How to Social Media Outside Without Ruining Everything: A step-by-step guide

This article is a part of The Growler’s Outdoor Guide. Find more tips for outdoor adventure and dining here

You’ve got to hand it to her: Mother Nature is photogenic as hell. She knows her angles, doesn’t have a bad side, and looks flawless in every light. We should all be so lucky to have such a stunning model to photograph.

But we humans don’t know what to do with a good thing when we have it. In the days of yore, people simply digested the wild with their own two eyes, at the most snapping some photos to store in their albums. But in the age of all-consuming social media, our love for the outdoors has grown into a different kind of beast, one with a chronic case of FOMO (“fear of missing out” for the lucky few who are unfamiliar). What were once places of tranquility are now seas of selfie-sticks attached to arms wrestling one another for the most flattering angle, and devoted significant others going the extra mile for the good of their partner’s Instagram feed. (The role even has a name: “Instagram husband.”)

Much has been said on the impact that social media is having on our outdoor spaces; the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics released its first set of social media guidelines last June in response to the issue. While there is no fast solution—social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, folks—there are steps we can take to be more mindful of our impact going forward. Because currently if Mother Nature could serenade her well-meaning human visitors with just one song, it might well be Sharon Van Etten’s “Your Love Is Killing Me.”

Illustration by Rebecca Cahill

Tag responsibly (if at all)

For those unfamiliar with the term, geotags add the location of a photo to your Instagram post. In theory, the tool is meant to connect local ’grammers and make the post searchable by specific spot. But the unstoppable spread of influencers tagging our beloved public lands is attracting hordes of people to previously remote locations, wreaking havoc on fragile ecosystems and their wildlife and, in some cases, putting inexperienced outdoors-folk in danger. 

In response to the conundrum, there’s a growing class of #nogeotag outdoors influencers who encourage followers to seek their own paradise. Others simply tag general locations like states or national parks without naming the specific location. Whichever school of thought you align with, do your secret spots a solid: keep them secret, keep them safe.

Check the conditions

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the outdoors can attest to one simple fact: nature is temperamental. She doesn’t play by our rules and we love her for it; giving yourself over to the elements is all a part of the experience.

But with the growing influence that social media has in our trip-planning, certain locations can be misconstrued depending on the time of year a photo or video was posted. Waterfalls that are roaring in the springtime might be mere trickles by the end of summer. And lakes that are swimmable in the late summer might give you brain freeze in the springtime. So, for the sake of your expectations and your safety, be sure to look into the conditions of whichever spot you’re visiting, when you plan to visit. If you’re foolish enough to assume what the conditions will be based on what you see on Instagram, Mother Nature will undoubtedly show you the error of your ways.

Step lightly

Raise your hand if you somehow DIDN’T see a thousand photos of California’s poppy super-bloom this spring. No? No one? That’s because an otherwise mind-blowing, awe-inspiring, happy-tears-inducing natural phenomenon was, once again, tainted by social media. Thousands of people, their front-facing cameras fired up and ready to snap, took to the fields to get their best angle with the flowers, stepping off the designated trails and right onto the fragile blossoms they were theoretically there to see. This seemingly innocuous action crushed delicate soil and root systems, putting future blooms at risk.

The moral of this cautionary tale: for the love of nature, stay on designated trails and look before you step.

Take it in, then snap

This one is pretty self-explanatory but strangely difficult in practice. Simply put: some things in nature just can’t be conveyed in an iPhone photo. It’s infinitely more rewarding to just take it in with your own two eyes and store it in the ol’ memory bank for you and you alone. I’m guilty of this offense myself, being too quick on the draw before actually fully absorbing what’s in front of me. 

So next time you’re outside and feel the urge to pull out your phone, first just take a moment or two to soak in the limitless beauty that nature so generously provides, literally perfect in every way. 

Then pull out your phone.