Blue Sky Thinking

Many of us are having to adapt to a new normal, myself included. So for the duration I’m going to post what I can, when I can.

It’s been 18 years since my press card expired, so sitting idly while the biggest World news story of all time breaks is an uncomfortable experience. Which is why I’m doing what I can.

Yesterday’s walk, for example, allowed me to at least click the shutter. I’d been thinking about how I might safely record at least one aspect of this crisis, and then I looked up.

What I saw was clear, blue skies. Not the normal blue, but a blue free of pollution, and that includes the ubiquitous contrails left by aircraft.

Now I appreciate the lack of contrails means many in the aviation sector will be suffering, but this raises new questions for us.

Right now all our thoughts are focused on a single issue, but climate change will return. While we’re asking for mortgage holidays, the climate is getting a pollution holiday. On the down-side, how long before surgical gloves, masks and test kit tubes turn up in dolphins?

And once the brakes come off the economy, how long before we go back to our old ways?

Will contrails once again scar the blue skies?

Quiet Skies is the mini series resulting from yesterday’s walk. I may build on it, we’ll have to see, but I wanted to create something thought-provoking and hopefully beautiful.

So while you can, get out there and remember to look up once in a while. This is how the sky used to look.

The Great Green Debate

seagulls flocking on landfill tip site or trash and rubbish

Seagulls can't eat cameras. Their apertures are too small.

The response to my post “How Green is Your Photography?” was pretty interesting, and highlighted some useful resources for photographers wishing to take a less Magenta approach to their work (rubbish, nerdy in-joke. Sorry).

So what’s to do with this environment thing and photography? I suppose we could all just stop taking pictures and have our cameras turned into ploughshares. Small, rubbish ones, but once you melt a camera down, there aren’t many things it’s good for. When it comes to Samsung cameras, you don’t even have to melt them down to achieve “useless” status.

I started this subject because some time ago I’d been pondering the issue of the environment and how photographers might do their bit, bearing in mind that what we do isn’t exactly eco-friendly. Then I bumped into Chris at Park Lane Press Limited, which is based near me, and he showed me the waterless lithographic printing facility they have at their Corsham plant. I was impressed that the print quality, even on difficult, recycled paper stock was at least as good, and often better than I’d seen on the same papers using traditional printing methods.

This system is perfect for commercial clients wishing to use a more eco-friendly approach to brochure and annual report printing, but it also got me thinking about eco-friendly printing for photo prints. A chance comment from Rick Colson of EcoVisual Communications in Wayland, Massachusetts (who use post-industrial cotton waste papers) on one of my other articles got me thinking there must be eco-friendly photo printers in the UK too, though an internet search didn’t throw up any obvious candidates. So if you know of a truly eco-friendly photo printer in the UK, do let me know. Not just one with the word “eco” shoehorned into their mission statement.

Comments to my previous article suggested ways we can be more considerate in our use of energy, materials, photo and computer equipment. One respondent had seen an article in which a macro photographer glued ants to a twig to get a better closeup. Perhaps not the eco-crime of the century, but I’d hate to see this practice extended to lions, tigers and pandas. For a start, the amount of glue required to stick a polar bear to an ice floe would certainly be environmentally problematic.

I’ve made some simple conclusions, but feel free to add your comments. I’d like to update the article with useful links once I have a few more.

I’m ambivalent about transport. Use public transport where possible, but personally that isn’t often feasible, at least in the UK. Changing your car for something “greener” will cause more harm than good as most of the environmental impact of running a car is in its manufacture. Simply try driving more considerately. This will save fuel and wear and tear.

Rechargeable batteries are so much better than they used to be, so there’s no excuse for creating a mountain of spent alkalines any more. Try charging at night, perhaps using a timer socket so you’re not charging them all night. Power drawn at night uses electricity that would otherwise be dissipated  and wasted.

Eek out your kit. Don’t keep upgrading. Spend more on kit that lasts longer. I’m not a cheerleader for Apple, but my MacBook Pro is over two years old and going as well as the day I unpacked it. Most PC laptops are getting clapped out after 9 months (cue flame-grilled Timmy as the PC brigade rush to defend their honour).

Recycle and dispose of waste responsibly. Even electronics and dead batteries will be handled by your local amenity tip.

Link up with Green Photographers Network to learn more or share ideas.

And here’s one to really stir things up. I know stock images are here to stay, but I also believe that driving around, shooting thousands of photos nobody asked for and a tiny number of which will ever get published, isn’t a good way for photographers to protect the environment. Let’s not get into the issue of server space and energy required to host all those pictures of kittens and businessmen standing in fields.

Next time you need a photo of a polar bear on an ice floe, commission a local photographer to shoot it for you. Glue will be extra.

No polar bears were harmed as a result of writing this article, but the Pandaburger was yummy.

How Green is Your Photography?

somerset landscape photo

Every photo we take has an environmental impact.

The environment is something we all like to photograph, but what damage are we doing to the very thing we wish to capture with our cameras? I’m not sure who first said “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints,” but apart from sounding a little smug and preachy, they had a point.

Sure enough in the days of film we had to accept that the chemicals used to make the film itself, and the chemicals used to process it were pretty unpleasant. Then there were the materials that went into making cameras. Steel, plastics, rubber, glass, alloys, titanium. As cameras became more sophisticated, electronics and their attendant environmental impact came into play.

The modern digital camera is packed with all manner of fairly unpleasant materials. Alloys for the body, titanium for the shutter, and all those electronics – so many more than were generally used in the days of film. And here’s the real rub. A film camera of “yore” could easily give 10 years good service, where even high-end digital cameras wouldn’t be expected to last more than maybe 3 years. If you’re looking at obsolescence (as opposed to just being worn out), you’re lucky if a camera isn’t replaced within 18 months now.

Each time a new model appears, a few more pixels, better metering, video function built-in, you can bet that a number of perfectly useable cameras will be mothballed, maybe sold on Ebay, but ultimately disposed of.

You have to ponder the environmental cost of manufacturing a modern digital camera, and its cradle-to-grave impact.

Even as we use our cameras, we’re making an impact on the environment. Traveling to and from locations, using computers (some of which have the longevity of a lettuce) to prepare and store our images, 24/7 server systems hosting our efforts on sites such as Flickr, or maybe a stock image library. Millions of photos sitting there which nobody asked anyone to take, which might never get used in any useful way, and the majority of which add nothing to our cultural heritage.

I’m not saying every photo we take has to be “worthy”, and that all else is a waste of resources, I’m just saying maybe we need to consider these issues. We’re very good at ignoring what we can’t see. Each of us thinks we deserve the latest camera, that it’s just one camera, and we’ll vaguely hope for a way to dispose of it at the end of its life in a way that doesn’t harm our immediate surroundings.

Figures reported in Amateur Photographer show that in May 2009, almost 434,000 compact cameras were sold in the UK and nearly 43,000 digital SLRs in the same month. That’s astonishing; that’s just the UK, and in just one month during the worst recession since the dinosaurs died out.

One day, all those cameras plus all the ones sold World-wide every month, will end up either being recycled or in landfill. One way or another, all the associated computers, servers and drives for hosting photos, plus all the batteries, chargers and other detritus of technology, will become a problem.

So how can responsible photographers limit their individual impact on the environment? I don’t have instant answers here, but in my next posting I hope to offer some guidance on where we can limit our impact.

In the meantime, I’d love you to tell me what ideas you have, or ways you already use, to limit the impact of your photography on the environment. Feel free to comment here, on this web site, which requires a computer server, run by electricity, generated by coal, gas, nuclear…