Home » Podcast » Getting Started in Conservation Visual Storytelling? Great Advice from Professional Photographers

This post may contain affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. We only recommend products we fully support or use ourselves. Our full disclaimer

Episode #091

Getting Started in Conservation Visual Storytelling? Great Advice from Professional Photographers


UPDATED: May 24, 2023
ORIGINALLY AIRED ON December 28, 2021


Making the leap from camera-user to conservation visual storyteller is exciting and fulfilling. And the turn of a new year is the perfect time to start your adventure! Here's the inspiration you need from professional photographers and filmmakers who are purpose-driven creatives just like yourself.


Tips, strategies and stories from conservation visual storytellers


Pop in your earbuds to get inspiration for your grand adventure into conservation visual storytelling. I've combed through insights from photographers and filmmakers and curated pearls of wisdom that'll fire you up all throughout the storytelling process.

From the moment that you recognize you want go beyond creating clips or stand-alone images and instead build whole stories, to overcoming mental obstacles that hold you back, to figuring out stories that you're passionate about… this episode has everything you need to get to your goals with joy and enthusiasm.


Hear From:


Episode 091: Getting Started in Conservation Visual Storytelling? Great Advice from Professional Photographers

Shownotes: ConservationVisuals.com/91

(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)

Jaymi Heimbuch:
0:00:00.0 A New Year is always a really exciting time. Now, whether you're the type of person to set resolutions or set goals, or someone who sets those aside and just says, "Hey, it's a new year, let's see what happens", it still always feels like a blank slate, like this fresh start to something new, a grand adventure. So I wanted to bring you a special episode that is inspiration for the grand adventure of conservation visual storytelling, of the photography and the filmmaking that fills you with such a wonderful sense of purpose and gives meaning to your work, that allows you to have an impact with all of the creative talents that you have at your fingertips. I've gone through all of the wonderful interviews that we've had on this podcast with talented photographers and filmmakers, and I've combed through to find insights that will inspire you all throughout the storytelling process. So from the moment that you really recognize that storytelling is something that you wanna do, you wanna go beyond just creating clips or stand-alone images and you really wanna build stories and what that feels like to kinda have that epiphany moment all the way through to overcoming mental obstacles that hold you back, to figuring out stories that you're passionate about, that you can't wait to tell with visuals and why that is such a driving force for so many of us.

0:01:30.1 JH: We're gonna hear from a range of people. Some who do this as a passionate hobby, some who do this as professionals, and we're gonna learn what really has pulled them into conservation photography and filmmaking, what keeps them moving forward, how they look for stories, what they think about overcoming mental obstacles that hold them back, it is a wonderful, inspiring way to ring in a new year and hopefully a brand new adventure for you, as a conservation visual storyteller. Let's dive in.


0:02:08.9 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.


0:02:39.7 JH: Time and again, I hear from photographers about how fulfilling their photography feels after they discover conservation photography, after they pivot toward this niche for their focus. Because suddenly, all of the images that they were creating out of sheer joy, now have this higher sense of purpose. They feel like they have a way to give back, a way to make their images really do something beyond just be beautiful. Now, one of our guests, Kathy Lichtendahl had this very experience. She was creating beautiful images that hang on walls. She had a long time gig at a gallery, and she realized that there was just something a little bit missing, something not quite there, and then she discovered conservation photography and specifically conservation visual storytelling. And suddenly, it was like the light bulb went off, that she had this flame of inspiration just turn into a bonfire. And hearing from her about what it was like to discover conservation visual storytelling, it's a perfect example of how it feels when you finally really sink in and say, "Yeah, this is what I wanna do with my work." So let's hear from Kathy.

0:03:53.2 Kathy Lichtendahl: So I went back to college at the ripe old age of 50-something, and got an associate's degree in science in photographic communications from Northwest College. And the program is very much commercial photography. So nature photography, wildlife photography was really not part of the program. But as you know, as a photographer, that really doesn't matter because I was there to learn the science of photography, more so even than the art of photography. From there, I did do some commercial work, I began trying to get my work into some magazines and some publications, but my primary focus was in making images to sell at a gallery in Cody, Wyoming, and then from there, as I said, a number of things have happened about a year ago. I ended up leaving the gallery all on very good terms, but just because I felt that that was not where I really wanted to be anymore, and I have embraced wholeheartedly this idea of becoming not... I would say not even so much a conservation photographer, as a conservation storyteller. So embracing the entire genre of not just photography but telling stories with my photography.

0:05:29.1 JH: How did you arrive at that moment, that sort of epiphany moment, where you really wanted to make that change? What was that like for you?

0:05:41.4 KL: I think what finally hit home to me was that I was spending so much time trying to make a perfect image that would sell on a gallery wall. And most of those images were being dictated. The subject of those images, the type of images were being dictated by the people that were showing up to purchase those images. And I finally realized that that was not what I wanted to be doing. What I really wanted to do was to control the story myself, to tell a conservation story, not to have an image that might be a lovely image that hangs on somebody's wall just because it matches their living room sofa, but to have an image that maybe someone hangs up, or maybe they read about it in a magazine, or see about it in a magazine, and it actually changes their behavior. And that was truly an epiphany to realize that it's possible to use your photography to do good, to make a change, to make an environmental difference in this world.

0:06:58.6 JH: Wow. And I feel like that must have been a really powerful moment for you because I know that you did something so brave, which was to walk away from this relationship with the gallery and something that was a very comfortable safe space for you in order to make that space for conservation storytelling. What did you go through when you made that decision?

0:07:23.1 KL: I did go through some angst, I won't lie, because I think any time that you make a change where you walk away from something that has become comfortable and relatively easy and dive into something that's brand new, there are those moments of stress and of questioning yourself and saying, "Oh boy, was this the right thing to do? Did I make a big mistake?" And I had some moments of frustration, but it's been pretty amazing in the last, I would say the last two months, it has all of a sudden felt like everything that I have started working toward is coming together, and I feel like I have this forward momentum at the moment, and it is such a richer experience. I am just amazed by how much happier this makes me, by how excited I am about getting out there and photographing, by being able to add those layers of storytelling, even of the photos that I'm taking, I'm not trying to get that one perfect image, I am building that story, and I'm including people in that story, which I could never do when I was selling in the gallery, people don't want photos of other people on their wall, they want the profile of the grizzly bear or the wolves with blood on the muzzle or something like that. So being able to build that story, the richness of that experience has really been gratifying to me.

0:09:09.0 JH: Visual storytelling really is different from simply filming or photographing what's in front of you and having a pile of these visuals, it takes something a little bit different to build an actual story that guides viewers through an experience and really illuminates things for them. And storytelling is something that a lot of people who have years and years, decades of experience behind the camera still may not quite have. Maybe it's not of an interest to them, or maybe they just don't quite grasp that art form. Now, hearing from a photo editor about what it means to be able to build a visual story is really interesting. So when I talked with Susan Mcelhaney of Ranger Rick magazine about this very thing, it was fascinating to hear her thoughts about what it means in particular, even when you're working with kids to be able to build a visual story. Now she has so many nuggets of insight throughout this conversation, but I pulled a particular piece that I think you're gonna find really exciting because no matter where you are in your own journey as a visual storyteller, you realize just how much potential, how much possibility is out there for you to get your stories in front of audiences, and how important that is inside of conservation. Alright, let's hear from Susan.

0:10:31.8 Susan Mcelhaney: Nature photography and conservation photography, the whole subject of conservation was really coming to the surface more and more dominantly, and it was a critical area for serious photojournalism to be applied to it. Most of the photographers shooting those days doing nature or doing what I would call burda stick, there were a handful of photographers doing maybe a big story, sort of Natural Geographic in Africa about elephants or something. But in fact, the nature of the work was very limited, and I found that a lot of the photographers really didn't know what a story was. They didn't know anything about journalism, they didn't understand the impact and the necessity of telling the story about nature and conservation. And so I just found myself at a very good time at Ranger Rick to start working with more photographers who could tell that story because we also saw that our readers, these eight and 10-year-olds got it, they understood these issues better than most of the adults did. So anyway.

0:11:57.2 JH: How has your background in photojournalism informed the way that you recognize and edit stories for... Especially when it comes to wildlife conservation, 'cause I think that a lot of times, people don't think about the idea of photojournalistic skills and storytelling coming into play in a kid's nature magazine, and yet it really does. So how does that come about?

0:12:19.9 SM: It's all about the story. It's about telling a very important story or a very thrilling story. There's a rule that I apply to everything. If the kids are not drawn in by the images, they're not gonna read the story, and if they don't read the story, they're not gonna learn all the subtleties of the subject matter. So I have a responsibility to really draw the kids into the story with dramatic images that start telling a story and pose more questions for the kids. They say, "Why is that the animal doing such and such?" And "Where are they?" And "What's that person doing?" And an 8-year-old, that's how they function. They don't function with, "Okay, I'm gonna sit down and read this serious scientific story." No, they don't do that.


0:13:15.1 SM: So it's very important. It's the same techniques that frankly, the Wall Street Journal should use or anybody else. And if you look around it is the same thing that they do.

0:13:27.6 JH: When you are working with photographers, do you ever coach them on the story that they're working on or how to bring more of the storytelling skills into their photography?

0:13:38.6 SM: It's huge, it's huge. I will not name names, but I've been totally blown away by the fact that there are people out there who have huge reputations, but do not have the slightest idea of what a story is. They know how to make a set of pictures, they know how... Okay, the cat's lying down, the cat's sitting up, the cat's climbing a tree, the cat's in sunlight, the cat's in the rain, but they can't frame it, they can't frame this is the setup, these are the details, this is the thread of the story, this is the climax. They don't get that, it's just a pile of pictures that could be put in any order. And it's amazing how many very highly regarded photographers are out there who do not have a clue. They make pretty pictures that hang on a wall, but they don't go any further than that.

0:14:42.4 JH: When you say that, it sounds to me like there is so much room for photographers who don't have reputations or who are getting started or are flying under the radar to really make a big impact because they have storytelling skills. Would you say that's true?

0:15:00.4 SM: Oh yeah, totally. I think this is definitely the time for that. I found myself at a wonderful time in terms of that confluence of things to come together, the need for it, and more people who have the skills. Yeah, totally.

0:15:21.5 JH: When we get all excited about making that shift into storytelling, we know that this is the path that we really wanna take with the imagery that we create. One common thing that happens is you turn to the pages of National Geographic or you turn to documentaries from BBC, and you think that your own work has to look like that in order for you to be a successful conservation visual storyteller, you have to have those photojournalistic approach. Now, that journalistic background is helpful, it's definitely a helpful thing to have because it helps you understand the impact that storytelling has and how to tell really effective stories through your visuals, but it does not necessarily mean that that is the one and only way to be a conservation visual storyteller. There are so many ways to use your imagery to bring people into a story that helps to push the needle on a conservation issue or effort.

0:16:24.7 JH: Storytelling, conservation visual storytelling is oh, so varied. There are so many ways to approach this and so many styles that can come to the forefront; your own personal style, your own unique way of seeing the world. That is a critical thing to keep in mind as you're working, rather than to force yourself into some other mold that you see, just because it's common. Now, I had a conversation with Morgan Heim, who's a filmmaker and photographer and does this professionally, about this really common myth that comes up, especially when people are just finding their way into conservation visual storytelling, and this really deep concern about they have to shoot a certain way in order to be successful can arise. And I think this part of the conversation that we have will really inspire you that if you're moving into visual storytelling, the world is your oyster for how you get to approach that and keeping your own style in mind as you work your way into this field is important and wonderful to do. So I think you're gonna love this part of a conversation that I had with Morgan. Let's go ahead and jump into the middle of it.

0:17:37.7 JH: Well, the first myth that we hear all the time in conservation photography is that conservation photography is photojournalistic in style, and if you aren't shooting in the photojournalistic style that you see on the pages of National Geographic, or if you aren't shooting the way that so many famous photographers are shooting, then you're not doing it right. And personally, my mantra is conservation photography is about what you do with your images, far more so than your style, and I think that getting wrapped up in the myth that it has to be photojournalistic is kind of dangerous ultimately to conservation visual storytelling because it's holding people back.

0:18:23.1 Morgan Heim: Well, it is. It's really, I think, limiting to think that there's this one way you do conservation photography, and I don't even think that the idea that it is tied to photojournalism was necessarily a conscious decision by the conservation photography community. It just I think seems to be the thing that has been the most common, has really risen to the forefront as a form of advocacy storytelling that you're gonna do it through presenting reality and the way you do that is through photojournalism. And there are just so many examples of people who are doing some really ground-breaking work with conservation, storytelling and photography that is employing a wide array of genres of photography, subject matter and techniques. And I think that, that's the thing is with conservation photography. I was thinking about this the other day, where conservation photography isn't... It's not about one type of photography. I think literally any technique in photography can be used in conservation photography... Can be conservation photography. It is so much about how it's being employed out in the world. So I'm excited to see what people... How they continue to evolve photography moving forward.

0:19:53.6 MH: I'm trying to think of a few photographers that I know who have, even from the beginning, kind of flipped the script on conservation photography. People like Robin Moore. And he's hiring models and doing body painting to have these models painted up to look like these endangered amphibians, and then they're holding the amphibian in their hand. And it's these beautifully stylized portraits with black backdrops, very high fashion. And that's totally conservation photography. He's using that in active conservation efforts. There was a kind of a... Along those veins, Patricio Robles Gil, way back in 2013, at World Wilderness Congress in Merida, Mexico, did this amazing photo installation. He partnered with a bunch of photographers, a bunch of big name photographers, and like Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen, and all of these people you see on National Geographic and they photographed models that had been painted up like endangered or threatened species from the Yucatan. And then photographed them within the ruins of old buildings that were there, and created these gorgeous fine art portraits that were drawing attention to various conservation issues.

0:21:17.4 MH: So there's just so many different ways to approach conservation photography that has nothing to do with photo journalism. Just as photographers, we are trying to figure out who we are, find our eyes, find our vision. How we see the world. How we're going to figure out what we wanna photograph and why and how and those are big questions. And I think that if you start... If you have a natural inclination, but then you start shoving that aside for an idea of what you're supposed to do, then you're gonna be doing yourself a disservice and you're ultimately gonna be doing the conservation messaging a disservice. And you're gonna be depriving us of getting to see something in a new way. Which I think more and more there are places to find homes for work regardless of whether it fits more traditional seeming perceptions of what that work is supposed to be like. And...

0:22:26.7 MH: Yeah, I just definitely... If you're feeling in your gut that like, "Oh, this just doesn't feel natural," or "I have this a way that I'm really good at, but I have to do it this way and I'm not as good at that," don't necessarily try to make yourself be good at something that's not what you actually want to do.

0:22:45.5 JH: Yeah.

0:22:46.7 MH: Really think about why you're picking up the camera and how you can use your talents in the most effective way. That's I think the most important thing.

0:22:55.1 JH: Okay, so we have established that there are so many ways to be a conservation visual storyteller. And that your own unique style, your own unique approach to the storytelling matters, and that it has importance, and that finding your own way, is... That there's a room for that, and that it's to be celebrated. But let's go ahead and pivot to what it's like to actually discover a story and to start to chase it down to shape it. Now, funnily enough, we are going to find out how to do that from a long-time National Geographic photographer, Brian Skerry, is one of my favorite conservation photographers out there because of the passion that he brings to his work. And always finding a unique way of shaping a story so that it brings impact. We had a conversation about his project, Secrets of the Whales, which was a really unique different approach to telling the stories of whales, because he focused in on culture. And as a storyteller, it's really hard to document culture in other species. So Brian really dives into how he kinda figured out his angle and why finding a particular angle to this project mattered so much as a storyteller. There's a lot of insight in here that will help to guide you in your own efforts to finding a unique story that you are excited to tell, and what that can really mean for the conservation issues that you personally are super passionate about. So here is Brian Skerry.

0:24:27.4 Brian Skerry: Oftentimes, I start out wanting to do a story about a given animal, let's say that I'm just interested in. But I realize that I can't... The days at a magazine like National Geographic of just doing a story on an animal because it's cool, or because we haven't seen a story in the magazine on that before or something, those days are over. You really have to have relevance these days. If you're doing a story, you have to compete with not only other wildlife photographers, but other photographers who are doing really important stories about social documentary issues or conflict or many other subjects. Archaeology, history. So you have to pitch a story that matters, that has relevance. So a lot of times I'll say, "Look, I wanna do a story on great white sharks. I love sharks." But what's new and interesting about great white sharks? What's the science showing us? So that is one way I'll do it. And I'll go in and it might take years, sometimes many years, to have a little folder of material that I'm collecting and I'm teasing it out and I realize it's not ready for prime time yet. It's not there. I haven't got it shaped, perfectly.

0:25:40.9 BS: Other times, I just hear about an issue. There's this thing going on, and I say that, that needs to be covered. And then you drill down on that and say, whatever it might be, there's an ecosystem problem or there's some environmental threat. Well, then it's about, what are the photographic elements to it? And how can I make pictures of that? Where do I have to go? What do I have to do? Who do I have to work with with? Those are common issues in any story, but sometimes you hear about a thing and you just wanna go for that. Other times I start with, I love a certain animal, I love sperm whales or beluga whales, or whatever. So I wanna do a story on that. And that was how it was with whales. But the stories can come from different places, I guess.

0:26:29.1 JH: Wow. Such a great answer to that 'cause there are so many... One of the big topics that I talk about a lot with the people that I work with, with my students for conservation photography, is how do you take a concept and really zero in on the story line that draws people in, and like you said, makes it really relevant? And one of the things that you said that I find really interesting is that you're competing with so many other things that are important for everybody to know about. And knowing that you've had to shift the way that you think about and pitch stories in order to pursue them, has that changed your thoughts about you and your role as a photographer? Has it changed the way that you view your importance in bringing these stories to light?

0:27:15.6 BS: Yes. I mean, I don't think about my importance, but I do think about how to get people's attention as a storyteller. I like to think that I have evolved, that the stories that I'm doing today are different in some respect. Obviously, there's common threads. I'm working in the ocean, I'm working with wildlife. There's a lot of commonality. But I'm very interested in, I don't know if I wanna say more complex storytelling. But I'm interested in the things that will motivate people. I'm very interested in a whole range of things. What I look to in the future for myself is how to really blend many issues. These are wildlife issues. These are conservation issues. These are things that I ultimately would like to see happen. I would like people to change their behavior, because they know that these whales have rich cultures and that... That they say, "Oh my goodness, now I care." One of the things I wrote in my proposal was that there's a billion dollar whale watching... A multi-billion dollar whale watching industry on planet Earth where people would get on boats all over the world, they go out and they see a whale breach or a tail slap, and then they eat a hamburger and they go home. And they don't really know.

0:28:42.4 BS: But there's a desire. There are people care about whales. They have for centuries, for eons, but we don't really know much about their lives. And now I was seeing that the science was showing these amazing things. That it was revealing that they have really complex social structures and things that matter to them. That identity mattered to whales. That their children mattered to them. That they invested their teaching. It's generational learning. Grandmothers are teaching the grandchildren and that they live longer because there's a grandmother in the family unit, and these kinds of things.

0:29:15.1 BS: And I felt... So that gets at your question in the sense that for me, the importance of a story is up to the individual. But I like to try to relate it to us because ultimately, we are the ones that are creating these anthropogenic stresses that are hurting the planet. So if I can get people to care a little bit differently, and maybe that's appealing to the family aspect or maybe it's spirituality, or maybe it's... These are the themes that I'm interested in exploring as a storyteller as I go forward. It's gotta be rooted in science. It has to be based on a foundation that is solid and can be provable. But beyond that, I think we can dig a little deeper to see how it connects to us. Because ultimately what I've learned after 40 years of exploring the sea, is that everything is connected. So if I can bring it back home then that's where I feel I'm doing some good.

0:30:16.2 JH: Now, one of the biggest motivators for conservation visual storytellers. The thing that really sets conservation photographers and filmmakers apart from every other filmmaker and photographer, is that we care about the impact of our work on a conservation or environmental issue. So it's one thing to make the visuals and it's another thing to really get those visuals out there in a way that has impact. That moves the needle on a conservation issue. We are always thinking about, "Okay, I've built a story, how do I get it in front of the audiences that need to see this so that it can have an impact?" Well, I sat down with Benjamin Von Wong, who's an environmental artist, talented photographer and an exceptional marketer of his work. He is an expert in not just creating really engaging visuals, but in getting engagement with those engaging visuals. Like really getting people to have conversation and to get people sharing these visuals.

0:31:17.3 JH: And one of the best things that came out of this interview with Benjamin, which is really saying something, because this interview was just filled with so many great stories and examples in his work, is that he talked about what it's like to create something that might seem like this huge unachievable project. And how he mentally breaks that down into something that is achievable. And I loved this as inspiration for you, because so often when we find our stories and we start to shape them, they can seem really big and maybe even unachievable. Bigger than our capabilities. But the thing is, if you break it down into steps, anything is possible and Ben, really proves it. So let's dive into this conversation with Ben and his thoughts about taking the impossible and making it possible.

0:32:13.8 Benjamin Von Wong: While the work that I do looks really big, complicated, possibly impossible, and even I'm surprised by how some of these actually succeed very often. They often start from a place of very ordinary possibilities. I think a lot of the projects that I do are just like the one person or one point of contact away from the whole thing falling apart. There are so many cornerstone pieces that were necessary for them to succeed, and there's no reason why they should have happened. Like this shark project, there is no reason why with a two-week notice, I should have been able to find a shark scientist, a dive crew, a model that would be willing to fly herself over... None of this should be possible, but it is. And I think that if you stop thinking about a project as one massive thing and you think about what is the most compelling piece of it? And you're able to get that, then the others kind of slowly start falling into place. So what's an example of that? A project that I did, probably one of my most popular projects where I put a mermaid on 10000 plastic bottles, started off because my mom sent me a photo of a mermaid tail designer while I was in Montreal, because my sister was about to get married. And I saw this and I was like, "Oh cool, a mermaid."

0:33:38.0 BW: I really love the design of this, I wanna do a project, but I want it to have an impact. And so I started looking online. And this was right when the Great Pacific garbage patch had just been discovered. And so I was like, "Oh, plastics in the ocean. Perfect. Let's do something around that. What do I need to make that possible?" And the first piece of that was like, "Well, I'm gonna need a lot of material." Something that can attract attention. So something like a bunch of plastic bottles. And so the first step of that project was to find a large quantity of plastic bottles. And it started off with me chatting with a friend. I was talking with a friend, we were catching up. He was talking about how he missed being a film producer. And I was like, "Oh cool, do you wanna help me produce this thing? I'm looking for 10000 plastic bottles. I think it could be cool to do this mermaid plastic bottle project."

0:34:23.5 BW: And so he called a couple of recycling facilities. Actually, I think the first place he called said yes. And it was just basically one phone call away and suddenly they were like, "Okay, we have 10000 plastic bottles. We're happy to it off wherever you need. It'll come in an 18-foot truck." And I was like, "Wait, I did not think that 10000 plastic bottles would come in an 18-foot truck. So now I need a warehouse." But now, the next conversation to find the warehouse piece, you say, I have 10000 plastic bottles and a mermaid, can I find a warehouse? And that warehouse suddenly becomes easier to find, because you have something compelling. And then once you have 10000 plastic bottles, a warehouse and a mermaid, and you just need some people to come help you to clean it. When's the next time they're gonna get to see 10000 plastic bottles and a mermaid? It's more more interesting. And then you start finding the technical talent that you need in order to hang the camera on the ceiling. And you start finding the videographer to document it. But now it's becoming an exciting thing that has momentum. And so momentum, I think is the hardest thing to build.

0:35:24.9 BW: So there are a zillion projects that I've created that were never able to get enough momentum to get off the ground. And that happens all the time. So when you say, is can't, part of our vocabulary, it's more like they just never even got to take their first breath. Like, I might have had an idea and I tried and I tried to get that ball rolling and it just kind of stopped before it ever got down the hill. Like, you kind of need to push this boulder up a mountain and then once it's over that crest, then you suddenly... You kinda become unstoppable and it's amazing, but there's this huge phase in between where you're just like, "Oh, I just don't know if I'm gonna make it." And that is still true today.

0:35:57.1 JH: Now, as you head out there and find your own unique style as a conservation photographer or film maker, as you find your own approach to storytelling, as you find the stories that fire you up and you figure out ways to achieve them, no matter what. There's gonna be one thing that keeps you really moving forward on that path. And that's your why. Why you're doing this work in the first place. Every single one of us has a really unique why. Some moment that really sparked something inside of you or a cause that you're so passionate about that you return to it again and again. Or just the feeling of wanting to leave a legacy, of wanting to have purpose inside of your work.

0:36:40.7 JH: Each of us has a driving why. Finding those roots, those reasons in your own home or your own community... That, can keep you moving forward into projects all over the globe, if that's where this work takes you. So I wanted to bring you one more piece of an inspiring conversation. This one with Inka Cresswell, a wildlife filmmaker. Because she talks about her own moment of finding her, why. This thing that really drove her forward into conservation wildlife film-making. And I think that her own experience in the way she talks of it will deeply resonate with you in such a way that if you haven't yet found your why, you're going to be very inspired to look for it, to shape it, to hold on to it, as you venture into this wonderful field called conservation visual storytelling. So here is Inka.

0:37:37.9 Inka Cresswell: I was inspired by people like Jane Goodall, who got to go out and study behavior. These scientists that got to completely immerse themselves in these species and understand them. And that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be just like someone like Jane Goodall but, off the ocean. I wanted to understand the dolphins, understand the whales, understand what they were saying to each other. But when I got to university, I think I was very struck by the amount our oceans are changing and how these pristine oceans, I had kind of grown up hearing these stories about, was slipping away at such an alarming rate. And for me the idea of becoming a behavioral biologist just no longer felt like it was the right thing to do. I felt like I needed to go into conservation. There was no point in understanding something if there was no way of protecting it. And I found myself increasingly frustrated with this kind of lack of knowledge between the scientific community and the general public. And through my scuba diving, I had started playing around with small disposable cameras. And what I realized is that that was the best way for me to communicate those messages, was to show people my photos. To take people on that journey with me.

0:38:41.8 IC: And if I could show them just how amazing this place was, that was the best way to communicate these messages. So it was kind of a bit of a... I think it was very much of the science that guided me in that direction, and it was just trying to find the best way to connect with a different audience.

0:38:57.4 JH: That's really amazing. I think that people like you who are focused on ocean conservation are incredibly important, because you are going into worlds that most people are never going to actually see. And so it is really critical that you're bringing back really amazing footage and photography. We've known this ever since the days of Jacques Cousteau, how huge that is. But I find people who work in the conservation visual storytelling for ocean work really important, because it's not something where we can just book a plane ticket and go on a hike and see. There are special skill sets and equipment and everything in order to be able to see this, and it's outside of the capability. Do you think that that is one of the reasons why ocean conservation is such a challenge, is that it's a place that so few of us actually touch?

0:39:45.2 IC: Definitely. And I think it's a really interesting one and it's something that I've noticed a lot. And it's like... A really good example of that is the Kelp Forest in Sussex. The Kelp Forest in Sussex in the 80s were so prevalent along the coastline there that apparently, according to the old stories, I can't say. I wasn't around back then. But the boats used to have to row past the Kelp line before they could start their engines, because the engines would get so blocked up with Kelp. And today it has declined by over 88%. And this is in my door step.

0:40:13.7 JH: Wow!

0:40:14.7 IC: So this is literally what I would have been waking up to every day as a kid, and that entire ecosystem disappeared and no one even noticed. And it's because it's just hidden by the surface layer of water. And if no one's out there kind of exploring these places... It's like a forest surrounding your home disappearing, but no one has seen it go. And I think it's such an interesting thing when it comes to our oceans... It's a part of what I love about the ocean more than anything, because it's this sense of mystery. And it's part of the reason why for me, every time I enter, I feel like I'm going into this new world, this massive adventure where you never know what you're gonna find and that's the beauty of it, but it is also the hardest thing about our oceans. And it absolutely is... It's one of the biggest struggles for conservation. And especially when you look at a lot of Island nations and smaller communities where maybe ocean literacy isn't taught as well as it should be and loads of kids grow up, not knowing how to swim. They lose that appreciation for their local coastline, and those local ecosystems because they've never been exposed to them. And then you end up having more and more parachute science coming in from international organizations.

0:41:16.7 IC: And so if you kind of take away that personal connection that people have to their coast lines, you'd lose that need for conservation. You lose that local understanding. And I think it is so critical that we find ways to get people more exposed to what is literally on their door step.

0:41:33.5 JH: Well, in your career, to be able to kind of achieve this... Actually, let me back up. There's another question I wanna ask first. You're a very young woman. To see so much happen in what is a quite short lifespan and to be so committed, I have to ask you. What is your sense of hope around ocean conservation? As a young person looking at the future of this. Seeing the rapidity of the decline, but being fully committed inside your career, what emotionally, is this like for you?

0:42:05.6 IC: It's a really hard one. And it's interesting, I think that you kind of... You have to put on a front at times. And I think there was a quote that really stood out to me, which was that positivity in the face of disaster isn't naivety it's leadership. And I think it's so important that you basically... You see what's going on. It's like I'm completely aware that where there's a possibility that there's a lost cause there. But I'm not willing to accept that. I don't want to accept that. I've seen these beautiful things and I want that to be protected and I just... I will not accept anything other than that. And I think that it is so important that we bring that positivity to everybody. And not only the next generation, but the current generation. I think it's so important that we all take responsibility. Because we need to act quickly and we need to be acting now. And it is so, so important. But there is a huge amount of hope when it comes to the scientist that I meet, when it comes to some of the innovative solutions that are coming up. There is some fascinating science going on out there.

0:43:04.7 IC: And I think that was the thing that kind of really made me do that transition into film making was that it seemed like a lot of the answers, were just sitting there in shelves, and in scientific journals. All of them were there. And it's just like, "Hold, on. So this isn't a problem that is unsolvable. This is a problem that no one is willing to act on. Okay, well, how do we make them act on it? And how do we take that science and convert it into passion and enthusiasm?" And I think that when you kind of actually break things down to that level and you understand the solutions, there is a huge amount of positivity. And I have a lot of faith that there are enough individuals who are passionate that they can spread that infectious positivity and hopefully other people will also be able to get on board because yeah, it's a movement that needs everybody.

0:43:50.9 JH: Indeed, it is a movement that needs everybody. And I hope that you have listened to this episode and you are feeling inspired and fired up to be part of the movement. To be part of conservation visual storytelling and to use your talents with a camera. To use all of the passion that you have for creating visuals. To put that into conservation storytelling and just tell the most amazing stories that are happening all around you. In your own backyard and in your town. In your community, and in your state, in your country, across the globe. Wherever this work may take you. I hope that you are inspired to use your visuals to tell stories that bring audiences into that conservation conversation, to help protect these amazing species, places, cultures, people, ways of existing in the world that are so worth protecting and preserving.

0:44:43.4 JH: And if you want help on that journey, if you are looking for ways to get started, if you're looking for training and tools, instruction, coaching, come on over to conservationvisualstorytellersacademy.com. We are there for you with courses and workshops and coaching and everything that you need to really build momentum, build your skills and become a visual storyteller. It's conservationvisualstorytellersacademy.com. I can't wait to hear from you. And meanwhile, thanks so much for listening to this episode. We'll see you again soon.


Rate, Review & Follow on Apple Podcasts

Love listening to Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast? Please consider rating and reviewing us! Reviews help us reach more photographers just like you who want to make a meaningful impact with their images.

Head here on your mobile device, scroll down to “Write a Review”, and let us know what you love most about the show!

While you’re at it, tap “Follow” so you’re sure to get all the episodes – including bonus episodes! – the moment they drop. Follow now!