Terra Galleria Photography

Sharing Photography Locations & National Monuments Book


Whether to share locations of photographs has been debated for a while, but the question has taken a new urgency in the age of mass travel and social media. In view of that, I’d like to ask you about your opinion on that subject, and what information you’d like included in my next book about the national monuments.

There is no doubt that locations have changed, and always for the worst. Back in the 1990s, when I photographed Mesa Arch at sunrise, I had the place to myself. Fast-forward a quarter-century, you need to arrive well in advance to secure a shooting spot where you will be standing literally shoulder to shoulder with others, tripod legs interlocked. But folks, including professional photographers keep coming.

At Horseshoe Bend, back then there was an unmarked pullout, a dirt user path, no guardrails, and I also had the place to myself at dawn. The city of Page has now built a large parking lot and in 2019 started charging visitors $10 per car, but even though it often fills up, passenger drop-off and pick-up at the entrance are not allowed, and cars parked on the side of the highway are ticketed. Despite those regulations, in 2019, more than two million visited Horseshoe Bend.

I have not been to Mesa Arch nor Horseshoe Bend recently, but I would guess that nobody goes there without a camera of some sort. So at first, photography appears to be the primary driver of visitation. Look a bit deeper, though, and you realize the problem is rather with social media. The reason Horseshoe Bend has become so popular is that it is “Instagramable”. What is driving people to Horseshoe Bend is the sheer number of images online. The more people see those images, and see that they are liked, the more they want to get the exact same shots for themselves and to post them. That’s the way snowballs become avalanches.

I’ve recently heard several photographers advocate never sharing any photographic location at all. There are compelling reasons for not wanting to be the one who throws out the first snowball. The two locations previously mentioned are not particularly ecologically sensitive, but others are and would be permanently damaged by an influx of visitors. Sometimes one or a few careless individuals are all it would take. Even if they are not, the wilderness quality of the experience, the solitude, peace, quiet, and remoteness may be lost forever. And there is a lot that is objectionable with the copycat approach to photography that some types of location sharing encourages.

Addressing those concerns would require a longer and more carefully considered discussion that may be the subject of another post. For now, I’ll only ask of those who advocate this absolutist, black and white approach: did you discover yourself the locations you photographed?

In my case, although I’ve been around the block, the answer is a resounding no. Over the years, I have made abundant use of photography location newsletters, guidebooks, and online resources. In this blog, and in Treasured Lands, I’ve been simply trying to pay those forward. Since I’ve learned about each of the locations somewhere else, there is no location that is disclosed for the first time, and for which you couldn’t find the information elsewhere. That said, I believe I can still write usefully because I add my curation and perspective.

Many of you have a copy of Treasured Lands. For my new book, Our National Monuments, I was thinking about using a similar format, since Treasured Lands was so well-received. However, the locations in the new book are much less known, so maybe some adjustments would be in order? For example, would it be useful to provide more precise descriptions or directions, and fewer stories about my experience? Would that be too dry to read? I would appreciate any comments or if you would take the poll below to give me some feedback.

If you do not see the survey below or if you’d prefer a larger window, click here


  1. Dennis Buckel says:

    I always used to have a camera with me. My wife, Rosemary, was patient and would wait for me when I would stop for a minute to take a few shots. She really didn’t like it, but put up with me. Rosemary passed away three years ago, just a couple of weeks, after being diagnosed with stage four metastatic lung cancer. I since have lost interest in taking my camera with me whenever I go places. I enjoy seeing other peoples work including yours, QT Luong. I just can’t seem to get excited about taking pictures again.

  2. Eric Jaeger says:

    Slippery question. My own story involves remembering going to South Tufa dawn after dawn and being the only one there. At one extreme, even publishing a photo risks over-exposure (sorry) of a place. Personally, I think it’s the ability to easily search and display locations electronically that’s made the difference, along with the narcissism of the ‘I was there’ Instagram. I have a lot less reservations about information in physical books and paper articles that, by their nature, are hard to share/over expose. Things like blogs actually might be somewhat OK, since someone has to go to the blog on purpose. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? Kiss of death. Sorry for rambling. I know your concern for the places you document, and I’m sure you’ll make a reasonable call.

  3. Charles Nyst says:

    It’s a difficult problem. The same problems arise with access to nature reserves (not only photographing them). It’s a question of curiosity and the feeling of beïng together, sharing emotions. I heard of a kind of solution to that. People tend to go to whatever is easily accessible and then they don’t want to make a lot of effort. A majority just wants to be amused. So there was the idea to make access to a nice place and add some fair (I admit, it’s sounds repulsive). Then for the really interesting or vulnerable places make it (much) more difficult to get access. Not with some entrance fee (people want to pay for that and then demand some return), neither free guiding, but by making it a longer and more exhausting trip. This will sieve those who are really interested and understand the consequences of their actions. Freedom has it’s boundaries. Some places should be restricted severely by government rulings. But as far as I know, this is already done in places like Yosemity. Sharing information via the internet sets the door open for the masses.

    • QT Luong says:

      Thank you for the idea. I am with you in that I support land managers providing a range of options, from developed and accessible (for wheelchairs) places to wildernesses. Everybody deserves to be able to enjoy our public lands, and we need to build a constituency for them.

  4. Hi QT
    I cant wait to see your new book when it is done.(Hardcopy)
    As far as disclosing locations goes I believe you should give
    general location info such as state, park, forest etc. Do not
    give specific info on locations you discover, that is yours.
    Let them(us) discover our own special photo locations based
    on the general areas you describe. With popular photo destinations
    it does not matter how specific you get.
    I love reading your stories and viewing your photography, you are
    a very special artist!
    Thanks much!

  5. Jim Becia says:

    I struggle with this when posting images. Some people want to know the exact area and past experience has taught me to be very discreet in posting this info to the general public. Even though I do not think I influence anyone when it comes to locations, I would rather err on the side of not giving out that info to what possibly could be a sensitive area. As a result, photographically, much of my work now pertains to the intimate landscape where a geographic location is mostly irrelevant. Telling someone that a particular rock or tree image is for Zion, Bryce, Yosemite, or anywhere for that matter is probably not going to influence anyone. One of the issues that I see is that we are no longer going out in nature to experience and be part of it, but to post an “I was there,” without being immerse in nature. Just my two cents.

  6. Paul Beiser says:

    Hi QT,

    Difficult struggle. The less known the location is (esp if wilderness and/or remote) the more ‘vague’ I am. For well known locations, I think more specificity is fine.

  7. Dave Dieter says:

    I heard of a case some time back now when someone died while trying to visit The Wave during the summer. At the time there were calls to put in a trail. If folks are not prepared to self rescue why are they even considering going to such places given terrain and weather conditions? Why should we put trails to every scenic spot so those on http://www.youtwitface.com can post a selfie? It’s called Wilderness for a reason. Let’s leave it that way.

  8. Keith Amidon says:

    As indicated by the post and the comments, the question of exposure and damage to a site or experience due to overuse is a vexing one. I have certainly taken advantage of and appreciated guides, including Treasured Lands, that have helped me to experience an area to the greatest extent possible given the constraints on my time that limit the duration of my visits. It’s also natural to want to share extraordinary experiences with the larger community and to take pleasure in helping others have those experiences as well. But… if the sharing itself threatens to destroy the very experience being shared, some kind of mitigation is required. Since the mitigation likely involves limiting access in some form, all kinds of questions arise, not least among them how to ensure access is not egregiously discriminatory, which can easily arise when information is only shared by word of mouth between friends. I haven’t had to grapple directly with these issues in my own photography because none of it is good enough that I want to exhibit it to others, though I hope to change that!

    My tentative answer to how I would like to handle this issue if I decide to start publishing some of my work is to vary the specificity of the information I provide based on the relative inaccessibility of the location, where that “inaccessibility” could be in the form of time to reach the location, time to find the location on-site or in the literature, the length of window in which to have the experience, etc. GPS coordinates are fine for a location that can be reached quickly from an interstate highway, is well-known, and is provides a great experience at any time of year. For lesser known locations I would provide less specific directions so that those following me invest a significant fraction (but a fraction still < 1/1) of the effort in exploration I did to find the location. For a remote location that takes 2 days of backpacking over unclear trails to reach, I might just indicate the trailhead and a region with a radius 2x the length of the hike around it and let the interested follower apply some deduction to figure out where I had been.

    Not sure how this would actually work out in practice, but that's what I imagine based on my experience currently! QT, thanks for your concern about and engagement with these issues. I'm very interested to hear more of your thoughts on this topic as your thinking evolves.

    • QT Luong says:

      Thank you for the thoughts. Don’t you think that the remoteness of a location in itself would protect it, so that one would need to be less careful about remote locations, not more careful? If a location takes 2 days of backpacking, how many people are going to show up?

  9. Sherri says:

    I understand your concerns, at the same time I rely heavily on books etc (but not social media) to plan trips. I think sharing information on social media is a mistake. I think sharing it in places like your newsletter or your books is much more reasonable since I doubt that people who are only interested in a shot so they can instagram it will mostly look for shots on instagram and won’t do the work involved on planning to get there. If we don’t give people the chance to see the beautiful places, how can we expect them to connect with nature and hopefully take an interest in treating it in a way that will sustain it for future generations.

  10. Frank Field says:

    To expand on the survey, I think you would diminish the record value of your book (or your blog posts) if you totally omitted location information. At the same time, it is not necessary nor helpful to provide trail-guide caliber information on just where the tripod was placed and how to get there. GPS coordinates would be over the top (not that I can ever picture you publishing them, QT).

    Thoughtful people, encouraged by your images and wanting to explore more, know how to find the appropriate ways to visit the area and will do so with care for the environment.

    I expect many of your readers have seen Ben Horne’s reports of a sharp increase in graffiti, trash, rock piling, damaged sandstone, etc., in Zion National Park this year. Let’s all do that we can to discourage that kind of visitation. It almost brings us back to the conditions that gave rise to the 1906 Antiquities Act , allowing the President to designate Federal lands as National Monuments. (We need a 2021 amendment to the Act prohibiting a President from removing previously designated lands from protection but that’s a topic for another day.)

    • QT Luong says:

      You are right, although I did ask in the poll to be thorough, I am not going to provide GPS coordinates of photo locations in the book. On the other hand, I may provide those coordinates for trailheads in the ebook – since I am driving most of the time by myself, I found it easier to navigate by app, especially by night.

      In 2020, because the pandemic limited indoor activities, many people without an “outdoor culture” ventured out. Overall, I think this is a positive development, but the issues that Ben Horne reports on are indisputable.

      Interesting that you should mention an Antiquities Act amendment. One of my goals with this publication is to coordinate with conservation organizations to try and lobby for such a thing. However, I am still wondering to include that idea in the introduction of the book or not, since to describe the issue well, I would need to get technical and provide historic background that may loose readers.

  11. Greg Vaughn says:

    As the author of “Photographing Oregon” and “Photographing Washington”, I’m obviously in the camp of sharing information about locations. However, discretion is definitely necessary, and I have purposely not provided details on some locations that are environmentally sensitive, or, as in the case with petroglyphs, at risk of vandalism.

  12. Tommy says:

    “For my new book, Our National Monuments, I was thinking about using a similar format, since Treasured Lands was so well-received.”

    You already answered your own question. Stick to the same success formula. No need to include precise location info unless you are writing a travel guide book. If so, make it a companion ebook, to be purchased separately, with fewer photos and more travel related info, because no one is going to drag a heavy book to a hike. Better yet, don’t bother with writing a travel guide because it isn’t the best use of your talent. Spend the time to shoot for your third book instead.

    I doubt that the primary motivation of your book reader is to trace your footsteps effortlessly or to become an Instagram influencer. Treasured Lands has been well received because you connect readers to the natural world through your life-long singular pursuit. Through that connection, hopefully you have created a new generation of fierce defenders of wild places, even if they never visit those locations in person.

    Treasured Lands is the only national park book featuring spectacular photos of every US national parks CAPTURED BY A SINGLE INDIVIDUAL. The photos and the background stories are the key attraction, which inspire readers to explore and discover their own treasured lands. I encourage you to follow the same theme with your new book.

    Some places are too fragile to allow unrestricted public access. In a recent visit, I was shocked that the access to False Kiva in Canyons National Park was closed due to vandalism even though it has always been “semi-protected” as a class 2 archaeological site with no sign or marker and its exact location has never been officially disclosed. Apparently, even the remoteness of the location and the lack of info are insufficient to protect it from destruction. The last thing I want to see is Instagrammers descending on such locations.

    Another example is the Third Wave you photographed. I hope you never disclose its precise location because it is too fragile. I take solace in knowing that it exists and you captured its beauty for those not fortunate enough to see it in person.

    Some places are too dangerous to allow unrestricted public access. A good example is the precarious location where you shot the Yosemite Fire Fall. I witnessed a horrific avalanche that would have killed anyone less experienced and prepared at the same spot.

  13. Michael Jensen says:

    I think a similar format to Treasured Lands is ideal. I need just enough information to be inspired to photograph at a monument and not try to emulate the photograph. I’m sure you will use discretion on anything fragile or culturally sensitive. Based upon living in rural western Colorado during a pandemic, I think people have discovered public lands like never before, so an education in caring for our lands is in our future.

    I believe you will create another great book and use good discretion on practical information and location descriptions. I actually worry more about you and your rental cars in the remote public lands.

  14. Ramen Saha says:

    I appreciate you trying to be a responsible ambassador of the environment despite being in a tricky situation. There are no easy answers when financial stakes collide with responsible ones. But, you have always struck the right balance between inspiring the right kind of people and maintaining the fragile features of a place. I for one, flew cross-country, to see synchronous fireflies… a marvelous phenomenon that I learned from your blog! You did provide locations etc. in those blog pieces, but they are well known anyways. Funny part is, I never went to any of those crowded locations, but spent several quiet evenings with my son in less crowded lovely spots and enjoyed fireflies in three national parks. My story is just an example where one could motivate other like minded people without divulging details. And as far as details are concerned, you have always been kind and responded on these pages to my questions about a place or situation. To put it together, you are a responsible advocate for preservation and environment and I am certain, you will find a middle path to make your books attractive while sustaining a curtain or two over the attraction. Looking forward to your new book.

  15. Kyle T says:

    I’m admittedly a bit of a hypocrite in that obviously people have been to most locations that I’ve photographed before me – whether it’s “Google” famous, down to the coordinates, or if I have to dig far into some blog, an obscure Flickr account, maps, or via word-of-mouth from another photographer.

    That said, I’m very, very tight-lipped about just about any location unless someone I trust is asking me personally. Sometimes I’ll list the state, or maybe the park it’s found in, but specific locations are almost always reserved for friends coming along or trusted photographers who I know won’t be tagging the place on Google or something.

    My problem is that I’ve seen too many places grow too quickly to be sustainable. I’ve seen abandoned buildings that have survived for decades suddenly see a huge influx of vandalism. I’ve seen sacred pictographs and sites that you could hike to and see face-to-face suddenly cordoned, or completely closed off to the public due to vandalism. Nature trampled, garbage left.

    All of that said, I don’t think books and newsletters are the “problem” here. Rather, the first person who names it on Instagram – often an influencer looking to make a disposable-but-pretty travel selfie. I’m just forever paranoid that my actions might somehow be the beginning of the chain that ends in an influencer “outing” a spot.

    • QT Luong says:

      Thank you for commenting. I understand that one can gain peace of mind by making sure they are never part of the information chain. But how can one be so sure? Let say, you post a photo without identifying the location. Someone is inspired to visit the general region of the photo, and then subsequently their actions result in a location being “ruined”.

      • Kyle T. says:

        Oh, yes, absolutely. There’s no way to assure that whatever information I’ve given stays “secret” aside from never sharing it in the first place, but I think every photographer has to find a balance that they feel comfortable with between sharing and keeping a place safe.

        One thing I’ve noticed is that, for the most part, as long as locations are shared in smaller groups of trusted people, in books, or newsletters, like you’ve said, they’re usually quite safe because most people don’t want to put the effort into finding a place (or they’re unable to) unless the coordinates are right there in front of them.

        Of course there’s the risk you mentioned – that it’ll eventually come to light anyway – but I feel like unfortunately *every* “secret” spot that isn’t miles off the beaten path is going to be exploited/outed by Instagram culture at some point, so the best I can do personally is mitigate that future damage by limiting what and where I share. Might not be the most logical way to do it, but it gives me a bit of peace of mind!

  16. Chris L. says:

    The rapid expansions of global tourism and social media are certainly causing many beautiful spots to be loved to death. While you are rightly giving many (including me) inspiration to visit these places, I’d recommend you publish more specific location and time information only in the addenda in your books or location-specific apps to increase, even if only marginally, friction in the system for those eager for a nice photo but unwilling to put in the effort to research and scout locations. I would suggest limiting location data in your blog, especially for any fragile or remote sites, to more general descriptions. I would urge you not to publish GPS data at all; we should all have to work at least a bit on our own. It will probably be more satisfying that way anyway.

  17. I’m so glad you’re thinking about this. While I am really looking forward to the book, you’re definitely covering some places with very little information out there and it’s a very different equation than for the parks. I would strongly encourage you to avoid making it in any way a guidebook or “How to Photograph” book, and especially to avoid directions and GPS entirely. I think of the second of the Nature First principles: “Educate yourself about the places you photograph.” I’d say this book should be first and foremost a resource for that, so the anyone inspired to follow in your footsteps will know enough to appreciate the environment and to be aware of their potential impacts. Best wishes – it’s a very challenging needle to thread these days!

    • QT Luong says:

      Thank you for commenting Jackson. I am curious, do you consider Treasured Lands to be a guidebook or a “how to photograph” book?

      • No, I wouldn’t consider it such, though it certainly does have substantial elements of them. I’d say it’s primarily about inspiration and context, but with a substantial side of practical details for visitors and photographers. Again, fine for the Parks, but a different story for places like, say, Basin and Range. It would be silly, of course, to try and make secrets out of information that’s readily available in a basic Google search or a Monument brochure, but I’d say that level is as far as you should go for most of these places.

Leave a Comment