public access. As photographers set up their equipment and occupy prime spots, recreational users may find themselves competing for space, hindering their ability to enjoy the natural beauty of these areas.

I often joke that autumn is to photographers as tax season is to accountants. Many local photographers will post on our social media groups about how busy locations like Kathryn Albertson are on any given Saturday in October. There are rarely photogenic spots that remain empty for a matter of minutes. While this might seem comical to all the photographers gathered, I imagine this causes an annoyance to locals who attend the park in hopes of enjoying bird watching or listening to the water fountains. Not many people attend nature parks with the intention of watching people in matching sweaters being shouted at on how to pose. 

It is crucial to strike a balance that allows both photographers and recreational users to coexist harmoniously. Implementing time-limited permits or designated photography zones can help regulate the use of public spaces and ensure fair access for all visitors. Moreover, promoting education and awareness among photographers about sharing public spaces responsibly can contribute to a positive and inclusive experience for everyone involved.

Some locations have found financial success in implementing photography zones. Prior to their closing, Linder Farms offered hourly rates in sections of their sunflower fields to photographers for sessions. They were strict about what areas could be used to preserve the remainder of the farm for guests. Linder Farms also limited the number of sessions allowed in the season to prevent photographers from overcrowding the limited locations. This allowed photographers the opportunity to enjoy a photogenic location without overusing the spots that would be enjoyed by the public. 

Public lands often hold deep cultural and historical significance for local communities. They may be sites of sacred ceremonies, traditional practices, or historic events. When photographers enter these spaces without proper knowledge or respect for the cultural context, it can lead to offense and cultural insensitivity. Photographers have criticized for disrespecting cultures or religions by incorporating practices into their photoshoots without consideration of the people the practices originate from. 

A recent trend that started in the photography community has been “death to my” sessions. Some are light-hearted sessions, like “death to my twenties” in which an individual dresses in black to “mourn” going into their thirties. Some sessions have focused on life changes, such as “death to my marriage,” where divorcés celebrate the next stage of their relationship status. While the “death to my” sessions are typically comedic in nature, some themes have caused controversy in their appropriateness of location selections. Some photographers have thought graveyards to be an appropriate location for such themes. This has resulted in backlash due to the inappropriateness of using real people’s resting places as a casual prop. These sessions also have the potential of causing discomfort to loved ones who might be attending a funeral or visiting their late loved ones. These sessions have additionally caused concerns in places such as military burial sites. Locally, the military base in the Boise foothills has been a location some photographers have selected for themed photoshoots. This has been cited as a cause for concern due to the disrespect it might have for the deceased military members. 

Photographers should familiarize themselves with the cultural and historical background of the areas they intend to photograph. Engaging with local communities, seeking permissions, and being mindful of sensitive areas can help foster understanding and prevent inadvertent harm. Collaboration between photographers and local stakeholders can result in a mutually beneficial relationship, where creative expression is respected while preserving the cultural integrity of the space.

Photography is a relatively costly hobby and profession when first starting out. Decent gear can cost thousands of dollars. If a photographer plans to market their skills to clients, they can also expect to incur business expenses. On top of marketing, editing software, and taxes, they might encounter fees in the form of permits. Many private and state-owned properties have required permitting fees for commercial use. These fees are used to deter overcrowding, misuse of the land, and tracking of who is on the property in case of destruction. While many seasoned photographers might have the funds to pull permits and fees at numerous locations, many hobbyists and entry-level beginners voice concerns about the costs to operate in multiple spots. 

The commercial use of public land by photographers raises questions about fair compensation, permits, and potential exclusion of low-income individuals or marginalized communities from accessing these spaces. The demand for picturesque locations can lead to the prioritization of commercial interests over the needs of local communities and the general public.

Efforts should be made to ensure fair and equitable access to public spaces for all individuals, regardless of socioeconomic status. Balancing the commercial use of these spaces with considerations for public enjoyment and local community welfare is essential. Transparent permit processes, reasonable fees, and a commitment to reinvesting in the conservation and maintenance of public lands can help mitigate the negative impacts of commercialization.

The presence of photographers in public spaces can give rise to ethical dilemmas, particularly concerning legal rules to follow. An example of this can be found at the local Boise Train Depot. For decades, photographers and clients have been drawn to this location because of the train tracks. Countless sessions have been captured on the tracks for “aesthetic purposes”. What many people do not realize is that the tracks are not only active to this day, but posing on them is technically trespassing on federal property. The railroad tracks are illegal to pose on to deter from accidents where one might be hit by a train. While education surrounding posing on railroad tracks has gained traction in recent years, it is still a safety concern that is often overlooked by photographers. 

Finally, photographers must be mindful of not only their location, but who might also be there. Many photographers and clients focus on capturing the session they envisioned but fail to remember they are in public spaces and potentially surrounded by public individuals. Photographers should not block access to public spots. They should also seek appropriate model releases or consent from strangers who pass through the background. In public locations that meet private properties, photographers should also be aware of property lines to avoid trespassing on private property. 

Open communication, obtaining consent when appropriate, and respecting personal boundaries are essential in maintaining ethical standards. Furthermore, photographers should be mindful of the impact their work may have on the subjects portrayed, ensuring their portrayal is respectful, accurate, and free from exploitation. This level of respect should extend to people along with the locations themselves. 

Photographers have the power to inspire, educate, and foster appreciation for the world around us. However, it is essential to recognize and address the potential negative impacts they can have on local public spaces. By prioritizing conservation, minimizing disruption to ecosystems and wildlife, ensuring public access and enjoyment, respecting cultural sensitivities, and navigating ethical dilemmas, photographers can contribute to the sustainable use and preservation of these precious environments. Through a conscientious approach, we can strike a balance where creativity thrives while preserving the beauty and integrity of our local public spaces.

Brooklyn is the proud owner of Ivory Woods Studio, a photography business based in Kuna, Idaho. She is grateful to be raising her children in the same beautiful state she grew up in. She loves writing, spending time with her loved ones, and traveling as often as possible.

Social Share Buttons and Icons powered by Ultimatelysocial
Skip to content