Conservation Photography…Sorry, What is That?

When I introduce myself as a conservation photographer, I am typically met with a smile and nod, followed by a perplexed look and usually the question, “Sorry, what is conservation photography?” It’s a fair question and one that I’m happy to answer. The short answer is that conservation photography is focussed on issues relating to environmental conservation. It’s a simplified explanation that usually satisfies the question. There is of course much more depth to it than that though.

I have been passionate about conservation since my teenage years but it took most of my life to find a form of expression that I feel most at home with. I have been directly and indirectly involved in activism for several years and tried to live according to my values. I keep informed on many important conservation issues and engage in thoughtful discussion whenever the opportunity allows for it. I considered politics and then ruled that out, and missed an opportunity to pursue a career in environmental sciences. I have known for most of my life that this was my calling; the challenge for me was determining how to make it a part of my daily life in a way that felt both rewarding and meaningful.

Years ago a friend of mine took up photography as a side job, and as I watched her pursue her interest I often thought that I would would like to do the same but with a focus on wildlife and landscape photography. I began to give the thought more consideration in recent years, which led me to seek out other people already engaged in the field. When I began to see the work of legends like Paul Nicklen, Cristina Mittermeier, and Ian McAllister I saw the potential that conservation photography had to elicit powerful emotional responses to critical issues. That’s when I knew that I had to pursue conservation photography as a career.

I am on the road now but I can see that I have a long way to travel. It didn’t take long for others to offer words of discouragement, suggesting that it is nearly impossible to make a career in this field and that the world is already saturated with photographers. It’s not hard to recognize the truth in what they say; I too see some extraordinary photographers who are not making a living from their efforts but are content to post their images for free. How then do you rise above the clatter to stand above the crowd? I don’t have the answers yet but I am in no way deterred from my goals. I will become a great conservation photographer one day, not to satisfy my ego or for the recognition but because I believe with my being that my purpose in life is to act on behalf of the extraordinary diversity of life that this planet supports. That is what conservation photography is to me.

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