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Episode #058

3 Types of Conservation Photo Stories You Can Photograph Near Home


UPDATED: May 22, 2023


You're ready to photograph a story… but what kind of story will it be? If you've never tackled a photo story before, this is your first big hurdle. But don't worry – here are three types of photo stories that offer clearest place to begin your adventure – all while staying local to home. Which type of photo story is best for you?


Get started with simple photo stories near home

It's a very exciting thing to decide that you want to photograph a conservation story, especially when that's happening near you.

But here's a common hiccup for inspired conservation photographers who have never tackled a story before…

You make this really important mindset shift into total confidence in photographing a story... and then you immediately hit the first hurdle: what kind of story is it that you're going to photograph?

This is where a story idea can suddenly become overwhelming, confusing, or lose it's focus entirely. Let's not let that happen to you!

So, I want to walk through three types of photo stories that offer some clarity and direction. These certainly aren't the only story types out there, but they are definitely my top choices for you to select from.

🎧 Recommended Listening:


You'll Learn

  • The benefits and challenges of each type of story
  • Examples from Conservation Photography 101 students
  • Which type of story best suits you for what you want to accomplish

Episode 058: 3 Types of Conservation Photo Stories You Can Photograph Near Home

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/58

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)

Jaymi Heimbuch:
It's a very exciting thing to decide that you want to photograph a conservation story, especially when that's happening near you. But what I watch happen again, and again, with inspired conservation photographers who have never tackled a story before is this, you make this really important mindset shift into knowing that you're capable and you're ready to photograph a story. And then you immediately hit the first hurdle of what kind of story is it that you're going to photograph. So in this episode, I want to walk through three types of photo stories that you can take on. This is just three of many, but these three in particular offer, what I think is the very clearest place to begin your adventure, the clearest path forward. Let's dive in.

Welcome to impact the conservation photography podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place from conservation to creativity, from business to marketing and everything in between this podcast is for you. The conservation visual storyteller, who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in.

As I mentioned, there are many types of conservation photo stories that you can photograph, but if you're looking for a really clear direction forward someplace to start something that has kind of a vibe of familiarity to it, that you recognize kind of what the structure's like, something that you can really wrap your head around and envision as you're planning, then the three types of stories that I'm outlining today are definitely my top choices for you to select from all right. The first type of story is a person profile. So a person profile is all about documenting a person's story, including both what they're doing and who they are. A person profile, I think is a great strategy or a great option, especially for photographers who already have a background in people, photography. So you're already kind of used to documenting people at work or taking portraits, and you want to move into conservation storytelling.

So you want to move beyond those portraits and into really telling someone's full story. And this is also a great option for photographers who are uncomfortable with photographing people, and you really need to stretch your skills to learn how to photograph the human side of what's normally a more animal or landscape centric story. So whether or not you are already comfortable with people, but you're unfamiliar with storytelling, or if you're kind of familiar with storytelling, but you're uncomfortable in front of people. This is a great option because it's going to push your skills no matter what. So what I mean by person profile is you're leaning a little bit away from sort of the newsy side of a story and really into more of an in-depth exploration of a person and who they are. So, as an example, you could choose to document the story of a local conservationist or the head of a conservation organization.

And not only are you documenting what it is they do inside of conservation, but also you start to get into who they are as a personality, as a community member, maybe dig into their family life a little bit and tell more about them. And the beauty of a person profile is not only does it give us kind of an overview about the work that they do, but as viewers we're pulled into more of the details of that conservation work, because we really get to know them and we are compelled, I think to be a little bit more emotionally attached to a story if we are attached to the human characters. So for example, when I talk about like, okay, well choose a local conservationist. One of the students in my conservation photography, one Oh one course has done a really great job, identifying a local conservationist.

Who's working on this fairly common conservation issue. I can't give specific details because she's working on the story right now. And you know, when you're working on a story, sometimes you hold those cards close to your chest for a while, but she's chosen this really interesting person who, even though she's working on something that is a fairly common conservation issue, the way that she's working on this is very different. And the conservationist is actually this very compelling person, the way that she's been very active with the issue on social media, as well as in her personal life, that really draws us into this story. So she stands out as a unique character and because she's a unique character with a different way of approaching an issue, there's a lot to photograph about her and her life as well as in her work. So someone who's a local conservation as to also is maybe very charismatic or has a very fresh approach to their work.

That might be a perfect person to select. And speaking of someone with a unique approach to their work, another route that you could go is to identify someone with a conservation minded approach to their business. This is a great opportunity for a really cool person profile. And in fact, another one of my students is taking this very approach. She identified a falconer in her area, and this falconer actually runs a business for non-lethal bird control over crops. So he goes out with his Falcon and without harming the birds at all, scares them up off of the crops. And it offers a fantastic way to control birds and to help out farmers. And what's really great is she really understood a lot about what goes into being a falconer and that relationship with the bird. And so she's diving in not only to the work that he does for his business, which has a very cool conservation story, but she identified someone who has, is just really compelling as a character.

And so by digging into that, she's going to end up coming away with a much more engaging story because she's profiling this person, not just the work that he does for conservation. So a very, very cool approach. What I love about the idea of doing a person profile is you can really wrap your head around the two kind of elements of the story. One is what they do. And one is who they are. The trick of course, is to figure out how you're going to photograph that the types of photos that you really need to get to illustrate who that person really is. But like I said, it pushes you into some really amazing creative areas. And by focusing in on a person, your story can actually come together in a very rich, interesting way and guide people to wanting to learn more about the conservation issue that that person works on or represents.

So that story type number one, a person profile story type number two is a place profile. And in this much like documenting the story of a person, you want to document the story of a location. Now, I think that a place profile is a great option for photographers who are looking to stretch your skills on connecting puzzle pieces for a story, because typically place profiles are really digging into certain elements of that place and perhaps the effect that it has on a larger community or its importance on other species. And because of all of that, I do think that this is actually the most difficult of the three that I mentioning today, because it can actually be harder to find and keep hold of the, so what thread that ties all of those images together into a cohesive whole, that really is the core thread that brings together the elements of why this place is important or interesting, or it needs to be protected or whatever your, so what factor may be.

But when you do pull it off, the results can be absolutely incredible because in conservation, when you protect habitat, you protect untold numbers of species. So if you're able to pull off a place profile as your story in a really compelling way, it can actually have a much more far reaching impact than you might at first. Think. Now, when you're thinking of a place profile, you could go big. For example, I'm thinking of Mac Stone's Everglades project that actually came in a book. He really dug into the Everglades and photographed so many aspects of this really amazing habitat. Or, and this is what I recommend you go small and specific, especially if you are just getting started on your first place profile. I really recommend trying to really narrow it down and get specific. So for example, you could highlight a specific benefit of the location that you've chosen.

One of my students actually has a perfect example of this. She had the idea that she wanted to talk about a preserve that's in her area, and primarily she wanted to get people to stop kind of trashing the preserve because there's a lot of overnight camping that is illegal and, uh, litter and that sort of thing. And she really wanted to protect this place by bringing attention to it. Well, she brought her idea into our weekly Q and a sessions, and we workshopped it quite a bit. And what she ended up deciding on was actually to highlight how that preserve was created for a certain migratory bird species in order to have some habitat that was safe Haven for this bird species. And by highlighting this place and its importance to the bird species, she was able to highlight how residents could take pride in this area and to really celebrate it.

And that was a great approach for a place profile. She's tying together the ideas of habitat for an endangered species and the way that people in the community feel about a place because of what it accomplishes. And she was diving into some other elements of the importance of this place. Ultimately, the story was a place profile, and yet she really had this thread of a, so what factor that she could grab onto and bring all these puzzle pieces together in a very, very cool way. Now you could also highlight how a place plays a bigger role in the entire community picture. About two years ago, I held a workshop here on the Oregon coast and our students work to document the story of a place and of an organization that was working to preserve this place. It's called the Oregon coast community forest association. And they had a piece of land, some 17 acres that they wanted to use as a pilot project to illustrate how sustainable forestry and connecting with the land can be done here on the Oregon coast.

So our students documented this place and the activity that happens on it and the people who were engaged in protecting it. And some of the other people who came to work on this land and the threat of that was really showing how a piece of land can tie together a larger community behind a certain conservation effort. It was definitely difficult to photograph though. The students had to really push themselves creatively to figure out how they were going to photograph place in the activity on it in order to really create a thorough place profile, but they definitely did it. And the results were really phenomenal. In fact, they did such a good job on this, that at the end of the workshop, we held a really fun gallery exhibit and we hung up some 30 images at a community bar that is very artistic and has a ton of wall space for artwork and is known for artwork.

And we had this really fun evening event there while the owner saw it and loved it so much that he asked to keep it up for an entire month. And we had a gallery owner attend the event who was interested in actually hanging up our students work in the gallery as well. Imagine the kind of leg work that that gallery exhibit does for highlighting inside of the community, what this place is doing for the community, what this forest preserve represents for a community and how it brings people together. It was really, really fun and well done, and it was a place profile, difficult, but very effective. So option number one is a person profile option. Number two is a place profile and option. Number three is a local conservation activity that has a larger, more far reaching. So what factor, what I mean by that is there might be an activity that has a conservation purpose that's happening locally, but what's happening has some sort of a message or an impact that reaches far beyond the community.

Now I love the idea of this type of story, because you can really dig into all aspects of a story from the people, to the places, to the species, to the activity. This is where a lot of storytelling skills kind of come together and you can push your creativity. Now again, what I stress is that when you choose your local conservation activity, try and find one that has that larger. So what factor, something that people living in other areas can also really relate to. So for example, here on the Oregon coast, there is a really fantastic conservation organization. And one of the things that they do is called coast Watchers and they it's sort of like a citizen science thing, but they pull in volunteers who adopt a mile of coastline. And as a volunteer, your job is to go walk that mile of coastline and sort of report the activity that's happening on it. How many people are there? Do you notice like any dead animals that have washed up, do you notice plastic pollution? Are there any signs of erosion and by filling out a report on your mile of coastline, it helps the organization as a whole monitor the entire health of the coastline. It's a really interesting program. And not only is it one that works here on the Oregon coast, but that's something that can be modeled maybe in other areas with coastline or even inland, it could be a model for forests or even deserts rivers or all kinds of other habitats. So the concept behind it is not only is there this really cool local conservation activity with some really neat people involved. But what they're doing is something that has really far reaching impacts, not only for Oregon coastline, but also conservation efforts and how they're performed in other areas. So I love the idea of doing something, a local conservation activity on organization like this, because with that type of activity that they're doing, you have the opportunity to go out and photograph people while they're walking their stretch of coastline or to photograph the coastline itself. You can photograph some of the issues that are popping up on that coastline that people are monitoring and recording. You can photograph the organization as they're putting together all of this data or what it means to roll this data out to the community. There's so many ways that you could really tackle this as a story.

So when you're thinking about your own local conservation activity with the larger, so what factor think about all the different elements that you can pull together and photograph not only to highlight the activity itself, but also to photograph ways in which this is used or matters to people that are outside of that community. Now, another example that comes to mind that's happening here on the Oregon coast as well is watershed councils are engaged in restoration projects. They're restoring streams and rivers. And what, one of the things that they're doing in order to restore them is sourcing these really large logs from either people who are clearing trees from their land or leftover logging material from construction projects, they're sourcing these big, basically the equivalent of felled trees and they're placing them across streams. And this is in order to provide salmon habitat because the salmon that migrate upstream need shady places, they, they need the type of environment that fallen trees over streams provide in order to lay eggs and to spawn and to have ideal habitat for the fry that grow up and then returned to the ocean.

So this type of activity is really critical to restoring salmon and the health of salmon populations. And it also kind of brings the community to get together because they're sourcing logs from community members and community businesses. But again, it has a bigger, so what factor, because the restoration of salmon populations matters all up and down the Pacific Northwest and in, it matters to industry as well as to indigenous culture. It matters to people who live here. It matters to people who care about endangered species. So there's a big, so what factor, even though the activity that I might document would be very, very local in nature, it's happening right in my own town or my own community. So, uh, this is another example of course, of a local conservation activity with a, so a factor. So you could look in your area and discover what kinds of conservation activities are happening that have a, so what factor the others would care about, or like why this activity not only matters to your local community, but also matters to, uh, conservation and communities on a larger scale.

So let's run through our three types of stories. Once again, first is a person profile. So you're documenting a person's story, including both who they are, as well as what they're doing. And this is a perfect strategy for someone who is comfortable with people, photography, but needs to stretch storytelling skills, or for people who are starting to really build storytelling skills, but they are uncomfortable with photographing people. And so you really need to kind of push your comfort zone and get some practice under your belt, photographing people. The second type of story is a place profile. And this is a fantastic option for photographers who want to build their skillsets on connecting different puzzle pieces of a story. This is a challenging option, but one that can be really amazing and a lot of fun once you really start to pull it all together. And the third story type is the local conservation activity that has a larger, so a factor.

And this is great for photographers who are interested in really exploring the variety of techniques and approaches to a photo story and exploring the people side and really getting into the places in the species, the activity that's happening, the details, and pulling all of that together into a cohesive whole that can have this bigger so-what factor. All right. So there are three types of conservation photo stories that are really the clearest way forward. Again, there's so many other types of stories that you could delve into, and we're only limited by creativity, but if you want to have something where, you know, you're digging into your first story and you want to have a concept or you're like, I get it, I can envision it. I understand what I'm going for. I'm going to dive in and this will be amazing. Then choosing one of these three can be a great way to start. All right. I hope that you have fun. And if you dive in on a photo story, please, please, please let me know. I can't wait to find out what you're working on and cheer you on. And meanwhile, I'll talk to you next week

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