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Advice for Shooting and Supporting Wildlife Photography Projects

April 12, 2017

© John Weller

John Weller co-founded The Last Ocean to help push for the preservation of the Ross Sea in Antarctica.

Photographers devoted to exploring environmental topics can face a number of logistical challenges. To embark on long-term projects in wilderness areas takes planning and funding. PDN has interviewed several photographers who have used a variety of fundraising strategies to support their nature and wildlife projects. Here are excerpts from a few of our profiles. Subscribers can read the complete versions of these articles, and get tips from other photographers on techniques, logistics and funding for long-term projects on PDNOnline. 

© Carl Johnson

Carl Johnson used the crowdfunding platform Hatchfund to support his book about Alaska’s Bristol Bay region. © Carl Johnson

Carl Johnson Examines Alaska’s Bristol Bay

In 2010, Carl Johnson was working as an attorney on a lawsuit to block permits for “Pebble Mine,” a project extracting copper, gold and other minerals from Alaska’s Bristol Bay region. After the trial ended, Johnson—who is also a highly regarded nature, travel and outdoor photographer—transitioned to photography full time in 2011. His first project was to photograph the natural beauty of Bristol Bay. Last year, that body of work was published as a book, Where Water Is Gold: Life and Livelihood in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

Johnson photographed on commercial fishing vessels and captured everything from freshwater harbor seals to the aurora borealis. To raise money and awareness for the book, he turned to Hatchfund, the nonprofit crowdfunding platform. He also teamed up with a nonprofit publisher, Braided River. Though his book has been published, Johnson asserts, “I will never be finished. The Bristol Bay region is 40 million square miles and thirty-two villages. I made it to six of them.” Read the full article to learn more about how Johnson got access to and shot the images in Where Water is Gold.

How Ami Vitale Built Support For Her Long-Term Photo Project

When Ami Vitale began her long-term project on the relocation of the last four northern white rhinoceroses from Czech Republic to Kenya in 2009, she had trouble getting editors interested. “Most editors thought the move was not visual enough for a photo essay,” she says.

But Vitale didn’t give up. She used her own resources, partnered with several conservancy organizations and ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to complete the project. The body of work ultimately earned her a World Press Photo award and also helped her build a community of more than 500,000 Instagram followers. In this article, Vitale shares what she learned about mustering support, including securing funding, working with nonprofits, building an engaged audience and distributing images.

© John Weller

A map, signed by delegates from around the world, outlines the protected area, which was created last year. © John Weller

Photographer John Weller’s Obsession with Antarctica’s Ross Sea

For more than a decade, photographer John Weller has been a central figure in the effort to protect what many believe is one of the last pristine, intact ocean ecosystems in the world: Antarctica’s Ross Sea. With ecologist Dr. David Ainley, Weller co-founded The Last Ocean, an organization that is working to protect the Ross Sea from commercial fishing and other human exploitation. Among other efforts, Weller has contributed his images and writing to help many non-governmental organizations with their own conservation initiatives. He has spoken in front of representatives from the 26 nations and nation states that form the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). He helped organize a symposium that produced the first scientific report urging the designation of the Ross Sea as a Marine Protected Area. And he published a book, The Last Ocean (Rizzoli, 2013).

To fund his first trip, which he estimated would cost $60,000, Weller started asking for money from friends and people in his community. His big break came when he cold-called Quark Expeditions, a company that leads tours to the Arctic and Antarctic. They offered him passage on an icebreaker that was traveling to the Ross Sea. He contacted fellow photographer Bill Curtsinger for guidance on capturing underwater images and diving. Weller photographed penguins, whales, seals, fish, sea anemone, starfish and more. He produced more than 140,000 images, yet he says, “I captured just the very tip of what I saw.”

Into The Wild: Capturing The Planet’s Imperiled Ecosystems

For his book To The Arctic, which is a companion to a 3D documentary film of the same name, wildlife photographer and conservationist Florian Schulz spent more than 18 months total, over the course of several years, working in the Arctic. He traveled to various regions including Greenland, Norway and Alaska. Schulz covered the costs of his expeditions through assignments from clients such as National Geographic and German GEO, and with funding from conservation organizations, book and calendar publishers, nonprofit foundations and others.

Instead of covering only one subject, Schulz believes part of his success in landing the book deal is due to his ability to create a diverse range of images. For To The Arctic, Schulz went on dives, captured aerial photos and patiently documented wildlife like caribou, muskoxen and polar bears with their cubs.

“I’m able to cover entire ecosystems because of my passion for the different aspects of photography, and I’m willing to invest the time, energy and additional money” to do so, he says. Find more details on how Schultz approached coverage of the Arctic regions in the full article.

The International League of Conservation Photographers and The Wilderness Society Protect Idaho’s Clearwater Basin

Idaho’s Clearwater Basin is an area of more than 9,000 square miles that includes beautiful forests, pristine rivers and some
of the only remaining roadless wilderness in the lower 48 states. The International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) teamed with The Wilderness Society to create a series of photographs of the basin in an effort to protect it from logging and road construction.

The two photographers assigned to the project were Krista Schlyer and Amy Gulick, members of the iLCP. They worked in conjunction with the Wilderness Society and the Clearwater Basin Collaborative—a group made up of sportsmen and women, timber companies, political blocs and conservation groups—which was advocating for legislation to protect nearly a half-million acres of land and 200 miles of river in the region. The images that Schlyer and Gulick produced became an important part of their lobbying effort. Read the full article to learn more about how Schlyer and Gulick worked, what subjects they chose to engage the community and policy makers, and how their work was used to help support the protection of the land.

Annie Marie Musselman on Photographing a Wolf Sanctuary in Washington State

After the death of her parents, photographer Annie Marie Musselman began volunteering at a hospital for wild creatures near Seattle. From that experience, “I developed this hyper-real connection to animals,” especially wolves, she says. “They aren’t quite as easy [to get close to] as domestic animals, so it made me try harder for some reason. I wanted their approval—sounds crazy but I just felt an all encompassing love for them.”

That love led her to join Blue Earth Alliance, a nonprofit that supports photographic projects relating to environmental conservation. She got assignments and funding from Mother Jones and Newsweek to photograph orangutans in Borneo. Musselman used those images to apply for a Getty Images Grant for Good, which she won in 2010. That enabled her to set up a trip to Wolf Haven International—a sanctuary set on 82 acres of prairie wetlands and woodlands in western Washington State. For 18 months she photographed wolves in a new light—capturing their beauty and gentleness instead of portraying them as hunters or killers, and providing content the sanctuary could use. Read the full article to learn more about how Musselman got funding, found Wolf Haven International and photographed wolves.

Photographer Peter McBride and The Colorado River

Outdoor adventure photographer Peter McBride began his ongoing project about the Colorado River in 2008 to bring attention to the plight of what he calls “the Southwest’s lifeline.” The river supplies water to the growing towns and cities of the Southwest, but is mostly used for agriculture. Through photographs, McBride hopes to “show that we have dried up and left for dead one of the greatest rivers in the world, and that we are all to blame.”

McBride has raised awareness over the last six years by publishing a book, The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict, and more than 40 magazine articles. He has produced, shot and edited an award-winning documentary called Chasing Water and has also released a short documentary called I Am Red, among other multimedia efforts.

In this article, McBride details his approach to documenting the Colorado River, the drive behind his passion and the impact that his work’s exposure has had so far. “My guess is that to some degree, this project will continue for my life (in small doses at times), in part because I enjoy documenting my backyard—mostly the beauty but also its growing challenges—as frustrating as some can be.”

How to Land Photo Assignments from Audubon Magazine

PDN spoke with Sabine Meyer, photography director at Audubon Magazine, a bi-monthly publication of National Audubon Society that is dedicated to conserving and restoring natural ecosystems, with particular focus on the habitats of birds and other wildlife. “I need photographers who can photograph birds, who know about the proper ethical handing of bird photography and how to handle wildlife and how to work with researchers,” she says. To find photographers that fit the bill, Meyer says she looks at the International League of Conservation Photographers and at those who shoot for National Geographic, among other sources. “Going on assignment requires a lot of different skills and a keen journalistic mind. I’m after the esthetic, too, but I’m looking for people who are journalists,” she notes. Read on to learn more about how Meyer works with photographers once she hires them, and how to get on her radar.

A Photographer Explores Climate Change on North Carolina’s Outer Banks

Greg Kahn photographed “Slip Sliding Away,” a feature published in Audubon Magazine that depicts the rising sea levels in North Carolina’s Outer Banks—a change that threatens to inundate the region within a century. According to Kahn, the biggest challenge was capturing wary subjects, and bringing attention to the story without sensationalizing it. Using a combination of portraits and landscapes, Kahn says he was navigating the question, “Can you prove with a picture that this is happening, so you have visual evidence?”

He looked for subtle signs of encroaching seas, rather than extreme signs that climate change skeptics could easily dismiss as abnormal or misleading. “Showing the little things—the little pieces that add up—is way more effective than going during a storm and showing dramatic images that don’t really tell what’s going on,” he says. Read the full article to learn more about the project, how Kahn landed the assignment and how he captured photographs to best tell the story.

Managing Photo Tech Off the Grid

How do you charge your batteries, call home or manage your image files while shooting in a remote location? To stay connected and powered-on in these situations requires some logistical planning, so we asked several photographers to give us their best practices for packing, charging and testing gear for those off-the-grid shoots. From satellite phones to solar panels to gas-powered generators, discover the top tech that’ll help you stay connected no matter where you are.

Project Pressure’s Artful Approach to Environmental Activism

Klaus Thymann, a commercial and fine-art photographer, helped kick off Project Pressure, a charity documenting the world’s vanishing glaciers. By collaborating with a diverse group of people that includes a NGO director, photography agent and scientists at World Glacier Monitoring Service, he helped organize funding and equipment to bring fine-art photographers to glaciers. The purpose, says Klaus, is three-fold: To photograph disappearing glaciers in an artful way, have photographs that are scientifically useful and allow the public to contribute their own glacier photos through an open-source digital platform. “We want to create work that can reach people on a deep level and inspire them to engage,” he says. Read on to learn more about the project and find out how you can contribute.