It’s easier than ever to reduce your carbon footprint. Tracy Calder talks to four photographers who have done just that
Recent events have triggered our survival instincts, encouraging us to focus on basics such as obtaining food, seeking shelter, and protecting our finances and health. But while we have been concentrating on our primitive needs, nature has been enjoying a break from human interference. Staying indoors indefinitely is not the solution to climate change. A lack of tourism can have a negative impact on the planet – many national parks and reserves use eco tourism to fund vital conservation efforts, for example. What’s more, when we become less globally mobile there is a human cost in the form of job losses and lack of diversity. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but if we use this time to reflect on our habits,
we may find that small changes make a lasting difference.
With this in mind, we asked four photographers what they are doing to reduce their carbon footprint, and how we can all adopt eco-friendlier approaches to image making.
Morag Paterson and Ted Leeming
Morag and Ted exhibit their work around the globe. The natural world inspires much of their imagery, with impressionistic depictions of land and sea sitting alongside more realistic work from projects such as Zero Footprint. They lead photographic trips and workshops, as well as running mentoring programs and portfolio reviews. Visit www.leemingpaterson.com or @mog_pat on Instagram.
It’s been more than a decade since Morag Paterson and Ted Leeming decided to create a series of landscape photographs from the patio outside their low-carbon house in Castle Douglas, Scotland. The views from this eco home are impressive – Galloway Forest Park stretches out below, with Carsfad Loch and the Rhinns of Kells appearing in the distance. But that’s not to say it has been easy; most landscape photographers rely on wideangle lenses and strong foreground interest to communicate their message, whereas Morag and Ted had to rely on telephoto lenses to pick out details. ‘Although we have a great view, the lay of the land doesn’t lend itself to traditional landscape compositions,’ confirms Morag, ‘so we had to wait for atmospheric conditions to give us a hand, with cloud, light and mist reframing elements of the view.’
Limiting themselves to a fixed position helped Morag and Ted to build a unique relationship with the landscape. ‘If you make your limitation a local one, there are enormous benefits in being able to visit a place repeatedly, getting to know it over time and through the seasons,’ says Morag. She is quick to point out that while they were blessed with a picture-postcard vista, zero-footprint projects can be attempted wherever you live. ‘It’s all about building a connection with your surroundings,’ she urges. ‘Decide on a project that’s right for your space or place. You might have to think more laterally, creatively or abstractedly – it depends on your situation.’ The project has proved so rewarding that the pair has extended it to include shots taken from the balcony of their smallholding in Liguria, Italy. ‘The diversity between the two locations is marked,’ explains Morag. ‘It’s less wild than our Scottish view, as the hillsides are dotted with villages.’
Morag and Ted’s Scottish home is powered by a wind turbine, while the land that surrounds them is gradually reverting to native woodland – thanks to the planting of more than 3,000 trees. A polytunnel also provides vegetables all year round. It’s an idyllic setup, which the couple hopes to replicate in Italy. To boost their eco-credentials further, by the end
of 2020 they will stop running workshops requiring air travel. ‘Last year we took part in an artists’ residency exploring the hydro-electric scheme started in our glen in the 1930s,’ explains Morag. ‘We spent a lot of time researching facts relating to climate change and biodiversity loss. At the end of that, we couldn’t justify continuing to fly, either for work or pleasure; neither could we encourage others to by attending our workshops.’
At present, Morag is involved in a remote residency scheme run by Arts Territory Exchange, which pairs artists in wilderness locations with others across the globe. ‘One of the concepts we are exploring is “the journey not travelled” and how we can experience a place without physically being there,’ she reveals. ‘It’s been encouraging to see some
of the fantastic projects that have come out over the years.’
The pair will continue to run workshops in Scotland and Italy for people who are happy to arrive by eco-friendly means. They also offer remote tuition, geared towards photographers who want to develop their creative vision and explore their local landscapes. ‘Aside from the straightforward documentary approach of showing melting glaciers, drought-stricken land and deforestation, telling individual and personal stories is important,’ says Morag. ‘We run a website called Zero Footprints, which raises funds for climate charities through print sales, while providing a platform for photographers to tell specific stories about how climate change affects places and people directly.’
Morag and Ted’s book, Zero Footprint, features work from the first five years of the project (focusing on Scotland), and is available now.
Morag and Ted’s eco friendly photography tips
1 Consider if your journey is necessary. All of us travel to some extent, so finding an authentic, sustainable way to offset carbon emissions is important. But it should never be seen as a ‘get-out-of-jail-free card’.
2 Reduce your consumption. If you have to buy equipment, consider the second-hand market. I would love to see the photographic industry marketing their goods based on longevity rather than drip-feeding us upgrades year on year.
3 Be efficient with digital. Every email or picture you send, and every browsing enquiry you make, has a carbon footprint. To find out more see the infographic The Carbon Footprint of the Internet at www.climatecare.org.
Favouring a natural, documentary-style approach, Andy Rapkins has captured hundreds of weddings across the UK and Europe. He’s based in Dorset and has a great affinity with the sea, finding it a source of calm, inspiration and fun. In a world with depleting resources, Andy feels obliged to look for ways that he can reduce his carbon footprint. Visit www.andyrapkins.co.uk or on Instagram @andyrapkins.
When Andy Rapkins became a full-time professional photographer, he was shocked at how quickly his mileage began to mount up. Around the same time, he and his family had been looking at ways to minimise their impact on the planet, so it made sense to apply what he had learnt to his business.
‘I decided to look at every aspect of my company to make sure I was adopting eco-friendly approaches,’ he recalls. ‘As well as the steps I was taking myself – carbon offsetting, green energy etc – I was able to find suppliers and businesses who had similar ideas.’
Being an eco-friendly wedding photographer is not without its challenges. The biggest, according to Andy, concerns travel. ‘Couples don’t just search locally any more; they look for a photographer whose style they love on a national or even international basis,’ he reveals. This trend has been fuelled by wedding blogs and inspiration sites such as Pinterest, as well as the fact that couples often choose to get married outside of their own locality. ‘Wedding photographers sometimes work quite a distance from their home base, which makes getting to venues on time, and in an organised way, challenging,’ admits Andy. To add to the tricky logistics, many weddings are held in rural locations, which makes using public transport near impossible.
All of these factors mean that a car is essential, but there are still things they can do to minimise their impact on the environment. ‘When driving is the only option, I share lifts where possible, and log my mileage for carbon offsetting,’ says Andy. ‘I work abroad at times and I try to apply the same rules there – I have to say, getting the train around Europe is an enjoyable part of reaching a destination! The next step for me is buying an electric vehicle. Technology is improving all the time and they are becoming more affordable – but I might have to make do with an electric skateboard first!’
Andy has taken a number of other steps to ensure that this business is as eco-friendly as possible. Meetings with clients and suppliers are mostly held online, while wedding albums and materials are predominantly sourced from the UK. What’s more, the paper he uses comes from FSC certified and managed forests. He has made great progress, but one area he still struggles with is equipment. ‘Photography has always carried some environmental impact, whether it be the use of chemicals for processing or the polluting materials used in manufacturing electronic equipment,’ he says. ‘Some people claim that a lack of chemical usage with digital imaging makes it eco-friendlier, but it could be argued that the rapid depreciation of digital equipment is equally, if not more, damaging. Whichever side of the argument you fall on, we all need tools to do our job.’
Being an eco-friendly photographer doesn’t mean big sacrifices or changes to your lifestyle; it’s more about awareness, subtle changes and adaptability. If you’re open to new ways of working, the rewards are manifold. Andy, for one, has found new clients who were initially attracted by his eco-credentials. ‘Couples are aware that a lot goes into their day in terms of logistics and materials and they are looking for venues and suppliers that fit their eco-friendly brief,’ says Andy. ‘My eco-credentials have brought new clients to me, as well as strengthening relationships with suppliers that follow the same ethos.’
Andy’s eco friendly photography tips
1 Think before you upgrade. Avoid replacing gear for the sake of it. I’m quite tough on my equipment and typically go through a change every two years. Even though it’s well used by then, I always try to sell it rather than waste it.
2 Use suppliers with green credentials. UK-sourced albums have always been part of my product line, but I also make sure I use paper that’s certified to be from forests
that are managed by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).
3 Keep everything tiptop. Your equipment will last longer if it’s well maintained, so check cameras and lenses regularly for issues.
Wedding photographer Matt Badenoch has an unobtrusive approach that allows him to blend in and capture those in-between moments that make a day special. He likes to keep things fun and relaxed and is as comfortable at a festival wedding as he is at a more intimate venue. See www.mattbadenoch.com, follow him on Instagram @mattbadenochphoto or Facebook Matt Badenoch Photography.
When you book Matt Badenoch for your wedding, you receive a rather unusual gift – this enterprising photographer plants an oak tree in the National Forest for every couple that hires him.
‘The idea has proven surprisingly popular,’ he reveals. For Matt, one of the main challenges of being a photographer is managing time, so this quick gesture is a great way of adding value while boosting eco-credentials. ‘There is a lot you can do that doesn’t cost much and is actually very convenient,’ he assures. ‘Offsetting carbon from flights, for example, is easy – there are plenty of carbon calculators and carbon-neutral initiatives online.’
Every time Matt flies, he uses a carbon calculator to measure the footprint of his journey, and then donates money to environmentally friendly initiatives. When he attends shoots in London or other UK cities, he uses public transport where possible. ‘An added bonus is that I can use this time to relax or work,’ he enthuses.
To reduce his mileage still further, he uses video calls for meetings and mentoring. Another wise move was going paperless. ‘I’ve actually found digital options to be more convenient, while offering greater peace of mind in the form of cloud backups,’ he confirms.
Like all of us, Matt uses energy, but he tries to reduce the impact of his gas and electricity consumption by opting for a renewable energy supplier. Matt also has a cost-saving suggestion when it comes to acquiring equipment. ‘I rarely buy new, unless something really needs replacing. But when I do upgrade, I rent (or borrow) first to make sure I will be investing in gear I will get full use out of.
According to Matt, we don’t need to make huge lifestyle changes to have a positive impact on the environment. ‘Millions of people doing a little will have a greater impact than hundreds doing a lot,’ he suggests. ‘Convenience is a priority for many people in today’s world, so I like to show them how easy it is to make small changes, which might lead to enormous gains. Climate change is a huge threat to current and future generations, and sadly governments are proving slow to act. I believe that as individuals we need to take what steps we can, in our personal lives and in our businesses, to reduce our impact on the planet.’
Matt’s eco friendly photography tips
1 Find a new way. Ecosia is a search engine that donates 80% of its profits to organisations that focus on reforestation. On average, for every 45 searches carried out it plants one tree.
2 Rent first. If you’re thinking about upgrading your camera kit, rent or borrow first – that way you’ll be 100% sure that it’s right for you. Where possible, buy used equipment.
3 Join the ripple effect. If enough people support eco-friendly initiatives, they become a smart business move. It might not seem the best motive, but action is what counts.
How to be an eco-friendly photographer
Keep vampires at bay
When you leave a plug in a socket, even if it’s not switched on, it draws electricity. This is known as vampire (or standby) power. Unplug battery chargers, lights etc when not in use.
Share the burden
Ask yourself if your journey is really necessary. If it is, consider using public transport or sharing a lift. If you need to take a flight or travel further afield, offset your carbon emissions using a reliable and trustworthy scheme.
Trade in and trade up
Consider investing in used gear. Companies such as MPB make it easy to buy, sell or trade in your equipment. The money you save could be put towards a course that will improve your work far more than extra megapixels.
Dispose of equipment responsibly
If your camera has bitten the dust – and you’ve looked into schemes such as Camera Rescue (www.camerarescue.org) – make sure you dispose of it safely. Check online for recycling centres that deal with electrical waste.
Fix a date online
Conduct as many meetings as you can electronically. Sure, there will be a few hiccups, but stick with it and you will win eco-friendly brownie points, as well as saving money on travel expenses.
Vote with your wallet
Every time you spend money, you are effectively voting for the kind of world you want to live in. Where possible, buy from eco-friendly companies. It takes
a little research, but it’s worth it.
Whether you’re ordering props, wedding albums or outdoor clothing, source goods from the UK (if you live
in the UK!). In addition, paper stocks should come from FSC certified and managed forests.
Make a change
Switch to green electricity (power produced by renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydro). While you’re at it, look in to green banking (businesses that make sure your money is invested in schemes that seek to protect the environment).