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Implementing Environmentalism Into Photography Education

Every object we use and every action we take has an environmental impact; the same is true for arts and photography. According to a report by the BBC, every photograph saved to a digital device carries with it 50g of CO2. A computer monitor replaced after six rather than four years? A 190kg CO2 saving. This shows that while the digital format of modern photography feels clean, it does still have some impact on the planet. When educating students, it’s important to deliver these lessons of climate awareness, and there are principles that students can take on board to ensure their own photography journey is an environmentally kind one.

Nuance in format

One important principle is to implore your students to remove assumptions from their work and look at the information to make their own decisions. This is important when deciding the format of their photographic work. One key distinction photographers will make is whether to use analog or digital cameras, with various artistic decisions attached to this. Placing those aside, consider whether it’s greener to go analog or to stick with digital; while digital cameras historically were the clear favorites when it came to being eco-friendly, as outlined by the Earth Times, the distinction isn’t quite as clear anymore. While an analog camera has the environmental impact of developing film and having to use replaceable cartridges, a digital camera requires a greater amount of power, especially in editing. Plus, changing digital cameras frequently can have big costs associated with their production. Both have pros and cons: encourage students to view these critically and analyze what best suits them.

Changing behavior

Much eco-friendly work can be put down to improving behaviors and habits. In photography, there are two ways of looking at this. Firstly, what physical material do you use when taking photos? This could be a Polaroid film, film for development, or the micro cards used in many cameras. Secondly, what impact does your storage have on the planet? Photos stored for a long period of time on a PC or in the cloud have their own carbon footprint, too. Educate that less is more; get rid of photos that will have no developmental or portfolio benefit later on, while also reminding students that it’s good to keep source material even once a project has been completed.

Looking for improvements

Just as education is a matter of committed, lifelong learning, so is the art of photography. Looking for new technology is not only fun, but can be beneficial to your students’ craft and to their impact on the environment. Encourage constant growth without outright replacement; looking for small improvements, like improved battery packs, is often enough to make a big impact.

Embedding environmental awareness as part of any educational course is important, not just for the planet, but for the future prospects of your students. As eco-friendly business practices become commonplace, it’ll be important to be fully skilled up from the point of education. In the realm of photography, that requires a little more nuance than you’d think, but that, too, is part of the learning process.

Written by Jennifer McLee

Education World Contributor

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Photo by Reinhart Julian