Keeping a Photography Location Secret or Why I’m such a Selfish Bastard by Thomas Dawson
I remember when a fairly well known landscape photographer posed the question about whether or not it’s right to keep nice photography locations a secret and as expected, the views were mixed.
Some people commented as though photographers were practically obligated to share locations while others didn’t think so.
I’ll make my usual statement right off the bat which is that there is no right answer. No one is the absolute authority as to whether or not locations should be disclosed, but there will always be a few people who think that their opinionated opinions are always right over the thoughts of everyone else.
As some of you who follow my photography may have noticed, I have a few locations that I haven’t disclosed. I listed the locations as above top secret (like Area 51), top secret and secret. I figure that if our governments think that it’s okay to keep big secrets then it must be okay for me as well and so I disavow any knowledge that these places even exist.
In all seriousness, there are a few reasons why I haven’t disclosed some of the locations that I've found and I’ll share some of my perspectives on it. I’m not claiming that my reasons are ‘right’, but here they are.
I have literally taken my poor old car on to unfamiliar, dirt logging roads on Vancouver Island in search of interesting and cool spots without any prior knowledge of there being any nice spots to be found. After spotting a location that looks promising I’ll get out of my dusty car and begin the process of trying to make my way through the forest. There are plenty of times when this is not easy and I have to ‘bushwack’ my way through thick bush and undergrowth. Sometimes, I end up encountering a lot of prickly bush that isn’t fun to deal with, but once I sense a good find, I can’t help but to press on.
A lot of logging has taken place on Vancouver Island over the past few decades and so there are a lot of spots where old logs and branches are laying underneath thick moss and they’re strewn about the ground like the old game of pickup sticks. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve slipped on wet branches and logs and fallen down after moss has dropped out beneath me to reveal a two or three foot drop after it appeared as though there were no holes to fall into.
Normally, I’m out looking for waterfalls, small gorges or nice river scenes and there have been times where the only way to get down to certain spots was via the use of my safety rope and so one of the reasons I haven’t revealed some of the spots is due to safety concerns for others. If I told someone how to find a location and I was to hear that they were injured due to any of the things I just talked about, I'd feel pretty bad about it.
In the instance of finding the place where I took the 'Return from the Inner Earth Paradise' photo I had to use a safety rope to get into a spot where there was only one way out. On top of the that, there were rocks that were extremely sharp and there were other areas that were treacherously slippery near to the waterfall (where I had to crawl on my hands and knees to keep from slipping).
The next reason I feel justified in keeping a few places secret is that I’ve taken a lot of time and made a great deal of effort to search for spots that have been featured in photos like the ‘my secret paradise’ series. Not only that, but it costs me money for fuel to go on these searches.
I can totally understand why people would like to know where some of the spots are, but the way I look at it is that asking me to give away a location isn't much different than asking or even expecting a gold miner who made a ton of effort to find a vein of gold to give away his location so that others can reap the rewards of his efforts.
If you want to think of that as being selfish then you have the right to think what you want, but just know that I can't be 'guilted' into changing my mind.
"But if you take me there I promise to keep the location a secret" will be some people's response. Well....... it has been my experience that people aren't very trustworthy when it comes to keeping secrets and so that one won't work either.
Next, as a landscape photographer who has heard many a complaint about how people are over shooting all the ‘epic’ locations I have to admit that I like the thought of having a few photos that no one else has (or that very few have). Not only can I tell the true story of how I walked through Vancouver Island forests where there were no trails in order to search for and find some of the locations I've come across, but I can also tell people who are interested in prints that they’re getting a photo of a unique location that they’re unlikely to see in others portfolios.
In general, I try not to be a selfish person, but I feel that my efforts have earned me the right to choose whether or not I share certain locations. If a location is fairly well known already, I have no problems with sharing where it is.
It could be said that I should share the whereabouts of locations so that others can enjoy them too, but most people wouldn't go to these spots because of the effort involved. At least people can enjoy seeing them via my photos.
Yes, I’d say that it’s safe to say that keeping some of my locations a secret is as big a deal to me as it was for George Costanza to keep his bank machine password a secret and so ‘Bosco’ will stay with me until my last dying breath at which point I may faintly utter the whereabouts of my above top secret locations!