To some, wildlife photography may seem like little more than a traveler’s hobby with limited impact on the actual, practical world. I can understand this point of view: photos of animals are, to some, a form of entertainment to be consumed casually on the web or an Instagram feed. But these images may have value far beyond what those people believe.
As a photographer myself, it’s my business to see the bigger picture: photography’s role in education and conservation. When nature photographers capture beautiful images of endangered species in their natural habitats, they are sharing pictures of some creatures that the public would never see, let alone care for, without the passion and ability of the person behind the lens.
Here’s why photographing endangered animals is a critical service in today’s world, and one I’m proud and honored to provide when I can.
1. Awareness of rare species
Animals in wildlife reserves, zoos, and the wild need support and funding, from the government, private institutions, and more importantly the public at large. It’s hard to get people to care about creatures they can’t see in places they’ve never been — which is where photography comes into play.
Back in the mid-19th century, the photograph Carleton Watkins took of Yosemite helped convince President Abraham Lincoln to sign a 1864 bill declaring the valley inviolable and paving the way for the National Parks system. This is just one example of the power of strong photography’s power — politically, in this case. The same can be done for wildlife, and in fact, it’s hard to believe recent political acts to stop elephant poaching would have occurred without the emotional resonance of nature photography and documentation.
2. Encouraging Purposeful Photography
By taking pictures of endangered species for the purpose of advocacy, photographers are practicing purposeful photography — which can, and should, be differentiated from plain and simple nature photography. Right now, a photographer who travels the world, puts him or herself in dangerous situations to document rare species is in the same genre as a person who takes a picture of flowers in their backyard.
There should be a clearer distinction! The former should be better-compensated and held to a higher standard of integrity. We should encourage more photographers to imbue their art with the intention to evoke change.
3. Advocating for the planet
There is, of course, a bigger picture. Endangered species are a small part of the troubles our planet is currently facing, and it will take much more than strong photography to promote large-scale policies and protections for us all.
Whatever I am photographing, I try to keep in mind how precious our planet is, and how impermanent. It’s me, doing my part, to show the world what we have to save: the environment, natural wonders, and all the beautiful creatures that inhabit it, people included.