Leave No Trace and Wedding Photography

You may have noticed a little icon with the words ‘Leave No Trace’ on some wedding and elopement photographers’ websites. Many people have a general understanding of what this icon represents, but nothing more. Sound familiar? If so, you’re in luck. We took a deep dive into who and what Leave No Trace is, what they stand for, and how you can contribute to their mission–if it resonates with you and your business.

We spoke with some of our community’s biggest Leave No Trace advocates to get their perspectives and hear about their experiences. So if you’ve ever wondered what Leave No Trace means or how you can participate, we have the full scoop below.

What is Leave No Trace?

Leave No Trace is both an organization and a philosophy. As an organization, they are a non-profit focused on educating the public. They teach people the skills needed to care for and protect the outdoors we all use and love. The primary tool used to spread their philosophy is the Leave No Trace Seven Principles. 

“I genuinely love and care for this planet, so I follow Leave No Trace’s principles and share them with my couples and their guests. This makes me feel as though I am leaving the Earth and the spot where I took photos a little better than how I found it,” shared Aimée of Aimée Flynn Photo.

“Leave No Trace ethics help us protect and preserve outdoor spaces by teaching us to leave less impact on the land,” says Maddie of Adventure Instead. “I know “preserving” the environment can feel vague and abstract sometimes, so I think of it in terms of a ten-year vow renewal. Whenever I take one of my eloping couples to a new place, I think about what I can do to leave as little of an impact as possible. This way, we can come back to the same place in ten years and find it as wild, natural, and beautiful as it was on their wedding day.”

Elopement Couple Leave No Trace

photo by Maddie Mae of Adventure Instead

What’s The Connection Between Leave No Trace and Wedding Photography? 

Being a wedding photographer often means utilizing nature in your work. Especially as an elopement or adventure photographer, you may find yourself on public lands and within parks frequently. Have you ever considered the impact you and your couples have on the grounds you visit? Leave No Trace spreads the message that there is a responsible way to enjoy the outdoors so that the same beautiful places will exist in the future. If we hurt or ruin the magical landscapes we use as backdrops, there isn’t any way to get them back. 

As Maddie put it, “Adventure Instead (or any kind of outdoor adventure elopement photography) wouldn’t exist without public lands. So I feel it is my responsibility as a business owner, an artist, and a human being on this Earth to protect and preserve the public lands that I am lucky enough to call my studio.”

You’re An Example For Others

“I think it’s very easy for photographers to think things like ‘if I go past this barrier just this once, it won’t make much of a difference’ or ‘the chances of these sparklers/smoke bombs starting a fire is so small,’” says Aimee Flynn. “But the decisions you make in those moments do matter. We set examples for others every time we document nature and share those images.” 

The very notion of being a photographer means documenting the mistakes or harm done in a moment. And sometimes, with that documentation comes consequences. Aimee understands that “any photo posted on the internet or social media gives a sort of tacit approval and permission to do whatever is depicted within that photo. It only takes one set of footprints for thousands to follow.”

“And aside from environmental damage, the more a location is abused, the more likely it is to be closed to photographers permanently. So from a stewardship and job sustainability standpoint, Leave No Trace really matters.”. 

Want to Learn More?

We’re not here to criticize how you work or what you’ve done in the past, but instead to highlight ways you can make small changes in the future. First and foremost, none of us are perfect. Leave No Trace advocates know this, and so do the photographers we spoke to for this post. But as long as we’re aware of how we can do better and try to do so, the better the outcome for everyone. 

We encourage anyone who found initiative through this post to visit the Leave No Trace website. Awareness is the first step. But if you are interested in taking it a step further, there are several options.

Leave No Trace has countless courses, kits, and videos you can watch on their YouTube channel for guidance and training. There’s a convenient online course made just for wedding and elopement photographers available, too.  It teaches you how to take care of the land you shoot on and lessen your environmental impact along the way. It’s a great step to take if you want to show public land managers that photographers do care about the environment.

Every dollar made through the course goes straight to the Leave No Trace organization. Here are some amazing key facts about the course: 

  • 1379 photographers have purchased the course
  • 585 photographers have passed the course and become “Leave No Trace Aware Photographers”
  • $69,783.71 has been donated to the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics

Final Thoughts

Being a Leave No Trace Aware Photographer can also open the door for a deeper connection with your clients. In Maddie’s experience, she’s “found sharing your values with your couples gives them the chance to feel more deeply connected to you because they are aligned with who you are and what you stand for. That has resulted in attracting and ultimately booking couples who respect and share my commitment to sustainability and caring for the planet.”

We celebrate any way a photographer can build a stronger bond with their couples. Because as we’ve seen time and time again, a better relationship often correlates to more natural and honest photos. 

Ready to get out into nature for your next photo session? Check out our post that explains everything you need to acquire outdoor permits

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