adventure, camera, photography, places, travel, travel tips

Is Geotagging your photos really so bad?

Why is Geotagging so controversial?

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In recent months, many Instagrammers have become increasingly protective of where they take their photos. I’ve seen multiple photographers and influencers cite organizations such as Leave No Trace who have recommended that people don’t share geotags when posting images. Their stated reasons are to reduce the environmental impact that drawing more people to a beautiful place could create (particularly a previously “undiscovered” location). General tags (such as a nearby city, general national park name, or state) are acceptable alternatives. In addition to these recommended measures, I have experienced many influencers responding to location requests in their comment section with encouragements to find the place with my own research. Even direct messages away from the public eye may not be answered.

There are numerous stories that support the idea that geotagging can cause once pristine places to fall into disrepair (a trashed hot spring in British Columbia that created a bear problem comes to mind). While I have not noticed any major detriment to the environment, I did notice first hand the drastic increase in photographers and tourists alike going to Taft Point in Yosemite after a few sunset photos went viral. I’d been to Yosemite a dozen times and never gave the spot much thought till seeing a few stunning shots. Having been a few times now myself, I can see the appeal. It has a perfect composition,great sunset lighting, and (perhaps most importantly) doesn’t require a lot of effort to reach.

I am 100% for protecting the environment. For such a purpose it would seem that geotagging some locations should be avoided and for others used with caution. But, in my opinion, some of the Instagram community is taking this way to far. Let me clarify. Sometimes geotagging may be detrimental to the environment and thus best avoided (especially if you have a large popular account and the place you are sharing is easy to reach, easily damaged, or not suitable for large crowds). However, that does not mean that the location needs to be kept an absolute secret or that no location should ever be geotagged. 

Here are some thoughts:

  • Not geotagging is ineffective if the spot is already popular (Moraine Lake, Yosemite Falls). These places will be packed no matter what (often the National Park itself is the one promoting the place). 
  • Not geotagging a large public post does not mean you don’t ever tell anyone (the Leave No Trace suggestion does not seem to imply secrecy so much as reducing broad public announcements). It would seem reasonable that someone told you about the location in the first place. In most cases if I take the time to privately message you about a location, I am already showing by my effort that I am a more careful person who has a greater likelihood of taking care of what I find.
  • If the place is hard to get to (ie, requires actual backpacking or hiking beyond a mile or so) than most likely the vast majority of tourists won’t even try to get there. Yes there are notable exceptions, but in my experience, even dedicated professional photographers take most of the their photos at either drive up spots or within a mile of their car.
  • Unfortunately, many naturally beautiful areas are being trashed all the time by people who just don’t care about the environment or aren’t educated on the importance of keeping it clean and pristine. This was going on long before Instagramming and Geotagging and isn’t always a direct result of either.
  • I understand you can’t vet every person who asks for information about a location; However, neither did that blog writer who wrote the article about her backpacking trip that inspired you to go there in the first place.

This final point leads me to the other related statement I read time and again: “you should put the time and effort into researching a place and finding it on your own like I did”. I agree, it’s awesome to research and find things “on my own”. The work can be quite rewarding and the process can help me find more new places along the way. One way that I do that research is to ask other backpackers, travelers, hikers, and photographers where they recommend, where they got a particular photo, where they found that stunning view-point.

Saying someone shouldn’t ask you where you shot a photo is like me telling you to put down the Google driven GPS on your phone and find your way with a road map, because that’s how the last generation did things. Or perhaps you’d like to just set out west across the vast country like Louis and Clark, without even an accurate map to guide you.

Times change, and how we obtain information has drastically changed even in my short lifetime. Figuring out the most effective way of allocating all this new information is something we will be working out our whole lives. But denying the most ancient of methods for obtaining knowledge, asking a simple questions, often comes across as more pretentious than as a genuine desire to protect the environment. 

Perhaps a better way of applying and expressing the Leave No Trace principles is as follows:

  • If you really care about the environment and believe that by geotagging the location of a shot you will expose it to harm, than don’t geotag.
  • If you truly believe that the person commenting or messaging you will be careless with the location you share with them, by all means don’t share it!
  • If you simply don’t want someone to get the same shot as you or enjoy “your” hike, than by all means don’t share the location (you have that right, but don’t pretend it’s about the environment).
  • If someone in good faith asks you about a natural beauty that you have enjoyed and you have no reason to suspect they will destroy it, perhaps the right thing to do is to tell them or point them in the right direction

Just remember: someone shared with you once (via a blog, a personal note, a YouTube video, a local expert, or *gasp* an Instagram geotag before they were forbodden!)

There is only a finite number of places people can go in their limited free time. By increasing the number of people at say Taft Point, we may have significantly decreased the numbers of people at Glacier Point, thus making it a more enjoyable place for you to now enjoy the sunrise.

People (including followers) helped you along the way to get where you are. Should we be willing to help others in return? I for one find it very rewarding to help others enjoy the beauty that I’ve been blessed to see as a result of those before me. 

Cheers.

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lodging, places, travel tips

Awesome Airbnb Travel Deal!!

If you follow my blog you know that I am always looking for the best travel deals. I love traveling well (not 5-star but not bunk beds in hostels either) and Airbnb is one of the best sites I know for doing that. I’ve take 8 trips in the last 12 months with Airbnb.

Yesterday I was doing some shopping on Ebay when I stumbled upon this great deal: Buy a $110 Airbnb Gift card for only $100! I went ahead and bought one but am thinking about buying several more since its basically a 10% discount for free! I’m not sure when the sale ends but I wanted to pass it along.

If you have never used Airbnb, its basically rooms or entire houses that people rent out to travelers. So you can stay in a comfortable homey environment instead of a hotel for a price that is normally much better than hotel. I use it a lot for groups of people when we all want to stay together but need a lot of room. If you’ve never used it before use my link for and extra $40 credit on your account for your first booking!!!

Sign up for Airbnb HERE

Get $110 gift card for $100 HERE

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camera, photography, places, travel, travel tips

First trip to Hawaii! (Video)

Just put together this little slide show of some of my favorite photos from my recent trip to Hawaii. This was my first big trip of the year! Where else should I go this year? Any tips on how I can improve my videos? I know I have a lot to learn but it’s fun just getting started! Thanks for watching and please share, like, and subscribe to my YouTube channel.

adventure, camera, hiking, places, travel, travel tips

Have you ever seen a sunset quite this lovely?

I love the pacific northwest. there is so much to explore and so much variety in landscapes, wildlife, and weather patterns. Not to mention good food, better coffee, and lovely people. Cape Flattery was one of the best sunsets I’ve seen. The trail leading to it is like a fairyland, full of beautiful greens and blues and made of wooden planks. The water rushes all around you and a lighthouse stands guard off on a distant Island. What’s your favorite sunset ever?

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adventure, places

Sonoma Coast State Park

The California Coastline is renowned for its spectacular cliffs, rocky outcroppings, pebble beaches, black sand beaches, lighthouses, Redwood forests, and waterfalls plummeting off cliffs onto Sandy beaches below.

Massive waves crashing on a boulder near Bodega Bay
Massive waves crashing on a boulder near Bodega Bay

The Sonoma Coast State Park in Sonoma County has most of these things and more. If you start at Bodega Bay and drive north, you will find most stops than you can make in one day…or even three (I just finished my third visit this month!).

Gazing off into the Horizon near the Arched Rock along Sonoma Coast State Park
Gazing off into the Horizon near the Arched Rock along Sonoma Coast State Park

Its only just over 1.5 hours north of San Francisco and well worth the day trip. From the quaint little resort town of Bodega Bay you head north stopping to see numerous waterfalls rushing over 50 feet over the cliff’s edges onto the sand below. I imagine all the rain we’ve been getting has greatly improved the quality of these waterfalls. The hills slope away from the beaches behind and are dotted with sturdy trees and covered in green grass.

A fun rock to climb and watch the waves on Goat Rock State Beach
A fun rock to climb and watch the waves on Goat Rock State Beach

A pull off not far north brings you to Arched Rock, an amazing arch out in the ocean perpetually pummeled by gargantuan waves.

Long Exposure over the Sonoma Coast at a dynamic sunset
Long Exposure over the Sonoma Coast at a dynamic sunset

A few miles father and you reach my favorite spot: Goat Rock State Beach. Here you can turn down a poorly maintained narrow road that leads down to the beach itself and allows you to park feet from the waves. To the right is the Russian River, powerful and flooded at my last visit, spilling muddied water into the Pacific Ocean, changing its color for miles. To the left is another beautiful arched rock and some of the most spectacular sunset watching I’ve seen in California. 

Spectacular Sunset Views on Goat Rock State Beach
Spectacular Sunset Views on Goat Rock State Beach

Continue across the Russian River north through Jenner, CA and you will find several small pull-off with hidden trails leading to secret beaches. My favorite one, not more than a mile north of Jenner, has ropes leading down the embankment to help you climb down to a spectacular pebble beach below. If you make it safely down, hike to the right, following the beach to a huge rocky outcropping where waves splash 30 feet or more over impressive boulders, drenching the rocks below and you if you get too close (Yes of course I got to close).

Directing the waves at a hidden beach just passed Jenner CA
Directing the waves at a hidden beach just passed Jenner CA

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adventure, places

Adventure in Bryce Canyon

We awoke early morning a few weeks ago in a wonderful, clean, picturesque hotel in the Utah Wilderness near the town of Panguitch. The hotel is a Quality Inn by name but appears to be an old western themed mountain resort hotel with numerous small buildings each named after some western theme. The rooms were huge, had a fridge and a microwave, a huge king bed, separate shower, were super clean, and came with a free simple but good breakfast as well: all for about $60/night!

The night before, freezing rain had made our drive a bit nerve racking but we made it safely and  by the time we awoke to a beautiful, cloudy day, the roads were clear again.

Today’s adventure: run through Bryce Canyon before making the 1.5 hour drive back to Zion National Park. Bryce Canyon was to be a scouting mission to see if it was worth coming back to.

Snow covered the landscape as we made the journey in. Soon red rocks and pine forests began to dominate the landscape with some snow covered fields and an occasional village completing the scene. We arrived at the park and found the roads snow covered and icy but still passable in a small car. Whipping around curves created a bit of drift which was fun.

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Bryce Point Overlook, Old and Young trees dot the landscape, fog rises from the valley

Bryce Canyon National Park is quite interesting to enter into for the first time. You are completely surrounded by a dense pine forest with no sign of canyon anywhere. When we finally arrived and parked at Bryce Point, our first overlook, we could still barely see that there was a canyon through the trees.

As we walked down the ice covered gentle slope to this first view, the epic landscape unraveled before us revealing one of the most gorgeous sites of our trip: Bryce Canyon, covered in snow, shrouded in mist, dark moody clouds looming overhead, read and orange rock formations peaking out everywhere beneath us, and stately pine trees both old and new surrounding the landscapes. Soft light snow flakes began to float from the sky and continued the rest of our visit here.

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The Valley View opens up before you, this was our first site of the Canyon

After soaking in Bryce Point, getting close to the icy edge, attempting a few photo-shoots and some jumping shots, and basking in the gorgeous views, we went on to our second stop in the park: Inspiration Point! Inspiration Point is one of the best places to see the famous Amphitheater, one of Bryce Canyon’s most famous formations. It literally looks like the ruins of an ancient Roman Amphitheater of even Coliseum.

For the most part there was hardly anyone in the park given the weather which was amazing. However, at this point we did run into a large bus tour of middle age travelers from all over the world (we heard French and Spanish among other languages). When they saw us approaching the edge of the cliff for some epic shots some of them began to completely loose it, yelling and waving their hands for us to back away. We asked one poor fella to take a photo of us, and despite being 20 feet from the edge himself, he was so nervous he couldn’t figure out how to take a photo! He literally pushed every single button on my DSLR except the right one. We found it all quite amusing and did a bit of drifting in the parking lot on our way out to complete their show.

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Inspiration Point where we tried to get out photo taken. Amphitheater is in the background!

And that was it! Will we be back? For sure! Are there longer trails? Tons of them! I would like to venture down the Fairyland Loop Trail and the Rim Trail my next visit. There is also a ton more to the park than just the area around the main vista points. We were surprised how big the map was. You can see the main parts of the park in a day or even a few hours. But you probably need a good 3 days to truly do it justice.

Before I go, let me highly recommend the National Park Annual Pass. Most parks charge about $20-30 per car per visit (Bryce and Zion are $30). However, with this pass you pay $80 once and go in and out of all national parks as often as you like, with a car full of people, without paying again! And no, this isn’t a paid endorsement. Just some good sound travel advice 🙂

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adventure, city reviews, places, travel tips

Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and Page Arizona

Page Arizona is a small, desert town right next to the lake Powell Dam on the Colorado River. It is probably on the map primarily due to two popular tourist attractions nearby besides Lake Powell: Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River and Antelope Canyon in Navajo Nation.

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View of Horseshoe Bend at Sunrise with the sunlight reflecting off distant clouds, great lighting this time of day!

Horseshoe Bend is a spectacular vista point on the river where the Colorado takes a sharp turn shaped like a horseshoe with deep canyon walls resembling the Grand Canyon but smaller. While not as grand as the larger canyon, this area is certainly large enough to invoke awe. Below are a few tips

Sunset vs Sunrise: The sun sets almost directly behind horseshoe bend overlook. So the site can be spectacular but the lighting can be hard to capture. Sunrise from behind gives better lighting if you can get up early enough but you will be facing away from the sun.

Crowds: This is a popular spot. English speaking American’s are probably a minority here which is super cool. For whatever reason this is a very popular place with international travelers. It certainly is spectacular. But can also be quite crowded. Go in the winter, on a week day, early morning for best results.

Temperature: Both times I went it was cold. In fact there has been snow there as the winters can be rather cold. But remember it is a dry desert and in the summer can be sweltering. So bring water!

Getting there: Tons of parking with bathrooms! I’ve never had trouble parking at all. The hike is approximately 0.4 miles each way. You briefly walk up a hill an then the rest is downhill (with the reverse on the way back).

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Where to shoot: The middles (where the most tourist are) is the symmetrical image classic to Horseshoe Bend. However, going to the right (and I’m sure the left as well), offers incredible alternative perspectives equally as beautiful if not so symmetrical. Walk around and don’t just shoot from one spot (like so many people there do).

Antelope Canyon is the most famous of many slot canyons that dot the desert landscape around Page. Upper Antelope Canyon is the primary place that people visit here. However, there is also Lower Antelope Canyon, and numerous less famous ones that one can potentially visit as well.

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Visiting: First pick your canyon. Upper is the most popular and is easy to get to but the other options can be beautiful too. Next pick a tour agency and preferably book in advance to secure your spot. Because this land is owned and operated by the Navajo Nation, they create the regulations for its use. Due to overuse and vandalism, guided tours are required to limit the number of visitors and to protect the beautiful landscape.

I recommend Antelope Canyon Tours Inc. I used them and enjoyed my tour immensely with an excellent tour guide and quick reasonable service. They are highly rated on Yelp as well. Total cost was about $40/person with optional tip (I tipped because I thought she was exceptional but didn’t notice anyone else doing so). Its a bit more expensive during the summer.

Getting The Photo: The photo that everyone wants to get here is that classic image of the light streaming down through the slot into the darker canyon. Its a beautiful shot. To get it you have to go close to noon when the sun is the highest. The canyon will be quite crowded so you may want to take a photo tour which allows more time and privacy (DSLR and tripod required to eliminate more casual tourists).

However, remember, the classic photo isn’t the only aspect of beauty here. A good tour guide will point out exceptionally beautiful spots in the canyon that require no special lighting or positioning of the sun. I went at 3pm and got some awesome photos!

Set your camera up before you go based on current lighting conditions and be prepared to shoot quick. The tour is fun but somewhat rushed as there are lots of people trying to see the canyon all the time. If you go in the winter and later in the day the canyon is much more deserted.

Page Arizona is a small, touristy, southwestern town. There isn’t a whole lot to do there besides the two main things I just mentioned and anything to do with Lake Powell (which is currently quite low). Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Canyon are all within 2-3 hours which makes it possible to use Page as a base camp. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is also nearby and quite enjoyable to visit.

Where to Stay: We stayed in the Motel 6 in Page Arizona. It was newly remodeled. Very inexpensive (about $50/night). Quite clean. Nicely decorated (simple Ikea style). And very close to everything (10 minutes or less).  We looked at some of the other budget hotels and some nicer ones, but none seemed to give the same value for the money.

Where to Eat: For dinner we ate at a local American style Mexican restaurant called El Tapatio which was quite delicious. It seemed popular with tourist and locals alike as there was a 20 minute wait on a random week-day night. Other than that there didn’t seem to be many good local restaurants, coffee shops, or bars though I’m sure there are a few gems we missed.

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II