5 Steps to Become a Conservation Photographer

Ask people why they love photography and you’ll hear a wide range of responses:

“It gets me out exploring.”

“It’s an artistic outlet.”

“I can share my point of view on a subject.”

“To capture moments in time or memories.”

If you love nature or wildlife photography, you may hope your photos can move others to action—to preserve landscapes, habitats or threatened species.

Would you like to move beyond capturing individual, artistic shots of nature or wildlife to craft narratives that raise awareness to protect places you hold dear? Then read on for five steps to become a conservation photographer.

woman photographs brown bears grizzly bears in alaska

Nat Hab guest showing off her shots of bears catching salmon in wild Alaska © Brad Josephs

What is Conservation Photography?

Conservation photography goes beyond capturing beautiful images of the natural world; it combines the artistry and experience of nature and wildlife photography with storytelling to become a powerful tool for environmental advocacy.

Conservation photography aims to bring attention, understanding, and positive action to important environmental issues.

Imagine a photograph of a majestic tiger in its threatened habitat—that image not only celebrates the tiger’s beauty but could also compel viewers to consider the urgent need for conservation efforts if paired with the right stories and data. Conservation photographers leverage art to share compelling stories and essential information, evoke emotion and inspire positive change.

The artistry of conservation photography might involve surprising subjects, too. Images of ocean plastics and pollution have raised awareness, funding, and action regarding ocean cleanup and environmental regulations. Images of drought, flooding and wildfires are raising awareness around climate change.

underwater photography conservation photographer diving snorkeling sea turtle

How does Conservation Photography differ from Wildlife or Nature Photography?

Conservation photography is wildlife and nature photography with a distinct purpose: to increase awareness and compel action. A beautiful landscape or wildlife photo can also become a prime example of conservation photography; it’s all from the point of view of the photographer and how it’s used. Conservation photography tells a particular story to further conservation aims.

We often say people care for and take care of what they care about. Travel and firsthand experience create that connection, and photography can, too. Photography can create that emotional connection in people who have not seen polar bears in the Arctic firsthand, for example, prompting action to protect them. That’s the goal of conservation photography.

Is Conservation Photography photojournalism?

In many ways, yes! Just as photojournalists expose and bear witness to events, conservation photographers seek to convey information, evoke emotion and raise awareness through images of the environment. Both photojournalists and conservation photographers should document reality without excessive manipulation.

Conservation photographers may have a more explicit agenda than photojournalists. Conservation photography is a form of advocacy that raises awareness of the threats to our environment and its inhabitants and offers opportunities to preserve them.

mountain gorilla uganda rwanda

© Richard de Gouveia

How to Become a Conservation Photographer

You do not need press credentials or formal training to become a conservation photographer. All it takes is commitment and creativity to begin to develop your craft. 

According to the Conservation Visual Storytellers Academy, the three essential elements of conservation photography are Idea, Image and Impact.


The Idea stage represents the concept, issue or theme the conservation photographer focuses on—whether it’s deforestation, an endangered species, climate change or something else. Your first steps are to clarify your motivation and the ideas you want to convey.

© Alexis Campbell

Step 1: Identify Your Conservation Priorities

What is most important to you? What’s your unique point of view? Your purpose will shape all of your decisions as a conservation photographer.

Step 2: What’s the Conservation Story?

When most of us think of nature and wildlife photography, we think of breathtaking, memorable, individual images—those once-in-a-lifetime shots. What do you want those images to convey? What change would you like them to make? What information would you like to impart both with and through your photography? What’s the context and story around the shot?


Your images, of course, play a crucial role. They should grab and hold attention. They should be memorable. They should be images people will want to share because they’re beautiful, funny, gripping or important. Conservation photographers’ images illustrate circumstances or situations for viewers, evoke empathy, and convey urgency to promote action. They tell a story that requires intervention. The quality of those images can make them more memorable and impactful.

Step 3: Get Great Conservation Photos

When it comes to capturing your nature and wildlife images, patience may be your best tool, but if you’re like us, you’ll also want gear. Check out The Natural Photographer’s Gear Guide from Nat Hab’s Chief Sustainability Officer and Expedition Leader, Court Whelan.

Again, keep in mind: unlike posed photography, nature and wildlife move at a pace entirely their own. Being respectful and flexible will help you capture and create truthful and impactful images. On Nat Hab Photo Expeditions from the Canadian Tundra to the Kalahari desert to the sprawling wetlands of Brazil’s Pantanal and unparalleled access to brown bears in Katmai and Lake Clark national parks, we work with small groups and make choices that put you in the best positions to get shots you’ve dreamed of—and sometimes, we wait.

Closer to home, you can walk and shoot. Embark on a local photo safari or street photography project of your own:

  • Observe and catalog local species
  • Capture and share stories of climate change in your local community
  • Focus on local nature, wildlife, and conservation organizations and initiatives

What environmental issues are most important in your own backyard? Whether it’s supporting political initiatives to protect natural habitats or supporting wildlife rescue organizations, there are countless local opportunities to practice conservation photography close to home.

© Court Whelan


Once you have captured compelling images, impact arises from how conservation photography. Whether through exhibitions, educational programs, or collaborations with conservation organizations, the goal is to raise awareness and drive action. Who needs to hear the story?

Step 4: Make an Impact Close to Home

If you started with shots closer to home, consider making an impact in your own community.

© Courtney Kent

Here are some ideas for how to share the conservation story:

  • Raise awareness: deliver slide shows and talks in senior homes, schools, professional organizations, libraries or community centers.
  • Show your photos in art galleries or coffeehouses.
  • Partner with local conservation organizations: provide images to support their preservation and conservation efforts.
  • Impact local issues and initiatives by partnering with policymakers or environmental scientists.

Step 5: Share your Experiences to Amplify Conservation Impact

Social media can be a great way to share your conservation images and stories in your local community and further afield. Reach out to local publications to publish conservation stories and share your stories on social media to raise awareness about important local issues.

© Courtney Kent

University of Michigan researchers recently conducted a series of studies using Instagram images from a nonprofit environmental organization. They combined experimental and deep neural network modeling techniques to help explain the effectiveness of nature images. Among their findings: 

  • The aesthetics of beautiful nature photos increase engagement with the images on social media.
  • This aesthetic value of the images encourages a moral responsibility to protect nature and wildlife.
  • Feelings of awe and inspiration created by the images are the specific drivers of these effects.

This makes conservation photography an incredibly powerful tool for raising awareness and inspiring an emotional response among your audience.

Photos are also more shareable on social, which spreads the word. Research from HubSpot on the Facebook algorithm has shown that photo posts receive 53% more engagement than text alone. And, of course, photo-centric platforms, like Instagram and Pinterest, require an accompanying image to make a post. With these social platforms, you can build awareness and generate traction for your conservation stories more quickly.

© Andrew Ackerman

Some Tips for Sharing on Social Media

Posting conservation photography on your social media accounts requires careful consideration. Social media is a great place to curate your professional portfolio and share important conservation stories with an audience.

Post with a delay and avoid geotagging your photos. Geotagging specific locations on Instagram can inadvertently contribute to habitat destruction and wildlife displacement. As more people are directed to these areas, the demand for infrastructure (trails, parking lots, facilities) may increase and disrupt existing wildlife patterns and behaviors. The construction of these amenities can lead to the clearing of natural habitats, fragmentation of ecosystems, and disruption of wildlife corridors. This loss and fragmentation of habitat can have severe consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem resilience.

© Kendra Olson

Court Whelan advises:

“Avoid geotagging things as much as possible. We want to keep things wild; we want to keep things pristine. I absolutely love sharing information and intel from my scouting trips from little gems that I’ve found. But the problem is…how easy it is for other people to see where you’ve been and try to repeat it on their own…thousands and thousands of times.”

Consider substituting specific geotagging to join powerful conservation campaigns, like World Wildlife Fund’s campaign to reduce the demand among Chinese tourists for ivory, or #TooLatergram campaign to grow awareness of environmental destruction.

For WWF Pakistan, Hammad Anwar shared, “Social media management is a lot more than just posting on different forums; it is an art of creating and communicating messages that have a lasting and powerful impact.”

Conservation photography is a great way to use your passion for photography to make a positive difference in your local community, wildlife and our natural world. Use these five steps to get started on your own conservation photography journey.

© Richard de Gouveia

The post 5 Steps to Become a Conservation Photographer first appeared on Good Nature Travel Blog.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.