Pictures with a Purpose

Are you aware that 90 percent of nature photography output is non-conservation oriented? Are you also aware that the list of well-known environmental/conservation photographers worldwide is actually very short?

Some photography friends and I were musing about this not so long ago as we talked over lunch about the crisis state of today’s environment.

We agreed that it is no longer enough just to take pretty pictures. We photographers need to be putting our collective images to much better use.

The pressing need is two-fold: (a) to create compelling images that visually inform viewers about that which is worth saving in our natural world; and (b) to encourage conservation education by connecting our photography with the educational and scientific and environmental resources that can make a difference.

The quest, in other words, is for photographers to become ever more creative but with a purpose.

Communicate with Your Photos

The art of photography is more than technique and equipment. It is a dynamic form of communication. So go the extra mile with your work: research your subjects, explore the issues, and focus on educational purpose and politics. Put yourself, and your work, out there on a limb and take a stand. Put it where people can see it and learn from it. Take it to the web, to schools, to the media, to the local governments and institutions in your own back yard.

But do SOMETHING other than just accumulate images!

Pretty Pictures

The notion of pretty pictures is a shallow and one-dimensional concept. We can do better than that. Toxic waste dumps do not yield pretty pictures but – if we try – we can find emotionally provocative images even there. Stretch yourself. Look for the deeper meanings in things.

Think BIG.

In zoos, explore the affective dimensions of the animals that you are photographing.

Lawry Park Zoo Tampa Bay (Florida)

Try to show their angst, their life force. Zoom in on the details that make them who they are. Try to capture their essence. The same with animals or birds in their natural environment; Let your picture tell their story. Who are these creatures and why should we care about them? What possible role do they play in our own lives?

In our urban centers seek images that transcend the clutter and that speak to the human condition. Is this what we want our lives to be? Is it enough? Is a treeless world worth the cost?

When you travel, document the toll that tourism itself takes. Notice the impacts. Try to show how your own efforts to explore the Earth differ from others. Investigate the notion of ecotourism and what it really means. Illustrate the costs where big business prevails.

Look for the details that show how life is faring.

But Time is of the Essence

There is no time to waste because we are losing our natural world as we speak.

Example: 1,000 new people are moving to the state of Florida every week – imagine the impact. Florida boating enthusiasts are in an escalating struggle with the Endangered Florida Manatee and guess who is winning. The Florida Everglades are sinking. Non-native plant species are encroaching. And that is just for starters! And that’s just in Florida.

The same kind of thing is going on in every state in the United States; all over the world for that matter. Development is wreaking havoc.

What were once green spaces with expansive buffers of evergreens are being turned into condominiums and high-rises and urban financial centers – yes, as life itself hangs in the balance.

Lawry Park Zoo Tampa Bay (Florida)

Some Links to Know About

The Future of Life
A powerful, provocative book by Edward O. Wilson

Grist Magazine
One of the premier environmental newsletters on the Web

Legacy Institute for Nature & Culture
Building Connections to Natural Heritage

Leave a comment

Filed under The Art of Photography

Comments are closed.