As wildlife photographers, we have a special appreciation for the wild. However, many of our favorite species and wild places are under threat due to development pressures, climate change, and other causes. Enter conservation photography, which has proven again and again that the visual medium can effect change.
What is Conservation Photography?
Conservation photography is exactly how it sounds, using photography (and videography) as a tool to raise awareness and spur action for a conservation issue.
Why is it so powerful?
We are visual creatures. Vision is our most dominant sense and a significant percentage of the human brain is dedicated to visual processing. When we see an image, we are able to analyze it and infer its meaning and significance almost immediately.
But seeing is more than just analyzing. The visual mediums of photography and videography can elicit an emotional reaction that trigger our heart, in addition to our brain. It’s this emotional reaction which is so critical to inspire action. That’s why conservation photography can be so powerful. It is a bridge between art and science that can speak louder than words in a report.
Defining the issue
As a first step, you need to identify what kind of conservation issue you would like to focus on. Is it habitat degradation, greater protections, the effects of climate change, pollution, poaching, wildlife corridors, natural resource extraction, disease, or something else? Try to be as specific as you can. It’s easier to start small and focused on an issue local to you before progressing to bigger issues.
Shift your mindset
You are no longer trying to capture “the shot”. Now you need a “series of shots” that form a cohesive narrative. Here, it’s really helpful to storyboard, or to pre-plan the various different shots (or videos) you need to tell the story.
Critically, you need to be more than a wildlife photographer. This means that you will also need to capture landscape and portraits too. In most wildlife conservation stories, it is important to showcase the environment and the people on working on the conservation frontlines. The more you can bring together people, the environment, and wildlife, the stronger your conservation project will likely be.
Captions are critical to convey vital important about the what, when, where, and why of a conservation issue. Without this information, the viewer can draw their own conclusions, which may be different from the conclusion you intended.
It’s important to take the time to write a good caption. Why? Well, an eye-tracking study funded by the National Press Photographers Association in the United States showed that “the longer or better developed a caption, the more likely it was to receive attention. Most captions were read to completion, as people looked back and forth between caption and image, establishing context.“
Make the case
Making all the photos and videos are necessary, but not sufficient for a conservation project. You will still need to make the case as to why your conservation issue is important and what you would like to see happen.
Here, it’s important to write. You can either do it yourself or find someone to help you. The narrative should clearly explain the conservation issue, why it’s important to you, and how change can be made. Similar to writing captions, it takes time to get the messaging right. But once you do, you have all the critical ingredients for a successful conservation photography project.
If you want to your project to have an impact, it needs to be seen by as many eyes as possible. Social media is a great place to start. So post your photos to Instagram and Facebook with the necessary context and call to action. But there are other important outlets too. Consider making your project available to local media, your elected representatives, and any ongoing conservation campaigns. Conservation ultimately is about building a coalition for a particular cause. And your project could be just what is needed to bring the necessary stakeholders together.
Did you know that there are organizations who want to help fund your conservation photography project? Partnership grants provide an opportunity to offset some of the costs, expand the scope of your project, and to allow you to benefit from working alongside a conservation focused institution. Unfortunately, there is no site that links to all the grants for this purpose. It is a shortcoming that we are planning to fix.
Follow along our conservation projects
Canmore Connects (website coming soon) about the important of protecting the integrity of wildlife corridors. Here’s a preview.
Death by Train (website coming soon), which is dedicated to Bear 143 (the feature image of this post) who was tragically killed by a train shortly after the photo was taken.
We are here to help you
Have an idea for your own conservation project? Please get in touch and we’ll do everything we can to help you!
Updated: February 15, 2022