I often get questions about the exact location where I’ve taken a photograph. For well known spots that can handle a lot of traffic, I generally have no problems answering this and may even offer up tips about the best time to go, where to park, weather conditions, etc. However for lessor known spots I might only provide a general location such as the name of the park (e.g. Joshua Tree NP) or broad geographic area (e.g. La Jolla Coast, Anza Borrego Badlands, etc.)
I often struggle with answering these questions because I want to be helpful but at the same time be mindful that sometimes sharing results in negative consquences. Many smaller locations been vandalized or just ruined by too much traffic and people have been hurt going to places where they were simply not prepared. For example, once the poppy bloom in Lake Elsinore became well known through social media, the influx of people caused terrible problems with people trampling the flowers and the volume of traffic made life difficult for locals.
The decision also isn’t always clearcut because I do want people to get outside and appreciate nature. Sites have a range of traffic that they can support without harm. Furthermore, sometimes my answer depends on how careful I think the person asking will be a steward of the area.
One criticism that I see leveled against photographers who withhold location information is that they are just keeping it secret to benefit themselves. Either because they don’t want others copying their image or they want to keep the space private and uncrowded. I’m not going to lie, this is a big factor and maybe bigger than some care to admit. If you share a unique image online, it will get duplicated (a.k.a comp stomping) especially if you make it easy by revealing the location.
However I think keeping spots secret is totally fine and photographers shouldn’t feel guilty about this. First, The photographer put a lot of work into finding a good spot. Essentially this is a trade secret and they are under no obligation to reveal that information. Nobody expects Coca-Cola or KFC to give away their recipes. Second, anybody beyond a beginner level should be finding their own locations and not be copying the images of others.
I’ve come to the conclusion that in general landscape photographers should follow a don’t ask, don’t tell policy for any lessor known and potentially sensitive location. Photographers should find their own favorite spots and frankly that’s more fun and rewarding.