Advocacy vs Photojournalism In Conservation Photography


A duck resting on a small mound by the water's edge.

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Jaymi Heimbuch
UPDATED: August 15, 2023

In conservation photography, the lines between objective observation and passionate action often blur. Get clarity on the intertwining realms of photojournalism and advocacy. Explore how these two roles impact storytelling and influence the perception and protection of our natural world.


We live in the gray area between photojournalism and advocacy

There’s an essential and often misunderstood aspect of conservation photography: the balance between photojournalism and advocacy.

Whether you’re capturing stunning landscapes or documenting endangered species, understanding when to act as a neutral observer and when to push for change is essential.

This balance not only affects how you approach your work but also how you inspire others to take action for the planet.

What is Conservation Photography?

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty, let’s clarify what conservation photography is. It goes beyond capturing stunning landscapes or rare wildlife. It’s about using images to drive change, highlighting threats to our planet, and inspiring action. It’s storytelling with a purpose.

Photojournalism vs. Advocacy

In the realm of conservation photography, there’s a vast gray area between being a photojournalist and an advocate. Knowing when to play which role is key.

Photojournalism: The Visual Reporter

A conservation photojournalist is like any other journalist but with a camera. Their mission is to document environmental issues and events as they happen, providing a visual report of reality without trying to influence the outcome. The goal here is to inform the public about the state of our environment.

Imagine a photojournalist covering deforestation. They might take pictures of the logging process, the impacts on wildlife, and local communities. These images serve as visual evidence, educating the public about what’s happening. While they might craft their shots with artistic sensibilities, their ultimate goal is to present an unbiased account.

Advocacy: The Change Maker

An advocate, on the other hand, uses their images to drive specific actions or changes. Advocacy in conservation photography means strategically using your work to support a cause, whether it’s protecting an endangered species, fighting climate change, or opposing destructive mining efforts.

For instance, an advocate might photograph the beauty and fragility of a coral reef while also showing the devastating effects of ocean warming. These images would then be used in campaigns to raise awareness and inspire actions to combat climate change. The aim here is not just to inform but to provoke thought and inspire action.

Navigating the Gray Area

Most conservation photographers find themselves navigating the gray area between these two roles. Depending on the project and your goals, you might lean more towards one side of the spectrum or the other. The important thing is to be clear about your role to maintain trust with your subjects and audience.

Key Points to Remember

Understand Your Goals: Know whether your primary goal is to inform (photojournalism) or to inspire action (advocacy). This will guide how you approach your work and present your images.

Maintain Transparency: Be honest about your intentions. Whether you’re documenting an issue or pushing for change, transparency helps build trust.

Ethical Practices: Always strive for ethical practices in your work. Ensure that your images truthfully represent the stories you’re telling.

Use Storytelling Power: Whether informing or advocating, use the power of storytelling to create impact. A well-told story through images can move hearts and minds.

Exercise for You

To better understand how to balance these roles, check out the work of renowned conservation photographers like Steve Winter and Amy Vitale. Notice how they navigate the space between photojournalism and advocacy, maintaining transparency and trust with their audience.

Balancing photojournalism and advocacy in conservation photography is a challenging but rewarding endeavor. By being clear on your goals, maintaining ethical standards, and using the power of storytelling, you can make a significant impact.


Jaymi Heimbuch


Jaymi Heimbuch is a wildlife conservation photographer, photo editor, and instructor. She is the founder of Conservation Visual Storytellers Academy ®, and is the host of Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast. Her photography and writing have appeared in outlets such as National Wildlife, Audubon, BBC Wildlife, and National Geographic. She is Senior Photo Editor of Ranger Rick magazine.

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