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Episode #051

How to Start a Conservation Photo Story in 6 Steps


UPDATED: May 28, 2023
ORIGINALLY AIRED ON November 24, 2020


If you’re fired up about conservation photography and are excited to dive in, this episode will give you a better understanding of exactly how to get started on a photo story.


The 6 phases of a project that help you build momentum and avoid overwhelm

There are six stages of starting in on a photo story idea. Building upon each other, each stage helps you go from just an idea in your head, to taking action on a photo story and producing something tangible.

In this episode, we dig into what each stage involves, from getting your mindset right, to brainstorming, and setting a start and finish date for taking the photographs, we have got you covered!  

Also, be sure hop on the waitlist for my digital course, Conservation Photography 101, which opens for enrollment soon, because we take a deep dive into the step-by-step of finding, photographing, and pitching a powerful conservation photo story!

🎧 Recommended: 3 Types of Conservation Photo Stories You Can Photograph Near Home


You'll Learn

  • Why your mindset matters when it comes to conservation photography
  • The importance of determining what you want to accomplish with a photo story 
  • How the brainstorming stage helps you to consider all ideas before settling on one
  • Where you can go and what you can do to come up with possible story ideas
  • Two strategies for picking out the top three ideas from your brainstorming list
  • How you can go about selecting and moving forward with the single best story idea
  • An example of how to turn a big idea or topic into a story with characters and a narrative arc
  • The value and purpose of setting a goal date for starting and finishing your photo story

Resources Mentioned

Episode 051: How to Start a Conservation Photo Story in 6 Steps

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/51

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)

Jaymi Heimbuch:
Hello. Hello and welcome to this episode of Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in this week and for taking me along with you on your walk or your drive or your hike. It's always an honor and I appreciate it. And if this is your very first episode, well, welcome. Be sure to hit the Subscribe button wherever you're listening, because sometimes I like to roll out extra episodes here and there, and if you're subscribed, you will be sure to get all of them. Now, last week, we talked about what conservation photography is, we went back to the foundations, back to the roots, and what sets this field of photography apart from all other fields.

00:46 JH: And now I wanna go a step farther. I wanna help you dig in, so if you are all aboard on conservation photography, which I frankly, if you're listening to this, then I know that you are, then I wanna help you figure out how to get started. And in this episode, we're gonna talk about the six stages for starting a Conservation Photo Story, there's six pretty distinct stages that help you go from idea into action, and I wanna walk you through what each of them are and how to move through them, so that you can get on the move. So if you're feeling fired up about conservation photography and about going from idea into action, then this episode is for you.

01:30 JH: Let's dive in.


01:34 JH: 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.


02:06 JH: I think one of the biggest challenges when it comes to getting started in conservation photography and on those first stories is truly where to get started. You know that you wanna use your photography for good, and you know that you wanna dive in with a story, but you're like, "I don't even know where to find my first idea, How do I find that, and how do I make sure that I'm on the right path even to get started?" So this episode is gonna help you to overcome that challenge.

02:35 JH: There are six distinct stages to getting started, to go from idea into action, and really from pre-idea into action. And the first stage is your mind set. Now, I know that this might seem a little bit funny, but when it comes to conservation photography in particular, your mindset really does matter, because when you're trying to figure out what stories are out there and you're looking around, and your brainstorming, if you're not in the mindset of conservation photography, of what it is that you wanna look for and what it is that you want to do inside of a photo story and what it is that you want to accomplish, then it's really hard to know if you're on the right track for finding an idea that fits really well.

03:19 JH: So the first stage is actually to sit down and think about your mindset going into a photo story, what do you want to accomplish in this photo story for yourself, as a photographer, for conservation, as someone who really cares about certain issues? You really wanna sit down and think about your why, why are you even launching into the story? And the more clear that you can get on that why, the more clear that you are in your mindset for going into a conservation story, then the more noticeable potential stories are. Once you really get into a clear mindset of a conservation photographer, ideas start to pop up all over the place.

04:04 JH: So what I recommend doing in stage one, is sitting down and writing out why you want to work on a conservation photo story. And whatever it is that you write out is gonna be completely unique to you. Maybe you want to develop your skills in documentary style photography or storytelling photography, or maybe you really want to get to know a certain conservation issue better, and so you're interested in finding stories under a certain topic that you're passionate about. And the more that you work inside of that topic, and the more knowledgeable and skilled you become, the more you can advance that conservation issue. Whatever it is that you really want to accomplish inside of pursuing a photo story, write that down and get really clear. And you're going to use that as sort of a driving core factor as you go into stage two.

05:00 JH: So that's stage one. The first stage is getting into the mindset, the second stage is the brainstorm stage. So this is where you are going all over the place, from magazines and books and online forums and Google searches, and you are looking everywhere for potential story ideas and writing everything down. So the brainstorm stage is where everything is a potentially good idea. So there's no judgment in this stage, there is no, "Oh, that's too big or bold," or "Oh no, that's too small and backyard," or "Oh no, that's too ambitious," or, "That's out of my skill set." None of that comes into play during the brainstorm stage, all you're doing is writing down every potential idea you come across.

05:49 JH: So in the brainstorm stage, you're keeping an eye out in pretty much every location you can think of, as you read a book, and maybe it's a natural history book, or maybe it's a mystery novel, when an idea pops into your head for a possible story, just jot that down, that can come from really random places as you're sitting down with your morning coffee and reading a novel. You might also do some Google searches on key words that you're interested in. So let's say you're interested in Native Plant Restoration, I don't know why this is, but that's always the topic that pops into my head as an example. Anyway, let's say that you are interested in Native Plant Restoration or Invasive Species Removal, do some Google searches on that and look specifically under news items or under research studies in areas where people have been active and note down any ideas that pop to mind.

06:46 JH: You can also write down stories that other people have already done and maybe do a little asterisk next to those and use those as a spring board for a fresh idea that might pop to mind later on. You can also go into online, like social media platforms, and go into groups or forums and look at what people are talking about, look at what people are concerned about, or asking questions about, and think about story ideas that pop up from there. Now again, this does not have to have any limitations on it, so let's say people are asking questions about how do you even know if a native plant is safe to use in that area or if it's something that will attract the right insects to your garden or something, and these are questions that are popping up, well, maybe that doesn't spark a story idea right away, but if you write down that topic during the brainstorm stage, then as you continue to look in other places and maybe you see a common thread, then that might spark a story idea. So you don't have to have a full-fledged story idea in order to write it down in the brainstorm stage, you're writing down everything that pops to mind that might even lead to a story idea. So keep a notepad with you pretty much at all times, when you're in the brainstorm stage, because you never know when a lead or maybe an area that you might wanna dig into will come to mind.

08:11 JH: And this is true again, if you are reading books or if you're scrolling through your social media feeds, if you are doing Google searches on certain topics and you're looking through news items or research items and so on. Also pay attention to your local news, so maybe community events that are happening, or maybe topics that are of conversation with your local government. These are all things that might spark some story ideas that you'll want to pursue. So sometimes this brainstorm stage can last as little as a few days, or sometimes the brainstorm stage lasts a couple of months, it just depends on how quickly ideas really flow. But I think that at minimum, you wanna set maybe a three to five-day period, where you are letting all ideas come forward without judgment and you're writing everything down. So anything that might be a possible Photo Story that you could pursue that would be a topic of interest to you, goes on the list.

09:14 JH: So stage one is getting into that conservation photography mindset, whatever it is that is your why for wanting to pursue a photo story, let that be kind of a guiding factor. Stage two is to brainstorm, so now that you're in that mindset, you are paying attention to every possible lead or topic or story idea that comes to mind and writing it down without judgment. Now, the third stage is to allow the best ideas from that brainstorming session or from that long list in your notepad to float to the top. Now, how do you do this? Well, there's two strategies, and it depends a little bit on your motivation and how quickly you wanna move forward. So the first stage is to simply go back through your brainstorming list and start to cross out anything that you know just isn't really the direction that you wanna go, maybe it's a photo story that doesn't really hold your interest or it's not really fleshed out, or for whatever reason, you're just not that into that idea, just go ahead and cross that out.

10:19 JH: Now, eventually over time, every time you revisit that list, everything's going to filter out, so only the ones that you're really interested are left, and that will be where you allow the top three ideas to stand out. And this is something that could take a week or two or even more. But if you're in a hurry, if you really wanna get moving and you are excited then with the list of things that you've brainstormed, rather than crossing out what you're not interested in, I want you to highlight what you're most interested in, those things that as you read the list, they really call out to you and kinda get your excitement level up. And I want you to pull those onto a fresh new list. So this might be like maybe 10 or 12 ideas, it might be as little as five, but on a fresh list, you're gonna pull those ideas that as you scan through that brainstorming list, you're like, "This one for sure. Oh man, that one. I'm just fascinated with that one," pull those best ideas, and then from there, from that list of maybe 10 items, you're gonna pick the three top ideas that call to you the most.

11:27 JH: And you know what, don't be surprised if those top three ideas are actually really similar. They could be wildly different, but I find oftentimes, people have some story ideas that when they really settle into it, they're kind of similar, because you're already in a certain mindset, certain story ideas are attractive to you, and so those top three ideas might have some commonalities. So that's the third stage, is letting your top three ideas appear, whether that is slowly over time by eliminating the things that just aren't calling to you and letting kinda the top ones flow to the surface that way, or it's by actively looking for the ones that energize you the most, and then pulling those onto a fresh list and picking your top three from there. The fourth stage is to pick your one big idea. So from those top three story ideas, one of those is going to stand out the most, and that's gonna be the big idea that you move forward with.

12:32 JH: Now, if you're really having trouble figuring out which of these story ideas you wanna pursue, and they all are kinda calling to you equally, well, this is where you can pull in a friend and talk through some of the pros and cons of the stories, so let's say that three of these stories are all equal to you in how much they interest you, but one of them is a story that you could actually start working on right now, whereas one of them is a story that maybe is seasonal, and so you have to wait until a different season of the year, maybe you need to wait six months to start in on it. Well, now you can decide, "Okay, well, do I wanna start now and the story will allow me to do it or can I wait?" and that story is really the one that I'm gonna pursue. So as you start to really look at the pros and cons, you can figure out which idea is right for you right now, and that's gonna be your big idea.

13:27 JH: So stage four is finding your big idea, and from there, you move into stage five, which is to hone that idea into a true story. Now, here's the thing, a lot of times what happens as you move through these stages of creating a conservation Photo Story, is you end up with a topic, not a story, you end up with an idea or something kind of broad that you wanna cover, but that's not a story, there has to be a few key factors like that, "So what factor," and some characters and a narrative arc, that's what really builds a story, you have to go from broad, big idea, and you need to hone it into a story. So let's take an example for what I mean, let's say that I don't need a plant restoration, it works for me. So let's go with it. Let's say that you are really interested in the idea that there's an uptick in interest in using native plants for landscaping in your area, and you recognize this as being a pretty amazing conservation issue, because it bolsters food supplies for native pollinators, which is really important, right? So you wanna document this uptick in your local community's interest in native plant use in landscaping, but that's still kind of a topic, like the idea is really cool, and you wanna use that to encourage more and more community members to use native plants in their landscaping but that's a topic, not a story.

15:01 JH: Now we need to hone that topic into a story, now you're gonna be looking for some really important things, like, "So what, why do we care about Native Plant Restoration? What about this topic really matters to most people?" So it might be that they care a lot about native pollinators, or it might be because native plants use less water, so it's a financial savings. You wanna start to look for why this would matter to an audience, what is that, "So what factor?" You also wanna look for who your characters are, once you can start to identify characters, then you really know that you're honing a topic into a story.

15:45 JH: So let's say there's a pretty amazing Mom and Pop landscaping shop that helps people to select the perfect native plants for their yard, they could be a character for you. Or maybe there's someone who's really leading the charge for transforming landscapes by using native plants, and that person is this really compelling character, maybe they're a leader in the community, or they're kind of someone quirky and vocal with some really cool ideas, they can be a character, or maybe you just wanna talk about... Let's say you have a friend who transformed their yard by removing non-natives and using natives, and they've had this amazing experience with seeing so many more butterflies and moths and other really cool insects. And so it's been this really beautiful kind of satisfying fun transition for them, and you want them to be sort of a leading character. They can be someone who can advance that, "So what factor" by being really relatable and you can be documenting what they did in their yard. Whatever it may be, you're looking for that, "So what factor," and you're looking for some characters that can help you to transform your broader topic idea into an actual story.

17:05 JH: Alright, so that's stage five. So so far we have stage one, you get into that mindset of a conservation photographer, you're really clear on why you wanna work on a conservation story, why this matters to you, and what you really want to accomplish by pursuing a conservation Photo Story. Then you move into the stage two, where you brainstorm. With zero judgement, you are writing down every idea that comes to mind as it pops to you through daily life, whether you are scrolling online or you're reading a book, or you're going through the newspaper, you're just brainstorming every possible conservation story that you might wanna pursue, then you go into stage three, where you narrow down that brainstorming list to your top three story ideas. From there, you go into stage four, where you select the one big idea that you wanna pursue, you're picking the one thing that you're gonna focus on. Then you move into stage five, where you take that big idea and you hone it into an actual story. So you're gonna be looking for some specific things that take it from a topic into a story, which include things like a "So what factor," and characters.

18:21 JH: Now from there, you're going into Stage 6, and this might be the most exciting and scary of all the stages. In stage six, you set a goal date for starting your story, actually going out and photographing your story. And this is a really critical step, because so often I see folks come up with really great story ideas, ideas that are just amazing and unique, and I cannot wait to see what they create, and then they never get out to photograph it. They have it as an idea, but because they've never set a date that they've held themselves accountable to, that story idea stays as an idea. So in stage six, you're going to set a goal date for when you are going to go out and actually photograph that story.

19:17 JH: Now, if you really wanna double down, you also set a goal date for when you have completed your photography for that conservation Photo Story. So you know when you're getting started, and you know when you wanna be done, and that way you're really gonna push yourself to get out the door and be photographing the story idea. Now, getting out the door and photographing is where some of the really critical work it's done, because as you shoot, you realize what aspects of the story you wanna tell, or maybe you uncover some angles to the story that you didn't expect to see and you can allow the story to shift a little bit as you go out and photograph it.

19:58 JH: Okay. So, stage one; mindset. Stage two; brainstorm. Stage three; let those top three ideas surface. Stage four; pick your one big idea. Stage five; hone that idea into a story. And stage six; set a goal date for getting out the door with your camera. And those are the core stages for creating a conservation photo story from moving from idea into actual action. Now, if you are feeling fired up and you really wanna start moving forward, I have some very exciting news for you, Conservation Photography 101, my digital course opens for enrollment on January 6th. That's the big day, is January 6th. And in Conservation Photography 101, I walk you through step-by-step, how to find and plan a conservation Photo Story, how to photograph it, so that you come back with a really winning set of storytelling images. And I teach you how to write and send stellar pitch emails that will get the attention of editors so that you can get that photo story out in front of audiences.

21:15 JH: Now, this online course is a complete implementation system. It will get you to a finished product, because you know me, I am all about going away beyond theory and providing you with actual how-to details, and that's exactly what we do inside this course. So if you are interested, you can hop on the waitlist at conservationphotographycourses.com, and you will be first in line the moment that enrollment opens. So head over to conservationphotographycourses.com, hop on the wait list and then open up your calendar, and on January 6th, pencil in CP 101 opens. I just cannot wait for January 6th to hurry up and get here so I can welcome in new students. I'm inside of the course every single week doing live Q&A sessions with my current students, and it is one of the most inspiring and fun parts of my entire week. I love seeing everything that my students are working on and helping them to progress to the next level. So the idea that I get to welcome in more student soon is so exciting. So January 6th is the big day.

22:25 JH: Now, meanwhile, if you have any questions at all about the six stages for creating a conservation photo story and moving from mindset and idea into action, please don't hesitate to reach out. I always love getting emails from listeners who have questions and helping them through, so you can always ping me. Now, you can find out exactly how to contact me in the show notes. You can find me via email, on Instagram, on Facebook, inside of our Facebook group for conservation photographers. I'm all over the place. So don't be shy, Reach out, ask your questions. And meanwhile, I will talk to you next week.


23:07 JH: Before we wrap up, I would love to ask you to do one quick thing, subscribe to this podcast. As a subscriber, you'll not only know when each week's episode goes live, but you'll also get insider goodies, like bonus episodes. You might miss them unless you're subscribed, and I don't want you to miss out on a thing. So please tap that, subscribe button, and I will talk to you next week.


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