Not all conservation photographs are taken for the same reasons and purposes. Your particular goal will determine what sort of approach you use for each shot.
Story and photos by Dave Huth
When people learn I’m a “conservation photographer,” they may form many different ideas about what my pictures look like.
No matter what they’re thinking, they’re probably right!
Photography can support the work of conservation in many different ways. Each makes good use of a certain kind of photograph. When I’m in the field, I try to keep in mind the particular ways my pictures might meet a conservation goal — and I set up my shots accordingly.
In an exercise of bipartisanship, the U.S. Senate is just passed a major conservation bill, S. 47 The Natural Resources Management Act, by a vote of 92-8 and the White House has signaled the president will sign it. The House of Representatives will take up the legislation later this month.
The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project interviews NANPA member Cindy Miller Hopkins.
What’s so special about a photo of five penguins? You could get that at a local zoo. Certainly, during NANPA member and travel and photographer Cindy Miller Hopkin’s trip last year to the far reaches of the South Atlantic, she had plenty of photos of penguins. But one shot, from off the South Sandwich Islands, turned out to be unique.
As she was editing and captioning her shots, Cindy noticed that there were five different species of penguins in one frame. That seemed unusual and she brought it to the attention of an ornithologist on the tour who told her he’d never seen an image with five species in the same place, at the same time. Further research revealed that no one else had either.
Outstanding Photographer of the Year Florian Schulz.
The Outstanding Photographer of the Year Award goes to an individual who has demonstrated unquestioned skill and excellence as a nature photographer through his or her past work and who has produced extraordinary recent work of significance to the industry. That would be a pretty good description of the career of Florian Schulz, the 2019 Outstanding Photographer of the Year.
Schulz is a photographer, filmmaker, speaker and teacher, specializing in wildlife and conservation photojournalism. He is a Senior Founding Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and serves on the iLCS board. He’s been published in publications like National Geographic magazine and is an in-demand speaker.
White-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus leucogenys) seen through bars, dangles from the door frame of his enclosure evoking a sense of frustration, boredom, loneliness at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Story & photo by Haley R. Pope
Most of what makes a wildlife photograph great is the photographer’s ability to get inside the head of the animal and show the world through their eyes. What are they thinking? How do they see their environment? How do they see us? What is their story? In other words, a photographer needs to create an emotional connection to the subject or elicit an emotional response in the viewer. Emotion creates a layer of dimensionality that help us suspend judgments and see honestly.
The rest of what makes a great photograph is the photographer’s ability to correctly, and technically, control the camera so as to represent the scene as one saw and felt it. How am I going to tell the story? What landscape elements should I include? Do I need a shallow or wide depth of field? Should I over or underexpose the shot? How fast should I set my shutter speed? Do I have enough lighting? Where should I physically be positioned? These questions should be in your mind as you think about how to communicate your message and how to set yourself up to create your photo.
The two questions I ask myself before and during every photo shoot is: 1) what story do I want to tell and 2) how am I going to craft my image so the story is clear to viewers?
A Day at the Zoo
I have never been a fan of zoos, but on a warm day in June I decided to go. After I arrived, it wasn’t difficult to decide what story to tell. I wanted to tell the story of what it’s like to be locked up against one’s will. I wanted us to put ourselves in the animal’s shoes, so to speak, so I needed the emotional connection to be strong and our similarities to be obvious. I wanted us to consider what role we should play in other animals’ lives and whether or not there is even a need for animal exhibits like zoos.
As I passed through each exhibit and looked at the faces and body language of the animals inside, I was overcome with emotions of loneliness, sadness, boredom, and frustration; emotions I felt emanating from the animals themselves. Emerging from the kangaroo exhibit, I crossed the paved walkway and entered the primate center. No animal that day seemed to express the story so noticeably or poignantly than the white-cheeked gibbon. I knew this is where I would find my shot.
I watched the male gibbon for several minutes without picking up my camera and took note of his environment and behavior. I noticed whether the gibbon made eye contact with me and how he moved around the space. Then I circled the enclosure while thinking about how I’d like to compose the shot. What elements will help drive home my message and how I should represent the being inside?
I decided to include the metal bars of the enclosure as a frame for my subject since that’s exactly what they are. I also wanted to include both man-made and natural elements to provide context and juxtaposition. Focusing on the gibbon’s body language would illustrate both how similar our bodies are and how misplaced his own seems in contrast to the surrounding concrete and metal.
At one point, the gibbon stood up from where he sat and walked towards the interior door. With his back to me, he dangled from the door by its hinges and swayed back in forth in the characteristic way of under-stimulated animals. This was it. I raised my camera and snapped the shot. But I felt guilty as I turned and left him, embarrassed that I could just walk away while he stayed there, hanging and swaying.
Nature photographers don’t typically strive to capture disturbing situations. We want to show how beautiful the natural world is, in its raw form, and how we are all connected. But that is only half the story. If we never represent the other side of reality, we can become passive and complacent. I wanted to capture the other side of reality during my zoo visit. Because all animals are part of nature and zoos are not filled with happy carefree animals. They are filled with captives.
Haley R. Pope is a zoologist and conservationist with a passion for photography and writing. She uses those mediums to explore wildlife conservation topics and share biological knowledge in a visual story-like format to inspire awe of our planet’s inherent beauty and encourage the responsible treatment of nature. As the president and owner of TerraLens Photography LLC, she offers freelance photography, writing, and photo archiving services to other companies.
Haley is also a trip leader for Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program, which operates in more than 40 countries and builds houses for those in need. In the future, she’d like to lead ecological and photography focused trips. Connect with her below!
Sebastian Kennerknecht photographing on coast, Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, United Kingdom
Conservation photographer and iLCP Associate Fellow Sebastian Kennerknecht will receive NANPA’s 2019 Emerging Photographer Award at the 2019 Nature Photography Summit and Trade Show, February 21-23 in Las Vegas, NV. This award (formerly the NANPA Vision Award) is “given to an emerging photographer in “recognition of excellence and serves to encourage continuation of vision and inspiration to others in nature photography, conservation, and education.”
Among the criteria for this award are “a commitment to achieving a positive impact upon nature photography, and the conservation and protection of the natural world; plus the education of the general public about conservation and nature issues.” The awards committee noted that Kennerknecht is “emerging as an important wildlife photographer, especially in the area of wild cats, and species that have not been widely documented. His focus on ethical field practices and species conservation is a model that many other photographers should follow. His frequent and smart use of social media to share his imagery and message are constantly growing in popularity, ensuring that he is truly advocating for the power and need of high quality nature photography.”
Kennerknecht’s work in photographing and documenting wild cats, both well- and little-known species, and his work with scientists, conservationists and social media to educate the public, make him an ideal recipient for this award. We were fortunate to ask Sebastian a few questions in between his travels.
Screen shot of The Times (UK) article about a film crew intervening in nature.
If you saw an animal in the wild that appeared to be in distress, would you try to help? Would you report it to the authorities? Would you leave it alone, since it’s just nature being nature? As nature photographers, we are interested in conservation and generally love the animals we photograph. Is it our responsibility to let nature take its course, even if an animal dies? Is it our responsibility to save the animal? Or, does it depend on the specific situation?
To nature photographers and his long-time fans, Lepp needs no introduction. As the awards committee noted, he is “one of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers. His passions for natural beauty, technical precision, cutting-edge technology, and environmental responsibility are revealed in his beautiful and compelling photographic images. He is also widely recognized for his unique dedication to sharing his photographic and biological knowledge with other photographers through his seminars and writing. In both realms, George Lepp is a leader in the rapidly advancing field of digital imaging.”
Shooting Elephant Rock under a full moon. Photograph by Cathy Illg.
It’s that time of year again, the season we set aside for giving thanks. And even in these days of environmental degradation NANPA members have much to be grateful for. For the time being at least, we still have an incredible wealth of both locations and species just begging to be captured with a camera. How long we’ll have them is anyone’s guess, but for today let us be thankful we still have subjects to point a lens at.
A while back, we asked a cross section of NANPA members whether Instagram and its social media cousins had changed anything about their nature photograph and, if so, how. Did it change their approach to photography, to sharing images, to marketing their business? Did it change the type of images they created or the way they processed images? We’ll continue posting the answers in a series of blogs over the next few weeks.