The Many Flavors of Conservation Photography

The Rock Creek Conservancy is partnering with the National Park Service and working with the local community to strategically restore five sites ("mini-oases") within Rock Creek Park.

The Rock Creek Conservancy is partnering with the National Park Service and working with the local community to strategically restore five sites (“mini-oases”) within Rock Creek Park.

Story & photo by Frank Gallagher

When we think of conservation photography, we often have in mind images of the grand and majestic:  elephants, whales and tigers; the Grand Canyon, glaciers and coral reefs.  You don’t have to be a well-known photographer like Joel Sartore or Florian Schulz, or work with National Geographic or the Sierra Club to have an impact.  Those are all important, to be sure, but not everything has to be charismatic megafauna, epic landscapes, famous names or mass media.  There are also many opportunities for conservation photography in the small, in the local and in the mundane.  Sometimes, opportunity is knocking in places you’ve come to take for granted.

I was thinking about that recently, during a project for Nature Photography Day.

I often work with small to mid-sized nonprofit organizations and know how important images are in telling their stories.  These organizations use photos for social media, awareness building, annual reports, fund raising, documenting their impact, targeted communications and much, much more.  It’s no surprise that the same is true for conservation organizations.

Rock Creek Park, an urban oasis in Washington, DC, and suburban Maryland, is the third oldest national park, authorized by Congress in 1890.  I’m a frequent visitor, hiking, photographing and enjoying its natural beauty.  When I interviewed Shirley Nuhn, the “Godmother of Nature Photography Day,” for an article, it didn’t take long for us to cook up a local Nature Photography Day event.  She contacted the Rock Creek Conservancy and, before you knew it, the Conservancy and NANPA’s Washington, DC-area Meetup group (which I co-lead) had scheduled an event.

Our “Nature Photography Day Walk in the Park” brought Conservancy volunteers and photographers together last Saturday, June 15th.  Volunteers were removing invasive plants from an area while photographers were documenting the event, photographing invasive and native plants, beneficial and destructive insects, and learning about the Conservancy’s many needs for photographs.

Katy Cain from the Rock Creek Conservancy shows photographers how to identify the invasive winged burning-bush plant during Nature Photography Day event.

Katy Cain from the Rock Creek Conservancy shows photographers how to identify the invasive winged burning-bush plant during Nature Photography Day event.

The Conservancy’s communications manager, Katy Cain, told us they have a constant need for images that show their work and impact, for use in all kinds of communications.  They need photos of volunteer work trips and stream cleanup days.  They seek photos that show the impact of trash, pollution and invasive species on the creek and parklands.  They’d like photos detailing the variety of wildlife making homes in the park.  The Conservancy is looking for volunteer photographers to “adopt” one of their mini oasis sites, and document the restoration process over time.  The possibilities are endless.

At Rock Creek Park, I can do conservation photography in (almost) my own back yard.  And so can you!  There are Friends organizations and conservancies for many national, state and local parks and natural areas.  Organizations like these help protect, restore and conserve these precious resources.  And, along with donations and volunteer time, they can use our photographic help.

I’m not going to be holding my breath for an invitation from the International League of Conservation Photographers, but I’ll be doing conservation photography.  I won’t be saving the Grand Canyon, but I might help one small area, in some small way.  It all matters.

There are many flavors of conservation photography, from miniature to majestic, and local to global.  There’s something for everyone.  So, what’s your flavor?