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Photography and the Environment

Marianne Stenger
1st September 2019

Each of us, no matter where in the world we live, will be or have already been impacted in some way by environmental threats such as climate change, air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, deforestation and soil degradation.

Photography is one of the most powerful tools there is when it comes to conveying a strong message, as it can spur people into action in a way that scientific data or even compelling speeches can’t. It’s for this reason that an increasing number of nature photographers have begun documenting not just the beauty of nature, but also the threats it faces.

Wildlife and landscape photographer Daniel Hauck believes that getting more people to enjoy their local nature and wildlife can be a good way to draw attention to issues such as habitat destruction or species extinction.

“My main aim when photographing wildlife at the moment is to try and inspire more people to get outside and enjoy their local nature. Then hopefully this will lead to more people wanting to protect the species and habitats that we have,” he says.

“One of the facts I like to share with people, which usually shocks them, is that the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. Despite nature struggling against all odds to survive, more than one in seven native species face extinction and more than half are in decline.”

The good news is that if you’re a photographer, you have the ability to make a difference in your corner of the world, and you don’t necessarily need a huge online following to draw attention to an issue you feel passionately about. Wondering how to get started? Here are some tips for using your photography skills to draw attention to environmental issues.

Find a subject that’s close to home

When it comes to photographing environmental issues, there are often so many separate issues that it can be difficult to zero in on a specific problem. But in order to tell a coherent story through your images, it’s important to narrow down your focus and find an angle.

We don’t all have the ability to go out and photograph the melting ice caps or Amazon rainforest fires, but there are probably issues closer to home that aren’t as well documented.

Conservation photographer Sebastian Kennerknecht explains that focusing on local issues allows you to invest more time into a project and document how an environment has changed over time or the threats a specific species might be facing. Additionally, when people’s attention is drawn to issues that are close to home, they’re more likely to feel like they have the ability to take positive action.

For example, is there an endangered location or animal in your area? Perhaps there’s a natural space that has become a dumping ground, or a park that provides shelter for a range of wildlife and is now being threatened by a new housing development.

Take the time to understand the issues

You can’t properly document an issue unless you fully understand it. So the next step once you’ve chosen a theme or topic for your photo essay is to take the time to learn more about the issues and also the outcomes you hope to achieve.

For example, what makes the location or species valuable or special? Is anything currently being done to protect the environment or species? What is the best way to protect it? How will humans be impacted by the issue? What role can humans play in resolving the issue? Is there anything you need to know local regulations or animal behaviours?

 

Think about the best way to present your story

When it comes to photographing environmental causes, it’s important to present the story in such a way that it will appeal to your target audience.

Some photographers prefer to focus on portraying the beauty of a species or natural environment in order to show people what we stand to lose if we don’t protect nature and wildlife, whereas others choose to photograph the raw reality and create slightly more shocking images of things like littered beaches or struggling wildlife.

Neither of these approaches is right or wrong, it just depends on who your audience is, as well as your preferred style as a photographer and storyteller. You might also find that the best way to present your story is to use a mixture of both types of images in order to create a sense of urgency and also inspire people to take action to protect their local nature.

Find multiple avenues for sharing your images

Since the whole point of photographing local environmental issues is to share them with a wider audience, it’s important to put some thought into how you would like to do this. Although Instagram and Facebook can be wonderful tools for sharing your images, you should try to think beyond social media alone. 

For example, you might decide to create a website where you can share your images and tell your story in more depth. Or perhaps you could turn your best images into a photo book and use the proceeds to support local conservation projects. The Remembering Wildlife series created by conservationist and wildlife photographer Margot Raggett is a good example of this.

Local conservation groups or nonprofits are often also in need of high quality images for their websites, newsletters or brochures, as this helps them tell their story and raise awareness. Or maybe you could get the images published by a local magazine or even exhibit them in galleries, museums, and coffee shops in your city.

As you can see, there are many possible ways to share your images and get the story out there, which is why it would be a shame to limit yourself to just one method.

If you’d like to learn more about how photography and conservation can go hand-in-hand, check out our interview with conservation photographer Sebastian Kennerknecht.  Alternatively, if you’re already well on your way with your photo essay; be sure to explore our photo book features at Bob Books and find the best format for your project.