Conservation photography lies at the intersection of art and communication. It can be documentary, capturing the unfolding events of an environmental issue or purely conceptual, expressing ideas through materials like ocean trash.
We gathered 4 of our Ambassadors all using photography in different ways to talk about all of the ways it can generate change.
Sophie Dingwall | @sophiedingwall
Sophie grew up sailing dinghy’s and says, “growing up, the environment wasn’t really something I was made aware of, I lived in the countryside and everything was quite nice.” After school she decided to become a professional sailor and while working out at sea came face to face with ocean issues like plastic pollution.
She took a break from sailing to study photography, but after working in a commercial studio on product photography she started feeling the pull to put her new skills to use for the ocean. The position of deckhand for Round the World came up and she jumped at the chance to do so.
Sophie says that she loves to focus on people when telling stories through photographs, if you can connect the audience with the human element they are more likely to be moved. Her other top tip is to put yourself in odd positions, mix up your perspective by getting low, or high. Don’t be afraid to seek new vantage points.
… if you connect the audience with the human element they are more likely to be moved.
Jaime Colman | @jamierandimaging
Jamie was a marine toxicologist but left her field to become a photographer. She sailed from Antigua to Aruba on Leg 4 of Round the World. The crew visited the municipal waste site which is separated by only a mangrove forest to the sea. She tried to capture the juxtaposition between the tropical, serene landscape and the landfill.
… capture the solutions, not just the problem.
She says that showing what we think of a place, such as “pristine” against the reality of the situation can be moving for audiences. She also reminds us to capture the solutions, not just the problem. While visiting the islands she also photographed sculptures made of marine debris.
Marjan Verschraegen | @ocean_trash
Originally from Belgium, Marjan is a visual artist, photographer and environmental technician living in Alabama. With a love for film she works primarily with Hasslebald and pinhole cameras.
Photography took her around the world and she landed in the Gulf of Mexico right after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While waiting on her visa to start she volunteered with a sea turtle project looking for tracks and began to notice the marine debris. Marjan thought, “Oh my god, I have to do something with this,” and began her project Ocean Trash. She captures pieces of trash right there on the beach and then photoshops in a white background so that people have nowhere else to look but at the ocean trash.
Marjan stresses that it’s not about the camera, use whatever is going to work best for your situation and subject – which might be your phone!
… it’s not about the camera, use whatever is going to work best for your situation and subject…
Nikkey Dawn | @nikkeydawn
Nikkey is a photographer and writer living on Vancouver Island. She sailed on the North Pacific Leg 2 capturing content for our social media and photos for publication and ambassador use. Having worked as an editor, Nikkey advises thinking about what type of shots you need before going out into the field. How are you going to tell the story? What will the publication or website need? Think about the “hero” image that gives a sense of place and the story as well as the detail and action shots that will pull people into the moment.
… think about where your blind spots might be due to your unique privileges.
With environmental stories, she says a reconnaissance trip can be crucial to understanding the intersections within the environmental issues. It will also familiarize you with the location and help you build meaningful connections with people and place. She reminds us it’s important to follow the ethics of your field of photography and think about where your blind spots might be due to your unique privileges. If it’s a heated environmental issue, know beforehand what level of confrontation you are and aren’t comfortable with, put your safety first and learn what your rights are as a member of the media.
All of our ambassadors agreed that working in conservation photography can be as meaningful as it is challenging. Many photographers are also working in other fields of photography or have alternate streams of income. It isn’t always easy to find the funding to tell these types of stories and many projects can become personal passion projects, but they’re hopeful that this field will be more supported in the future. If you’re just starting out, know that you don’t have to go far or have the latest equipment – there are conservation stories waiting to be told everywhere from your backyard to the depths of the ocean!