North American Nature Photography Association

Connecting The Nature Photography Community


Ethics Committee

Seeing Beauty
By John Fielder

Over the years I've been asked by environmental organizations on more than one occasion if I could lend them photographs of forest clearcuts, atmospheric haze, abusive water diversions, and the like. I've usually had to say no. As much as I'd like to be able to provide such photography, as useful as I know it can be to the cause of protecting the planet, I can't seem to bring myself to photograph environmental degradation. I prefer that someone else do it.

Do I feel guilty? Not at all. I took up nature photography 30 years ago because I enjoyed being in nature and was enchanted with the imagery of Eliot Porter. I wanted to be like him. Thirty years later I'm still struggling to be like him, but have since developed an utter awe for the miracle of 3.8 billion years of the evolution of life on Earth. I have seen remarkable, sometimes unbelievable things and moments that barely register on a sheet of Velvia. The sublimeness of nature underlies every ounce of joy and contentment I've been able to achieve in life from family, friends, and career. I simply love to put nature at her best onto film. I get queasy when I see nature abused and abhor putting such things on film.

But that doesn't mean that I ignore the truth: that 3% of our most biologically diverse planetary places, our rain forests, are being clearcut each year; that tens of thousands of life forms are going extinct annually before we've even discovered them; that the burning of fossil fuels is causing climate change; that fresh water supplies are inadequate; that an excess of one species, homo sapiens, is eutrofying the planet, like algae consuming so much oxygen from a lake that other species cannot survive. It's so very sad, so illogical, so self destructive, that a couple of generations of humans are about to undo what took 3.8 billion years to make.

Photographing the degradation of nature so that decision-makers can use such evidence to make change for the better is only one way that a nature photographer can influence people. (And don't forget-you still need a way to distribute the image if you want it to affect somebody other than yourself-the same dilemma that exists marketing beautiful photographs.) You can easily impress people with the glory of nature, unabused and wild, the product of so many years of evolution.

In my experience, nothing captivates the soul like a well-composed, uniquely-lit image of the landscape, except for being there in person. Photographers can contribute to the cause of preserving biodiversity in other ways, too. Donate, not sell, your photographs to environmental and conservation organizations. Volunteer to make photographs of places needing protection for land trusts. Perform slide shows to benefit such groups by charging admission and donating the proceeds. If you have been published, acquire your books and calendars at significant discounts from the publisher and sell them after the show with all profits accruing to the organization. Donate fine art prints of your images to live and silent auctions benefiting the cause. Be a member of as many environmental groups as you can. Write letters at their behest to decision-makers and editorial boards at newspapers expressing your views about protecting nature. Don't be afraid to speak publicly about the need to protect and preserve nature. Use your images to enhance your presentation. Add music to intensify the experience. Who better to recruit allies and disciples than you, the nature photographer, who appreciates creation more than most?

There are so many ways to give back to the subject matter that allows you to pay for your film, a new camera, or perhaps make a living. Make no mistake, it is the obligation of the nature photographer to give back to his community, the community of each and every other life form with which we coexist on Earth. And if you don't believe that, then just be practical. If there's nothing to take pictures of, there goes your avocation, your career. Whether you choose to photograph environmental degradation, or express Eliot-Porter-style the miracle of life, or use your marketing skills to raise money and awareness for preservation, do something, and do it now. What we humans do in the next 20 years may very well determine the fate and integrity of biodiversity, and our own fate, too.

John Fielder has been a nature photographer for 30 years, is based in Colorado, and is the founder and owner of Westcliffe Publishers. He spent much of 2000 promoting Colorado's Responsible Growth Initiative, which ultimately failed at the ballot.

Seeing Beyond Beauty
by James Balog

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