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.
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.
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.
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.
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.