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Episode #039

How to Be A Persuasive Conservation Photographer


UPDATED: May 21, 2023


How do you create a persuasive photo story? Well, sometimes it means just getting out of your own way.


Using photos to change people's minds

Ever read or watch something that is so clearly pushing a one-sided argument, trying so hard to win your support but not presenting alternatives or differing perspectives?

Probably left a bad taste in your mouth, right? 

That one-sided push is not how to be persuasive.

Winning a viewers' trust is key, and that means telling stories that reveal the whole picture.

But, this isn’t as straight-forward as you think.

See, when you're working on documenting a conservation issue, it can be really easy to become so wrapped up in it that you actually become a little myopic.

You can get so close to the topic that you perhaps don't see what it is that you're leaving out. Or, you're so emotionally connected to the topic that you find it hard to document opposing views.

In this episode, we dive into the idea that conservation photographers are bridges, connectors, and how you can use this concept to to put your own opinions aside.

This way, you can see that whole story and become a far more persuasive conservation photographer because of it.


You'll Learn

  • What it really means to be a connector
  • The importance of building bridges through photographs
  • Why we’re easily persuaded by some things, and not others
  • How to frame your thinking and tell persuasive stories

Episode 039: How to Be A Persuasive Conservation Photographer

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/39

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)


Jaymi Heimbuch:
How do you create a persuasive photo story? Well, sometimes it means really getting out of your own way. See, when you're working on documenting a conservation issue, it can be really easy to become so wrapped up in it that you actually become a little myopic. You can get so close to the topic that you perhaps don't see what it is that you're leaving out or you're so emotionally connected to the topic that you find it hard to document opposing views. And those are so critical to a full story, knowing how to set aside your own opinions and to see that whole story to document. The whole story is probably one of the most powerful things that you can do as a conservation photographer. It isn't easy, but when you remember that your role is as a connector, as a bridge through your photographs, then it becomes a whole lot easier.

And that's what we're talking about in today's episode today, we're digging into how to put your own opinions aside so that you can see that whole story and become a far more persuasive conservation photographer because of it. Let's dig 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.


Hello and welcome to this episode of Impact. Thank you so much for listening. Now let's dig into this episode. If you've picked up a camera to document a conservation issue, it's probably because you care very deeply about what that issue is. And more than likely, that means you formed an opinion. It's a totally normal thing to do. We all do it, but having a really strong opinion can actually stifle your ability to tell a persuasive story about that issue. As a conservation photographer, you're more than simply a photographer. You have a bigger goal for your images. You want to change things. You want to be a positive influence as a conservation photographer. You are this great connector. You're a bridge.

You're the way that people find out about issues that are affecting them and what they can do about it. And if you want change, your ultimate goal really then is to persuade someone to do something or to not do something. And when you're asking someone to do something or not do something, basically make a behavior shift. The only way that you can really do that effectively is if that person sees themselves reflected somewhere in what you're showing them and has an ability to relate and to understand the story in the context of themselves at the heart of persuasion is reflecting to someone like a mirror, who they want to be, or who they do not want to be and providing a path toward that. So if you're leaving out part of the story, then you don't have the ability to hold up that mirror that gives a very accurate or convincing reflection. You are a less persuasive conservation photographer.

Think about a time when you've basically been a position to buy something. Someone's trying to sell you something. And you're looking through all of the materials. You're looking at pictures of models, wearing the clothing, or you're looking at testimonials of people who have bought that service. And in that you're not seeing yourself anywhere. You're not seeing your concerns or your view of the world or your preferences or your image. None of that's reflected in the materials that you're being shown. So what happens? You don't connect with that product or that service. You don't feel like it's a right fit for you. So you shut off, you move on, you move on to the next thing, because you know that this thing that you're looking at is not a right fit for you. You stop listening because you're not reflected anywhere.

What happens when you do see yourself reflected? You look at a product or a service, and you connect with everything that that company is saying about the product or service or what they're showing you. It's like the advertiser is talking directly to you and you feel like that company totally gets you well. That builds your trust in what they're selling. That it's a match for you. And you pull out your credit card. You just behaved in a way that the company wanted you to behave because they spoke to you. What they showed you resonated. You saw yourself reflected as a conservation photographer.

When you want to be really persuasive about the issue that you're documenting, you really want to drive that behavior change because you care so deeply about the issue that you're photographing. Well, it's your job to tell that whole story so that viewers see themselves in it, including, and really especially people who might have opposing views. Those may very well be the very people that you most need to convince that you most need to persuade to have a behavior shift. So you really especially want to connect with viewers who are already ready to shut down to walk away to disengage because they don't see their concerns reflected in the issue, or they don't understand how they fit into that issue. It's your job and your storytelling to show them that.

So let's move on beyond the idea of like a product or service, and think about a time when you've watched a documentary. That was super one-sided. I mean, it was really obvious that the folks behind the documentary just wanted to tell a certain side of the story. And you as a viewer are sitting there recognizing that there's other angles that needed to be explored. And that they're very much, probably very purposefully being left out.

Well, my guess is that recognizing that there were angles not being addressed or explored, eroded your trust in the documentary as a whole. It made you less likely to trust the information that was being shown that was being handed to you because you're sitting there questioning that. Well, if there's definitely information that's being left out, then is the information that's being included truly factual? Is it truly whole? I've definitely watched documentaries that had a very specific goal in mind and how it wanted viewers to think or to act. And because it was so blatantly one sided, I might have started out being open, but became more and more suspicious to the point that they turned me off as an audience member, as someone who they might have been able to convince to do something or to think a certain way. And I was out checked out for sure.

An approach like that for the storytellers to just appeal to an echo chamber audience means that the storytellers are not actually very effective in growing support for their issue. Nor are they effective in changing the minds of people who they might actually need to most change.

As conservation photographers, it's so important to go beyond the echo chamber, to hear and to provide space to even those folks that you disagree with. Because when that happens, when you provide that space to all the voices, then it can crack open the story in a really big way and create conversation. Conversation can happen, and you're opening people up to talk versus telling them exactly how they should think.

And when you open people up to talk, then that's your opportunity to guide the conversation in the direction that you need it to go for that conservation issue, you build up the trust that allows you to be persuasive. So how do you do this, especially when it's an issue that you care so deeply about, and you have a really strong, emotional reaction to it. Like, what do you do when you are almost as embedded on one side of the issue as the folks who you really want to change, but they're so strongly on the other side of this issue, what happens?

Well, this is when you truly embrace the concept of being in the role of a bridge. It's when you step outside of yourself as an actor or a participant inside of that issue. And you come away from that a little bit, and you say, my job here is to be a connector. My job here is to be a bridge. You set yourself aside, you get out of your own way because your work is about more than you. It's about the issue. And when you can make your work about the issue and not about how you feel about it, but about doing justice to the issue, then you can embrace your job to document that issue in a very fair way, in a whole, in a complete, and an open and empathetic, in an honest way. And when you do your work truly becomes a bridge between opinions and a bridge toward a solution.

Now think about when you know that you are being heard, even by someone who disagrees with you, you know, that they're listening to you, even as you're debating, it really helps to know that they're listening, right? Like you can have this debate, you can have this exchange of ideas. It's not an argument. It's more of a mental exercise about figuring out how to talk to each other and find solutions. That's so critical when it comes to conservation issues too, to be able to show a story in a way that doesn't cause further argument, but opens up that conversation. So you can think about that and become much more empathetic to hearing those with whom you might not agree with, but who are important characters in the story that they need space inside of the story as well. Because without them, it's not a complete story. And without them, the people who might be the best audience members, they're not going to listen to you. They're not going to pay attention because they know they can tell that that story is one sided. And if they know that that story is one sided, they're not going to trust it right now.

One of the strategies that helps you come out of that, maybe feeling of being really embedded in and attached to an issue and embrace that role of being a bridge, comes through confidence. It comes to the confidence in yourself to be open to conversation. When the conversation and the issue is more important than you being right, that's where you'll find this confidence. Because you'll always be able to return to the fact that the issue is what's most important here. Not you, not your opinion. And so you'll always have the confidence to hold space for all sides of what it's going on. And with that comes the ability to document the whole story fairly. And with that comes the ability to be a persuasive storyteller.

And when you can be a persuasive storyteller, then you truly are an advocate, a powerful advocate for that conservation issue. When you tell a fair story, everyone listens and you gain respect and trust and thus more power in your story. If you only tell a one sided story then only a portion of one side listens, and often that's not who you need to listen.

Usually when it comes to a conservation issue, if you are going to push for the change, then you have to build trust and conversation with people who are on opposing sides of something. And the only way that you're ever going to get there is if you are confident enough to hold space for those differing opinions and to tell a whole story. So people build trust, and then to be able to reflect back to someone who they want to be, or how something is affecting them so that they want to do something or not do something they want to engage in that behavior change.

So when you're working on a conservation issue as a photographer, as a visual storyteller, and you know that your talents, your skills inside of this visual storytelling is really important for advancing a conservation issue that you care about. It's so important to remember that your ultimate role is as a bridge. Your ultimate role is as someone who connects people to the issue, who connects people to each other, who connects people in a way that conversation can be sparked, unless behavior change can happen. And when you remember that, that is your role and that your role, your, your role as a bridge is more important than your opinion as a person, then it becomes a whole lot easier to document the story in a way that tells all sides of it, tells it fairly, tells it in a whole way, which then builds trust, which then creates the change that you want to see happen. That is how you become a persuasive conservation photographer.

Now, like I said, this is not easy. This is work. It's tough to be able to back up enough from your emotional connection to an issue from the way that you feel on your opinions about it, to be able to really see and empathize with differing opinions, or to be able to really tell all angles of a story in a very fair way, it's tough work, but it is very, very doable. And when you tap into your empathy and when you tap into your confidence that what you're doing is right. And so you can maintain feeling that you are on the right path, even while holding space for differing opinions, to be able to be reflected, then you're going to have the tools to be able to do this work well, you're going to have the tools to be that persuasive conservation visual storyteller. You will absolutely get there. It's tough work, but it's absolutely doable.

All right, thanks so much for listening for being open to conversation. And I will talk to you next week.


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