Become a Conservation Photographer in 2010

December 28, 2009

Photo Tips


Note from Rick: I have seen many photographs of sandhill cranes illuminated by beautiful backlighting . . . but this image by Wendy Shattil is one of my favorites.

Just think about all the elements that came together for this image: dozens of sandhill cranes on the ground, one sandhill crane coming in for a landing, backlighting that created dramatic silhouettes, golden light . . . and of course the mist!

I spotted this photograph while flipping through the January/February 2010 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine. It immediately caught my eye. I love the lighting and composition – and perfect timing of the photograph. But perhaps more important, I like Wendy’s message. Read on.

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It was ironic to see this image on the cover of a magazine spotlighting global warming, because it was 25 degrees below zero when I photographed these sandhill cranes in Colorado’s San Luis Valley one February morning. Artesian wetlands, warm enough to stay liquid at such low temperatures, provided a perfect night roost for cranes as they recharged for a few weeks on their northern migration. In the extreme cold, the warm water turns to fog, creating ideal backlighting at sunrise.

This image truly is a conservation photograph, however, because these artesian ponds no longer exist. Whether caused by 2000 center pivots lowering the water table or less precipitation reducing the snowmelt that recharges the water basin in the San Luis Valley, conditions have changed. This wetland is dry. Photographing an area over time can document changes even if we’re not aware they’re happening.

Everyone with a camera who photographs nature has an opportunity to be a conservation photographer. Some say we have a responsibility to be stewards of the land that gives us so much in return. Being part of nature recharges our minds and hearts. The least we can do is return the favor.

To tell an environmental story requires only two things. One, there must be photos compelling enough to cause people to care. Two, show how that animal, ecosystem, plant or indigenous culture is at risk. The first takes technical skill to create beautiful images. The second takes a broad view of the changes.

With my longtime partner, Bob Rozinski, I spend most of my shooting time on subjects that will benefit from their story being told. The handful of workshops we lead have a conservation bent, as well.

On our June, 2010, Alaska Inside Passage trip, participants will learn to shoot an environmental story as we explore spectacular fjords, tidewater glaciers, and old-growth forests looking for whales, sea lions, tidal pools and bears. In September, we teach a wildlife photography skills workshop in conjunction with the Telluride Photo Festival during peak Colorado fall color.

Our three-day field class is followed by an extravaganza of events featuring a dozen top photographers in symposiums, portfolio reviews, presentations and print exhibits. Numerous fellow members of the International League of Conservation Photographers are participating.

Find info on both workshops at our website,

P.S. Rick here again. I’ve been involved with conservation photography for 30 years, focusing mostly on marine conservation. Here are four of my photographs that tell a story about conservation.

The first two images show terrible reef destruction in Lombok, Indonesia. Top: ghost-net covering a coral head; bottom: algae covering an entire reef. I actually cried in my face mask when I saw the bottom scene.


The images below show the beauty of the underwater environment. Top: whale shark that I photographed in Galapagos; bottom: clownfish in a sea anemone that I photographed in the Red Sea.

aLet’s all do our part in protecting our world. Please . . .

If you have a conservation image that you’d like to share, we’d love to see it. Post it in our flickr group.

Explore the Light,


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This post was written by:

- who has written 171 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Canon Explorer of Light Rick Sammon has published 36 books, including Exploring the Light and Digital Photography Secrets.

When asked about his photo specialty, Rick says, “My specialty is not specializing.”

You can follow Rick on twitter at and visit his website at

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7 Responses to “Become a Conservation Photographer in 2010”

  1. darrin Says:

    Great article. That would have been a terrible site to come across the destruction of the coral reefs. Those reefs are an area that no one would know are dying without photographers documenting them.


  2. Soren Hedberg Says:

    Hi Rick, great underwater photos. I was just wondering, what camera equipment do you use when taking these underwater photos?


  3. Buddy Eleazer Says:

    As a photographer, it is hard not to love wildlife or ‘that perfect landscape’, but perhaps just as strong of an emotion is evoked when I visit a pristine region (such as the African bush) and see visitors or tour guides whowing careless disregard for the plant life or animals in the name of getting a slightly better view. As individuals we may not be able to stop climate change, but we can at least be custodians of the surroundings we visit.


  4. Kyle Kuykendall Says:

    I’m just getting my feet wet and hope to follow leads like yours to a more mindful representation of what we may come to lose without intervention. The Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee have played a strong role in my life these last two years and should, with earnest effort, become a springboard for greater awareness – for me and (hopefully) my viewers. Thank you for sharing your experiences and wisdom.


  5. Photographer Cheshire Says:

    Really amazing photographs. This world is really beautiful and we should try hard to conserve its beauty.


  6. rick sammon Says:

    hi all

    currently, i am planning to put a Canon 5D or 7D in a housing. all those are film shots!




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