“Take only pictures and leave only footprints.” The age old adage celebrating the principles of Leave No Trace means everything to the city of Durango. Home to some of the most pristine wilderness in the domestic United States, it’s a community-wide effort to maintain our scenic southwest.

With hundreds of miles of trails worth walking and thousands of photos worth taking, it’s paramount that both visitors and locals alike take extra care to tread lightly. As you prepare for your next Durango adventure, keep these helpful photography tips close to your chest. The future of land preservation depends on it.

8. Keep to impacted trails and durable surfaces

If you’ve ever found a deer trail or walked through the mud after a storm, you know how fragile the soil can be. Our trails, many built over weeks by dedicated volunteers, exist for a reason. Consider these impacted routes as the wonderful window into a pristine world. Avoid those strolls through the wildflower and romps in the mud. It can take less than three weeks of mismanagement to cause long term damage. No photo angle is worth the extra harm to the environment.

7. Make no changes to the natural landscape

Rock cairns, tree carvings, and river stacks may seem like a good idea in the moment, but your single shot will have long term effects on the natural landscape. These images, frequently found on social media, are considered the highest form of graffiti. Be a smart photographer and capture the landscape as it was shaped by nature.

6. Pack out what you pack in

That banana peel or orange rind may not seem like a big deal now, but even organic material is considered litter on public lands. Everything that you bring into the wilderness, whether it be trash, snacks or animal waste, should be brought back with you to civilization. The next photographer will thank you for your consideration.

5. Respect the Wildlife

Durango is home to deer, black bear, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, and many more species of wild animals. Living so close to civilization, you may find that our deer don’t spook and our bears are more curious than skittish. However, these are still extremely wild, unpredictable animals capable of harm. Wild bears conditioned to visit homes for food are more often than not killed. Do these wonderful creatures a favor and leave them alone. Carry a long-range zoom camera lens and keep at least three bus lengths of distance between yourself and the wildlife.

4. Appreciate the No Drone Zone

The helicopter hum of a drone is one of the most disruptive noises ever heard on a trail. ‘No Drone’ Zones exist to mitigate noise pollution and harm to wildlife. Leave the birdseye view to the birds or better yet, climb a local peak to earn that perfect shot.

3. Be considerate of others

As a nature photographer, you know the importance of keeping patient and still. You likely will not be the only individual on the trail, so consider the space of other hikers, bikers, and recreators. Maintain awareness of your surroundings and if your perfect shot is obstructed, have patience. The view is worth the wait.

2. Skip the props and fireworks

With 4th of July right around the corner, it’s important to remember that fireworks are illegal on all public lands. Enjoy local displays in town, but never build your own personal show. Likewise, respect any and all fire bans in place and drown your campfires. The best nature photographers know how to be creative, without utilizing props or tools. Keep it natural and the experience will be that much more rewarding.

1. Learn from the Experts

Many successful artists have made a career out of nature photography in southwest Colorado. More than a handful host workshops and guided trips open to the public. As you plan for your trip, consider a private photography workshop with Matt Payne Photography, Nature Revealed with Jeff Jessing, Scenic Aperture, or many others. Visit our local art galleries and ask questions. There is always so much to learn in the world of nature photography.


Find out more about our writter, Alex.