How to Get Started in Conservation Photography

Conservation photography is photography with a purpose. It is about what you DO with your images to bring attention, understanding, and action to environmental issues.

– Jaymi Heimbuch

1. What is conservation photography?

Conservation photography and filmmaking gives a purpose – a why – to your work.

If you are already passionate about wildlife photography or filmmaking and are interested in environmental issues, chances are, conservation visual storytelling is precisely the niche for you.

Perhaps you have never heard of the term, “Conservation Visual Storytelling”, or maybe you have and you're interested in exploring the possibilities of choosing this as a career path.

Either way, it can be tough to know exactly how to get started and build momentum for your work.

That's the experience I had when getting started 10 years ago. It's hard enough figuring out how to be a great photographer, but add to that the extra hurdles that come with focusing on wildlife conservation and… well, it can feel daunting.

But it doesn't have to be that way (and with help from the Academy, it isn't!).

Once you've recognized that you want to do something meaningful with your images – your big WHY – you can make an impressive positive difference for the world through the visuals you already love to create.

Push PLAY on the podcast episode below ⬇️ to learn about the difference between conservation photography and wildlife or nature photography PLUS walk away with actionable steps to get started where you are.

You'll Learn:

  • How conservation photography adds a why to your existing passion for wildlife photography
  • The difference between conservation photography and other forms of photography
  • Examples of the endless possibilities for conservation photographers to showcase their work
  • What it looks like practically to put your images to work for conservation purposes
  • Some of the misconceptions about conservation photography
  • Three specific ways you can get started in conservation photography
  • Examples of how you can leverage your social media content to raise awareness

2. Why does visual storytelling matter so much?

And how can I get started in conservation photography and shooting photo stories?

A single image is a powerful thing. A photo story is far more so.

It is truly incredible how much information and emotion can be packed into a single photograph documenting the briefest moment in time.

Again and again we have seen how one image can change hearts, minds, and behaviors across a culture, across a country, across the planet.

Yet one image equals just one moment. It represents just one small part of the whole story of what's happening around an issue.

The human brain thrives on stories. It's how evolution has hard-wired us. Stories are how we understand simple and complex issues alike.

And here's the most important part for conservation — stories are the tool that help us emotionally connect to people, places and issues that we'd otherwise overlook or dismiss.

We're a visual species evolved to be enthralled by stories.

And that's why visual stories – whether photo essays or films – are hands down the most powerful tool for conservation.

Master the art of telling stories through your photography and you gain a superpower far more important than technical perfection with a camera.

Whether you're raising awareness, raising funds, or raising support for legislation, you can get spectacular results for the causes you care about with your photography.

But here's what's most important to know: 

You don't have to travel the globe or be famous make an amazing difference for conservation with your photography.

The most important impact you can have for conservation happens in your own community.

That's because all conservation starts at the ground, where your feet are already standing.

The way to begin this fulfilling adventure is simple: Start creating visual stories.

Ready to find your first story? Here are three types of stories you can photograph locally ⬇️

Next, dive into this inspiring interview with Anne Readel, which will show you how you can start from right where you are (even if you have little experience with a camera) and get photo stories into big publications by focusing on what's happening right outside your front door ⬇️

3. How do I get my conservation photography published?

Making photographs is wonderful, but they can't shake up the world without an audience.

You have big dreams for making a real difference with your images.

You know your photography has the power to educate, to show people the amazing world we live in and what we stand to lose.

And you know that getting your work into publications is a massive opportunity to reach a bigger audience…. but…

Which of these thoughts have spun around in your brain?

>> I know how to make beautiful photographs. I just don’t know how to make them into a story.

>> I just have NO IDEA where to start to get published. The whole process feels daunting and makes my palms sweat.

>> I want to photograph a story, but I have zero focus. I never seem to make progress toward that goal.

>> I’ve tried pitching to editors, but no one ever answers my emails. I’m so frustrated and discouraged.

>> I’m comfortable with animals and landscapes – it’s photographing the people part that freaks me out.

>> I want to make a difference with my images, but I’m totally lost as to how. Whenever I start to think about it, I get overwhelmed.

Whether you’re brand new to the scene or want to take your skills to the next level, you likely already know that you need a system for discovering and photographing fresh stories, and a strategy to get them into the hands of editors.

Even if you’ve been a nature photographer for awhile, crafting a complete conservation photo story from START to FINISH, and getting it seen by an editor will…

1. Catapult your photography to incredible new levels

It’s all about focus and clarity. That’s what is required to see a story through from concept to pitch. You’re pushing yourself past old comfort zones, pushing past limits in your existing skills, and taking on a whole exciting range of new skills. 

When you can envision all the shots you need to tell a story, you get energized and eager to throw yourself into new strategies and approaches. You’re pushing past limits with your gear and exploring fresh styles with zero second-guessing or self-doubt.

You’re so focused on your story and you’re so clear on what you need to photograph in order to tell it, that suddenly you become a master of surprising new skills. 

2. Establish you as a serious conservation photographer

You’re capable of extraordinary things. It’s time to move beyond donating images here and there to nonprofit groups. Ramp up to the next level, reach a bigger audience, and make a name for yourself as a conservation photographer.

This is not about ego. It’s about being effective. 

What sets dabblers and skilled photographers apart is the ability to recognize and create a complete story. When you know how to photograph complete stories, you step up your game as a volunteer and as a professional. 

You become known as someone whose images are influential, as someone who is the go-to photographer for everyone from local nonprofits to nationwide publications. And that means your photography truly makes an impact.

3. Generate unstoppable momentum

The satisfaction and excitement of seeing your work in print is unparalleled, as is the confidence that comes with it. After your first byline is published, you’ll be chomping at the bit to start in on your next story.

Work your way through the entire story-crafting process, and your experiences build up energy and momentum that rolls you right into your next story, and the next, and the next. Small successes build to big accomplishments, and your work increases in quality and reach.

And you know what? The world needs exactly that.

Your skills and talents in photography are incredibly powerful, and when you apply them to conservation issues, you’re helping us all benefit.

4. Build a cash flow so your passion work pays for itself

It doesn’t matter if this is your hobby, a side-hustle, or something you want to get serious about as a career. Fact is, you need to earn an income to offset the costs of creating stories – from camera gear to travel to permits and more.

This work can lead to paychecks. And incoming paychecks means your ongoing ability to get out there, camera in hand, and accomplish amazing things! 

Imagine what it will feel like to have a roadmap in hand, one that gets you to that printed story and a byline to post proudly on your website, and an instructor who guides you along the route.

Conservation Photography 101 is the only program of its kind. This online course…

Kyle Gerner

    What I’ve learned in the course has given me the confidence to be curious, ask questions, meet people, and get my work out there. And now I have my first conservation photo story accepted for publication.

The course has paid for itself in less than a year!

Shari Romar headshot
Shari Romar

    I've been into nature photography for 25 years or so. Conservation Photography 101 has been the best investment I've made in photography, aside from my gear.

This course has blown-my mind. Every element is spectacular.

Susan Winfree

    Now I feel such joy in my photography, like I have a new box of tools to play with.

Because of Conservation Photography 101, I’ve seen a huge growth in my photography skills and an increase in my confidence…It’s been incredible. The course has opened up all these possibilities for me and gives my photography a purpose I’m super excited about!

Jennifer Leigh Warner

    And when I completed a story and sent it to an editor, that editor’s response was probably the most encouraging thing I had ever heard.

Anthony Ochieng

   When I found CP101, it helped me realize the importance of having a step to step approach… The program is like the back bone of my conservation photography professional career.

Luciane Coletti

   It was great to have immediate clarification and feedback on the direction I’m going in conservation photography.

Colleen Taggart

   With so much information to inspire and challenge, you can't help but grow your expertise… Now I feel like I have all the tools, and know what direction to go in.

Bill MacFarland

    And, one of the stories I worked on during this course has been accepted for publication by a national magazine! WOOOHOOO! That's what we're talkin' about!

Lisa Alvarez

   I've read articles on how to become a Conservation Photographer, but that does not even begin to compare with what you learn in this course. Here, you get the “nuts and bolts” on how to move forward.

Jules Jacobs

    I definitely wouldn't have pursued my early story ideas without the course because I wouldn't have known where to start… If you want to be here, and if you want to be in the action, and if you want to be inspiring others, this course will change your life if you let it.

I am not exaggerating when I say it has changed my life.

Sarah Killingsworth

    The publications I had in 2021 were a direct result of the work I did in Conservation Photography 101 in 2020, including the cover story in a regional magazine which was the story I workshopped while taking the course.

I’ve absolutely gotten a return on my investment in CP101. It’s probably the best investment I made in 2020. It has helped me build a strong foundation.

Anne Readel

    I enrolled in the course in June, submitted my first pitch in September, and the story was published in Audubon Magazine in November.

I think a lot of us are probably perfectionists… But at some point, you need to just pull the trigger. Jaymi helps you see when you can do that, when to get out of your own way to get your story into the world. This course has been invaluable.

Michelle Guillermin

    As a nonjournalist, a non-professional photographer, this realm can feel intimidating. But I didn’t feel that with Jaymi. She recognizes everyone has a part to play in conservation photography.

Samantha Stephens

   To be able to see my portfolio come together felt very rewarding. I now think beyond single images, and feel more comfortable pursuing stories and talking to new people.

Christina Selby

   I am also putting together pitches for two additional stories to national magazines, both ideas were developed and honed in CP 101. Now I have the confidence to actually send the pitches off.