Florida-based conservation photographer and underwater photojournalist Jennifer Adler will receive one of NANPA’s Outstanding Young Photographer of the Year Awards during the 2021 Nature Photography Virtual Summit, April 29-30. She earned a degree in marine biology from Brown University and a PhD in interdisciplinary ecology from the University of Florida. “Having a background in science allows me to communicate science accurately and impactfully,” she says. “I often write and photograph stories, so understanding science and being able to read complex peer-reviewed papers helps me ask the right questions of the researchers and then use the more creative part of my brain to tell a visual story that brings science to a wider audience in a compelling way.” She’s given TED Talks and presentations for museums and conservation organizations, has an extensive list of publication credits, and has been awarded Young Explorer and Storytelling grants from National Geographic.
Water has always been central to Jennifer’s life, so it’s not surprising that it plays a central role in her work now. Much of what she does is focused on the relationships between people and water in a changing climate. She trained as a freediver and cave diver and has explored and documented Florida’s freshwater springs and underwater caves, but also dives and photographs all over the world. Her most recent Storytelling grant from National Geographic supports an project to document the effects of climate change on kelp forests and the women freedivers in Japan.
She grew up sailing and racing competitively. “I spent way more time on top of the water than beneath the surface, like I do now. I didn’t pick up a camera until after my sailing career was over post college.”
It isn’t easy to blend compelling storytelling and complex science topics. “Sometimes I struggle to turn off the science part of my brain—scientists love statistics and percentages and introduce caveats every step of the way. Communicating science doesn’t ignore these nuances but rather communicates what we do know and tells a compelling story about the scientists themselves and their work in the field or lab. As a society, we’re pretty disconnected from not only nature but the scientific process, and telling stories about scientists helps build trust in science and can help inspire the next generation of scientists and storytellers.”
A career as a freelance photojournalist specializing in underwater photography isn’t exactly a fast track to fame and riches, but it can be immensely rewarding and pay off in other ways. Jennifer sees amazing opportunities for storytelling. “[It] can be solitary in that you travel alone a lot, but I’ve also found it to be really fulfilling and social because it leads to having friends all over the world and building close friendships with other photographers who I’ve collaborated with. We can always tell stronger and more impactful stories together, drawing on each person’s unique skillset.”
A sense of community
“Having a community and a support network is crucial,” Jennifer noted. “During normal times, I see photo friends in DC at National Geographic or iLCP conferences and at NANPA events, etc. But most of this connection happens online these days. It’s nice to have an engaging community on Instagram and to have a platform where you can keep up with friends who are doing similar things but often in very faraway places.
“I first heard about NANPA through my friend and former NANPA president Gabby Salazar,” Jennifer said. [Salazar will receive NANPA’s Emerging Photographer Award at the Nature Photography Virtual Summit.] “We actually went to Brown together, where the mascot is a brown bear, but we didn’t meet until after college when we were both part of a fellowship that brought us to Alaska to photograph brown bears. I was fortunate to be part of the NANPA College Photography Scholarship Program as a graduate student and met a lot of photographers who I still call close friends. It’s this community that keeps me going even when things are hard.
“I’m continually surprised by how hardworking and supportive the nature and conservation photography community is,” she continued. “As freelancers, all of us have to be really creative with how we make a living and are generally working long hours all over the country or perhaps the world, but there’s no shortage of people who will go out of their way to help you out.”
As with many others, the coronavirus pandemic disrupted Jennifer’s plans. “For the past year and a half, I’ve been trying to make it to Japan to work on that National Geographic Society storytelling grant about the impact of climate change on female freedivers. Because we can’t travel right now, I have been telling a lot of stories from where I’m based in Florida, including one about seagrasses for HuffPost, a National Geographic project about water conservation, and a story about how we’ve altered the hydrology of our watery state, told from a sailboat crossing Florida via Lake Okeechobee.”
But it doesn’t seem like anything will keep her down. “Amidst the pandemic, I bought a sailboat—we’re in a boat yard in Florida fixing her up right now—and then plan to sail around the world over the next few years telling science stories at sea.
About the award
NANPA established the Outstanding Young Photographer of the Year Award in 2019 to recognize photographers between the ages of 15 and 30 whose growing body of work demonstrates increasing maturity and who exhibit the following criteria:
- Personal Vision: The nominee demonstrates a commitment to achieving a positive impact upon nature photography.
- Quality of Work: The nominee’s nature photographic imagery demonstrates an ever-increasing maturity in artistic ability and craftsmanship.
- Dedication to Learning: The nominee demonstrates a commitment to increasing his/her nature photography skill sets, preferably through independent study (of photography and nature) and self-assigned nature photography projects.