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4 Ways to Support Conservation with Your Photography

Marianne Stenger
20th June 2017

Photography can be a powerful tool for storytelling, especially when it comes to drawing attention to important environmental issues such as climate change, deforestation and pollution. 

The human impact on nature and wildlife is hard to ignore, which is why so many famous outdoor and nature photographers including Ansel Adams, Paul Nicklen and Amy Gulick, have used their photographs to raise awareness and enact change.

Without conservation photography, many of the national parks we enjoy today wouldn’t exist and few people would know about important issues like deforestation or endangered species like the Arctic polar bear, leatherback turtle or mountain gorilla.

So if you’re a nature photographer wondering what you can do to help protect our amazing planet, here are four ways you can support conservation with your photography.

1. Draw attention to local issues

You don’t have to photograph the destruction of the Amazon rainforest or the poaching crisis in Kenya to be considered a conservation photographer. In fact, the best place to get started is usually your own backyard because it’s the place you’re most familiar with.

Conservation photographer Sebastian Kennerknecht points out that focusing on local issues allows you to invest significant time and effort into a project and document how an environment is changing over time or photograph the threats a specific species might be facing.

People also tend to care more about the issues that are closest to them, so photographing an endangered animal or location your own area means you’ll have a better chance of inspiring others to become actively involved in conservation.

2. Try to tell a story

The most effective photographs are the ones that get people thinking, so before you start snapping, think about the story you’re trying to convey with your images and the emotions you’d like people to feel when looking at them.

Researching the issues you’re hoping to draw attention to and spending some time in the area is an important step if you want to compose thought-provoking images. What are the threats? Why should people care? What is already being done? What actions could people take? These are all questions you should attempt to answer before you get started.

If you’re trying to convey a particular emotion, the time of day or the season can also make a big difference. For example, a stormy sky or barren winter landscape would evoke entirely different emotions than a peaceful sunset or lush summer landscape would.

3. Focus on the positive as well as the negative

In addition to documenting destruction or degradation, most conservation photographers also aim to capture the beauty of nature and wildlife, because by photographing both the positive and the negative, you’re able to demonstrate what we stand to lose if no action is taken.

So think about how you can portray both the beauty and the danger, or the positive and the negative in your conservation photographs. Maybe a once pristine landscape near your home has been marred by human activity or perhaps there’s a fascinating animal in your area that has been forced to alter its feeding patterns due to habitat destruction or climate change.

Some examples of powerful conservation photos that do this include Paul Nicklen’s photographs of polar bears struggling to survive the changing sea ice conditions or Peter Chadwick’s images of Africa’s iconic white rhinos being dehorned in efforts to reduce poaching.

4. Start networking

When you’re just getting into conservation photography, you’ll need to put some time and effort into networking so you can meet the key people who will be able to educate you on the issues, provide insider information and eventually help you get your message out to a wider audience.

Local conservation and non-profit groups or park departments are usually a good place to start, but you can also use social networks like Twitter or Facebook to find likeminded individuals in your area.

If you’re looking to improve your photography skills, familiarising yourself with the work of some of the leading conservation photographers can be both inspiring and educational. These days many of them are also on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, so you can easily follow their work and stay up-to-date on their latest projects.