Conservation through the lens

There is no doubt that photography is an important tool for conservation. Yet the role of the photographer is often downplayed and good photos undervalued. Let me offer you the perspective of a budding nature photographer who has experienced some of these issues first hand.

Orange-bellied Parrot, Melaleuca, Tasmania, January 2011 x8

A young Orange-bellied Parrot, Neophema chrysogaster, tries to get food off an adult male (right) but the male is having nothing of it. The Orange-bellied Parrot is listed as Critically Endangered and breeds exclusively in the wilderness of SW Tasmania. With less than 50 birds remaining in the wild, they is very little hope for their continued survival unassisted.

I challenge anyone to find a successful conservation campaign that doesn’t make use of photos. In fact, the majority will be built entirely around photos. By making liberal use of photos, one can convey a sense of reality in showing people an endangered animal or plant. Let’s face it; the majority of people are not going to go to the effort of actually seeing the Critically Endangered Orange-bellied Parrot in the wild, so the only way they are going to know about it is through photos. No matter how good your imagination, it’s hard to get excited about the name Neophema chrysogaster.

Northern Giant Petrel with GPS tag from South Georgia, off Wollongong, NSW, June 2012x2

This Northern Giant-Petrel is wearing a GPS locater tag on its left leg from when it was banded in South Georgia. This photo was taken off eastern NSW, showing just how far these birds can wander. Many seabirds are endangered due to long-line fishing and other threats.

Some of my photos were once involved in a flyer about the Great Eastern Ranges initiative, set up by the government to try to promote and conserve connectivity along the eastern seaboard. While there was some text explaining the aims of the initiative, most of the poster consisted of photographs. Where large blocks of text seem disengage people, photos have the opposite effect.

Spot-tailed Quoll, Melaleuca, Tasmania, January 2011

Spot-tailed Quolls have declined drastically on the mainland, but still persist in good numbers in parts of Tasmania.

Despite the incredible importance of photos in conservation efforts, professional conservation photographers are few and far between. In my experience, photos are often taken for granted. These days, with the accessibility of digital cameras, there is an abundance of photos taken by amateurs who are willing to give away their images for free. While this can be great, it makes it much harder for nature photographers to make a living out of taking photos. What does it matter if a select group of people can’t make a living out of photos – surely its better that everyone can do it? Professional nature photographers often take more powerful, impact images while (hopefully) avoiding the sometimes negative impacts that (some) overzealous amateurs can have on sensitive species.


Sometimes we have to build around Nature…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dishing amateur nature photographers. After all, I am one. But I think there should be more recognition of the role that really good photos do play in conservation efforts. After all, you have to get a majority of people interested in conservation and nature, because if it is a minority group it will always struggle to gain momentum.

Thanks for reading.

Tobias Hayashi, student at the ANU and amateur nature photographer.


About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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3 Responses to Conservation through the lens

  1. Kien says:

    The photos are so amazing! and its so true without visual impacts/effects its hard to get people interests in conservation (to many extents). Its very interesting and very simple of the relationships between photos and conservation efforts that you pointed out.

  2. Thank you Tobias for a wonderful blog. You present a compelling (visual) argument. I hope to see more of your photos for many years to come. Phil

  3. Neil says:

    Hi Tobias,
    You should check out


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