A silent smile of a manatee, a glance from a great blue heron in the distance, otters playing in the morning light, fish making their way through waving underwater vegetation, a turtle sunbathing on a log. This is where I feel home, this is where my soul belongs.
After photographing Florida’s springs for a few years, I wanted to do more than just create a “pretty picture”. The focus was too much on the photographer rather than the object in front of my lens.
I felt a calling to show Florida’s tranquility of seemingly untouched spaces but also open people’s eyes to its cry for help. This is when I found Conservation photography. It is storytelling in its purest form.
Conservation Photography creates a balance between beauty and peril, with empathy on providing the audience with hope and inspiration.
I believe it is our ethical obligation as photographers to share what we witness out in nature and to use our cameras as a tool to give a voice to the unheard.
The images have little to do with winning recognition or prices. The greatest accomplishment comes directly from the wild creatures themselves.
The moment they trust me enough to catch small fractions of their lives is the highest compliment I could imagine.
Conservation photography is about raising awareness through combining our own emotions and experiences with true facts.
To create a peaceful image, the animal must feel at peace. For others to respect wildlife, we must respect wildlife first. Conservation photography revolves around putting the well-being of animals first.
Possibly the most contradicting statement I mention to audiences is “…not taking a picture is sometimes the highest form of conservation photography…”.
I have missed many photo opportunities on purpose to establish a healthy connection with the wildlife.
We should be mindful and realize even the shutter release button could have an unexpected impact on the animal’s behavior. One of the techniques I often use is to completely ignore my subject at first. I point the camera into the opposite direction or paddle the other way so I am not seen as a threat. I patiently wait for the animal to lose its initial fear and to grow more curious and more at ease.
Trying to understand an animal is one of the best ways to capture pictures.
The most important advice I can offer is to be in-tuned with the animal. This is where change happens. The goal is to establish trust, even if it means not getting the shot and having to walk away.
Some of the questions I ask myself before even attempting to fire the shutter are:
Does the animal feel comfortable or threatened? Is it trying to forage? Does it have offspring that it's trying to feed and protect?
The true art of photography is taking pictures without altering the animal’s behavior. We should be confident in our skills but take pride in our ethics.
Many, if not all of us, love animal babies. Their innocence awakens a lot of emotions within us. Capturing intimate moments between mother and young ranks high on every photographer's list. However, I suggest holding off (or even withholding) locations of sensitive nesting grounds for a while. This is to avoid adding stress to the family raising their young.
Not disclosing certain locations out of concern for the flora and fauna is a big deal. I think I should mention Conservation Photography might not be for everyone if you’re not ok with gaining some “enemies” along the way. I have lost sales because I did not tell the interested buyer where the picture was taken. From the very beginning, it was clear to me that my priority was to advocate and try to protect Florida’s wild places and its amazing creatures I care so deeply for.
My exhibit in Cedar Key last spring coincided with a great horned owl nesting nearby so I decided to see it. Upon arrival I noticed a few photographers lined up with tripods. After less than a few minutes of shooting some pictures of the owlets peeking from their nest, I put my lens cap back on and turned the camera off. I noticed the surprised looks of the photographers. Through a brief conversation, I found out that they had been photographing the owl family for 3 days straight, sometimes standing there for over eight hours at a time. My stomach instantaneously formed a knot. All I could offer in reply was “...Would you want strangers hovering over your baby's crib all day...?” Probably not a way to gain friends?
The more I dive into conservation photography, the more I am aware of my own impact on the wildlife. Because of this, I challenged myself to take pictures blindly from my kayak rather than swimming with manatees this winter. I was pleasantly surprised how well it worked and most of all, it felt extremely rewarding. I am not implying that all people swimming with manatees are bad, but I hope it is a good example of how we all have the ability to make small, positive changes for the wild.
Empathy and respect towards wildlife is key to fully understanding our mission as conservation photographers.
I hope this instills a little bit of inspiration. Feel free to email me with any questions you might have.