The aim here is to highlight what I am doing as a sustainable photographer in the running of my own photography business to reduce my carbon footprint and ultimately to become carbon positive. I'm not going to pretend that I am currently fully sustainable, or that I even know how to be, but I regard it as an evolving process that is the foundation of operating as a commercial photographer, and something I am continually striving towards.

Although I do practice being environmentally conscious in my personal life my aim here is to show you what I do in relation to being a professional location photographer. Inevitably there will be some overlap especially as I based from home, which leads me nicely on to the first point:

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Repurposing a Kodak Box Brownie

Premises

I primarily work on location, but when I'm not on photoshoots I work from my home studio in Surrey, UK. The power to my house is on a Supergreen tariff which uses 100% renewable electricity and 100% carbon neutral gas, and all light bulbs are LEDs and there are some USB powered devices such as a light and a fan to cool my laptop.

Being a photographer can only mean various old cameras are used ornamentally around the home and office, and most of them still work in one form or another. Some, like the Box Brownie shown here, have been given a new lease of life by adding a light fitting with an appropriate LED bulb.

As a result of working from home I have no direct environmental effect when "commuting" to my studio. I do like to start the day with a bike ride though to get that "commuting" experience!


On location

Working on location means that travel to and from photoshoots is likely my biggest carbon emitter. I do need to carry equipment with me but I have a lot of my own equipment so am not reliant on couriers delivering and collecting hire kit, before and after every shoot.

When I need to travel with a lot of kit I have a medium sized hatchback which I changed from diesel to petrol during the pandemic, and I fully expect my next car to be an electric vehicle. At the time of changing cars the range of EVs and the ready availability of charging points at the locations was limited, but on every job I do now I always look to see if it would be possible in an electric car.

For jobs requiring small amounts of equipment I will travel by train where possible and have done jobs in the UK and Europe this way.

If I have to stay overnight during a photoshoot then I will choose to stay in a hotel which is powered by 100% green energy, provided there is one within a sensible distance of the location to avoid unnecessary travel.

I will always bring with me a refillable water bottle to all my photoshoots and will ask crew, models and clients to do the same.

It should go without saying, although it still surprises me how often this doesn't happen, but all waste will be recycled if facilities are available at the location or removed and recycled elsewhere if they are not.

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Me with some of the equipment I take on photoshoots.


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Film cameras would often last a photographer's whole career

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One of my current DSLRs in use on location in 2016

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The image that was created in the above shot

equipment

For commercial shoots I work entirely using digital equipment so avoiding all the expendables & chemicals associated with film, although I am willing to discuss with potential clients how to shoot and process film in an environmentally friendly way as there are eco friendly alternatives.

Camera sales people would have you believe that you need the latest equipment to get the best images - the bad news for them is that it's not true. Knowledgeable and experienced photographers can create great images with the equipment they already have.

To avoid the huge environmental impact from the constant upgrade cycle that modern technology demands I rarely will buy the latest piece of kit, and I certainly won't routinely buy it.

Instead I invest in the highest quality camera and lighting equipment which has the longest lifespan and a high potential for reuse in the second hand market. In my current DSLR kit for instance there are 3 camera bodies varying in age from 30 months to 10 years old!

Having said that there is a big technology change underway at the moment with SLR cameras being phased out and replaced by mirrorless cameras, and Canon, who manufacture the DSLRs I currently use, have changed the lens mount  for these new cameras which means a whole new set of lenses, currently costing £2500 - £3000 each to replace my existing lenses.

This is a huge cost but it does give me an opportunity to have a look at what other manufacturers are doing before deciding the next step, with sustainability one of the considerations of my decision making for what will be a hefty financial commitment.

This is all a far cry from when photographers worked on film as often their cameras and lenses would last their whole career, with proper maintenance.


Batteries

Most of my lighting is now battery operated, apart from some legacy lighting that is over 15 years old, and I mostly charge the batteries at home before each photoshoot on a 100% green tariff.

I am currently replacing my old alkaline AA batteries (used mainly in speed lights and accessories) with rechargeable batteries. I still have a stock of alkaline batteries but these are starting to dwindle.

Often though I will only need the one solar powered light graciously supplied by nature for free.

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Earth's own lighting over Chobham Common, Surrey.


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Clipper Tea bags - my favourite and Earth's too.

food and drink

Food is obviously an area with a huge environmental impact and although I am not vegetarian or vegan I am adding more and more plant based food to my diet, and in particular when I am at work.

I do have a fondness for cheese so doubt I could ever become a fully fledged vegan!

Those who know me well will know that I like drinking tea and my chosen tea bag is the Everyday Organic Tea from Clipper which uses plant based biodegradable tea bags (no plastic), and they're unbleached - how did we ever get to the point that someone thought we needed to bleach tea bags?

I will often bring some tea bags with me if staying away on location.


IT

We live in a very digital age where there are microprocessors in just about everything nowadays and this is another big area with lots of difficult to quantify areas that have a significant effect on our carbon emissions. It can be difficult to truly understand the carbon footprint of large technology companies beyond their often PR focussed environmental statements, but here I identify the reasons I have chosen to use the ones I do.

I have always bought Apple computers largely because they have a long lifetime - my most recent retired Mac was over 10 years old and still very snappy. Apple products also have a good resale potential so their useful lifetime can be extended by passing on to someone so that it can continue to be used which again reduces waste.

My main computer monitor is an Eizo screen which is now about 10 years years old. When I bought the screen it came with a 5 year warranty and, although I will calibrate it often, it has hardly drifted since I had it.

Not all my technology is that current though - I still have a solar powered calculator first acquired in the 1980s which is still functioning perfectly (see photo).

This website is written and hosted by Photodeck who, amongst other things, have been doing “green coding” for 10 years which means that their code is extremely optimised for speed and efficiency, significantly reducing the power required to run the site.

My email and blog (douglaskurn.co.uk) are hosted by Krystal whose data centre is powered by 100% renewable energy.

I deliver my final images to clients through a password protected client gallery hosted on my website. Every image in those galleries has a carbon footprint for the duration that it is on my website so I will always set the galleries to auto delete after an agreed period of time, to avoid unnecessarily hosting images that have already been delivered.

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A Solar Powered Calculator from the '80s


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My refillable notebook and pen.

Other things

I'm an extensive note taker and writer, something which I prefer to do on paper rather than onscreen. For my musings I prefer to use a refillable notebook and my writing implement of choice is a 3 in 1 pen, pencil and highlighter all with replaceable elements. 

This avoids unnecessary waste from covers and bindings on disposable notebooks and plastic pens and pencils, plus it looks good!


This list is by no means exhaustive but it does cover a range of both small and significant areas that I have considered and done something about. Some of them are photography specific, and some are specific to running a small business so can be adopted by others, and whilst they may not seem much individually, collectively they can make a difference.

I regard sustainability as a way of behaving in business that will become ingrained to the extent that it is just a normal way to operate as a sustainable photographer - if you have any ideas about what else I could be doing to improve my sustainability as a photographer then I'd love to hear from you.