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.
- 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.
Before taking Conservation Photography 101, I had no previously published work – text or photo. I didn’t have fancy equipment. I had no website. I also didn't have any photo editing software. I had no network. I don't know anyone in any sort of editorial or wildlife biology field.
I thought, how does somebody with zero experience and a full-time job get started in this?
I’d only taken one virtual photography workshop. It was nice… it showed all these great things you can do as a photographer. But it didn’t show anything about how you do them. And I really wanted to understand how to get my work out there.
Then I came across Conservation Photography 101.
All of the resources are very articulate, very thorough and most importantly, the how is emphasized.
The many examples are incredibly helpful. Plus, access to the peer group in Storyteller Accelerator is a big bonus with how much feedback you can get.
In the past, I’d just gone out and taken photos of whatever I felt like taking photos of. But with what I’ve learned in the course, I’m now seeing photo stories around me.
It’s connecting me to my community. I’m meeting people, volunteering, and making connections – all something I never really thought I’d need to do as a photographer. And I’m writing now! I didn’t think I’d ever write anything!
What I’ve learned in the course about making photo stories I care about 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!
I've been into nature photography for 25 years or so. I’ve gotten a few pictures and a couple of articles published. But I was having trouble with two main things: organization and feedback.
I've been working in a bubble when it comes to photography. I needed community and expert feedback to improve and to stay on track. And I wanted to work on deeper stories, instead of just doing a couple of random off-hand pieces here and there.
When I joined Conservation Photography 101, it exceeded every expectation.
I’ve taken lots of online classes. I even did my master's degree many years ago through a distance learning program. So I’ve had a lot of experiences with online courses – some good, some forgettable.
This course has blown-my mind. Every element is spectacular.
Jaymi is so active in it. It's not like you just do the course and then good luck to you. Jaymi is responding to every single person's comments and questions. And the depth of feedback is beyond what I ever expected.
I've learned so much that’s helped not only improve my photography, but also really build up my confidence.
With the frameworks from the course, I’m more clear on what I want to photograph when I’m out, and how I’ll approach it. I know what my next step is, and I’m now confident that I know what I'm doing.
This course has been the best investment I've made in photography, aside from my gear. I highly recommend it to any photographer who wants to grow their skills.
I've done a lot of photography trips the last few years and the more I got out, the more I saw the impact people have in wild places. From bear jams in the Tetons, to balloons floating in the ocean on whale trips, it all started bothering me, making me feel like I needed to do something.
Then a friend recommended Conservation Photography 101 so I could learn to use my photos to highlight important stories.
Now I feel such joy in my photography, like I have a new box of tools to play with. I’m experiencing a lot more fun in my photography and at a deeper level which I didn’t have before, and am finding more and more to be curious about.
Conservation Photography 101 is amazingly well-created. It’s wonderful to get supportive and expert feedback on your work as you go through the course.
Jaymi has a high level of experience, and is so upbeat, offering smart ideas and solutions to students. I might be focused on one thing and she shifts my perspective to a new way of seeing things. I’ve grown to think more creatively with my photography by really planning out the shots I want to make and why.
Because of Conservation Photography 101, I’ve seen a huge growth in my photography skills and an increase in my confidence and comfort level when meeting other people in my community who are involved in some kind of conservation. I’m much more motivated to make those connections, and the people I meet embrace what I’m doing and love to talk and share their ideas.
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
I am a conservation photographer living in central Texas and I primarily focus on human-wildlife coexistence stories.
When I was pitching stories to editors, it was crickets. I wasn't hearing anything back. And that made me doubt myself. I was second guessing what I was doing, and I didn't have a support system to say, “You're on the right track” or “Maybe you should tweak this”. I was doing everything completely on my own and with my own gut instincts – and I was doubting if my gut instincts were right.
It was making me afraid to continue to pitch because I was afraid that I was just sending out a bunch of junk into the universe. I know that first impressions are really important in an industry like this, and I was afraid that I was going to develop a bad reputation of somebody who doesn't know what they're doing.
I’m a member of Wild Idea Lab and I was hearing a lot of people who are taking Conservation Photography 101 talk about all the amazing things that they were getting out of it.
People were saying, “If you're having a hard time putting together photo stories, then this is a class that is going to be tremendously helpful in guiding you to getting to the success that you're looking for.”
When I enrolled, I wasn't making a lot of income because a lot of my photo tours had been canceled due to COVID. The cost investment felt like a bit of a barrier for me. But I believe in investing in education so I went for it.
This course has been absolutely worth the investment. When you have an actual step-by-step course that teaches you everything you need to know, and have a support system to show you you're on the right track or maybe you need to take it back to the drawing board, it's absolutely worth it. Without it, you are going to spend a lot of time trying to navigate these things on your own, second guessing yourself.
Thanks to Conservation Photography 101, I've had success with getting the attention of the people I'm trying to pitch to. I’m having open conversations with editors as opposed to hearing nothing back.
I have gone from the beginning to the end of the course and applied everything. I was very careful to not just try to skip ahead and think, “Oh, I already know this”, because that's a really easy way to miss important learning opportunities.
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. He said that the combination of story woven in with the narrative was one of the best story narratives he's ever seen. And that's an editor who's been around for 25 years! So that was a big confidence boost.
From that, I've been putting together new stories, and I just feel really confident with taking what I've learned from the first photo story and being able to quickly put together a new one without having to spend a lot of time figuring out what I'm gonna do because I already have the framework that this course is created for me.
Even outside of pitching stories, I'm seeing a greater success in working with organizations that I've been partnered with, and I’m helping them have a greater understanding of what we can accomplish together as I tell their stories through images. I can now see what the needs are of the organization, and using the storytelling skills I’ve gained, I can create great assets for them to use for outreach and fundraising.
The ongoing Q&A is a huge bonus. Whether I am just listening to what other people are working on or I'm getting the hot seat for the day, that has been tremendously helpful for brainstorming.
And, as soon as I enrolled, I had a group of people who were on the same journey as me that I could speak my thoughts out loud to, and who were helping me re-evaluate how I was pitching, how I was creating photo stories.
I’ve experienced an immense change in everything that I'm doing. Even if I’m just going out to photograph for the day, instead of grabbing random shots I’m thinking about the variety of shots I need to get to tell a story. I used to look through what I had already photographed and see if I could find storytelling shots in my archive. Now, I pre-plan shoots. I'm using what I've learned in the course to be more strategic in all aspects of my photography.
To be honest, I studied photography in college. I feel like you learn so much more in this than you would in a college. And if you really think about what is involved… if you do a one-week workshop you're probably going to spend at least $3000-$4000 to be in person. But with CP101, you don't have that investment of having to travel somewhere, you can do it at your leisure, and it never really ends. You just keep learning. You can't beat the price for what you're gonna learn in this course.
As someone who has spent so many years of my life trying to figure it out on my own, it's better to just admit what I don't know and let people help me (and I am not somebody who likes to ask for help).
I knew going into this course that if I was going to spend the money, then I was going to absolutely participate, and I'm really glad that I did because I think it's 100% worth it.
As a professional conservation visual storyteller, I want to be an inspiration to the next generation of African Conservation Photographers. But it’s very difficult to make a career in this field, and I wanted training to help me achieve my goals.
There was no structured program before, and all I could do was look at other photographers’ work and imagine the steps of what they did to get their conservation photo stories and be impactful in the process.
When I found CP101, it helped me realize the importance of having a step to step approach in doing a conservation photo story and this has come a long way in designing all my photography assignments.
I have been applying everything I have learned from the course on all my assignments so far and I am forever grateful. I have seen a lot of changes too. The program is like the back bone of my conservation photography professional career.
Before this program, I had a lot of questions. I tried to figure it out by myself, but trial and error takes a lot of time. It was great to have immediate clarification and feedback on the direction I’m going in conservation photography.
Going through the whole story creation process from start to finish made me feel confident that I can do this again on my own.
I love to be outside with my camera but I struggled with a drifting lack of focus. I wasn’t pushing my photography skills. I felt confused and discouraged about how to make a real difference, and how to contribute in a way that also generates some income.
This course was a perfect fit and I just jumped in head first. This is such a strong, cohesive program and Jaymi’s encouragement for large and small gains really pushed me to try harder and be better. I have way more options to choose from when shooting, and I find myself looking for story-telling photos more consistently now.
One of the richest things about this course has been the access to Jaymi and the student group. I learned so much from everyone. With so much information to inspire and challenge, you can't help but grow your expertise. Jaymi's connections and wealth of information along with the diverse experience of group participants is priceless.
Now I feel like I have all the tools, and know what direction to go in.
I had no idea how to package my work to present it to others and nobody…would…return…my ….emails….nobody! I was pretty frustrated. I thought I had some good images but I wasn't making any progress in selling those images. I really wanted to learn how to pitch my work to editors and get responses.
This course has changed my approach to my photo storytelling. I now know a good story when I see it and I know when one of my story ideas isn't quite there yet.
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!
Being part of the student group and taking part in the Q&As really accelerated my learning. It was so helpful to hear other student’s frustrations and watch Jaymi coach them into practical next steps. Now I have more tools when I have those same frustrations.
You can study all sorts of information and practice hard to become a good photographer. And in time, you can probably also learn to put together nice photo essays that convey an idea. Until the Conservation Photography 101 course came along, I'm not sure you could learn to do conservation photography without spending a decade developing the contacts, learning what works, and having plenty of luck along the way. After taking this course, I feel I've learned the fundamentals and have success pitching stories, doing fundraisers and building collaborations with conservation organizations.
As a matter of fact, within four months from the start of this course, I went from being frustrated that I couldn't get prospective clients and collaborators to return my calls and emails, to a national magazine editor telling me that they wanted to publish the story I pitched. I can't think of a better result than that!
I want to be a conservation photographer but I didn’t have the storytelling skills to really get started. I was insecure about how to move forward, and I hadn't seen a class that taught the skills I would need. You probably don't want to know what I was saying to myself – suffice it to say, it wasn't positive!
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 with the goal to enter this field that you won't get anywhere else. I now know how to research conservation stories and to better plan my images so that they tell a story.
When I saw CP101, I didn’t have any hesitation about enrolling. And now, I’m on my way! I have a specific goal to get published and more importantly, I have a plan and resources to accomplish it.
Since I could walk I've loved animals, and I have been very worried about conservation. I got involved with photography, and I always thought there wasn't really a path to being a conservation photographer outside of being a Nat Geo staff photographer.
So I wondered, Where does my work go? It's such a shame because you can post your pictures on Instagram, but your work dies there. My biggest challenge was learning how to extend my work beyond that, to use it for something bigger. There’s a frustration that you want to do this work and you want to make a difference, and yet how do you gain an outlet?
The next challenge was overcoming the self-doubt around if my work deserves to be in a space that professionals are operating in. I was feeling that whole fraud complex of: “definitely not worthy”.
I found Conservation Photography 101 and thought, “This is what I've been looking for all this time! A resource that's gonna get me from a one-shot photographer to someone who can start to tell these stories and then learn how to tell those stories to other people.”
The growth that I've seen out of myself and my work has been huge. The way that I approached my relationships with volunteers and scientists, the way that I photograph them, even the way that I'm storyboarding and thinking about shots has all really changed since I've started the course.
Storytelling was not even in my vocabulary before Conservation Photography 101. I was looking for just the wildlife aspects, but now I'm looking for those elements that make it different and make it a story.
Having access to Jaymi, a professional in the field, and having her feedback is so helpful because then I can go and do the work in a much better way.
And our student group, The Quad, is a network of superstars. It's such a diverse meeting of the minds and a great group to spitball off of. Having that accountability component is great because when you're taking the course, it might be hard to keep going if you're not constantly checking in. With this course, you can learn how to make these amazing stories and take them to the next level. And when it's coupled with this group of people that's also pushing the same direction, you really make it happen.
I definitely wouldn't have pursued my early story ideas without the course because I wouldn't have known where to start. I already have six months of work with organizations and thousands of images that I'm proud to put in my portfolio.
On day one Jaymi said, “You all are now conservation photographers,” and I really love speaking things into existence. If you don't want to engage in the greatest fight that humanity's ever faced, if you don't want to be on the frontlines of telling the story of humanity, then yeah, don't sign up.
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.
This is the ride of a lifetime, and I can't wait to see how my journey continues and evolves in this course.
Coming to conservation visual storytelling as a second professional chapter in my life, it was difficult for me to find resources for support and training. It was overwhelming to try to envision the path forward, wondering “How do I build the necessary skills? Is it classes? Is it reading books? How do I go about building the network?”
What I needed was a roadmap of how to take a group of images or an idea for a story and transform it into something that had a broader audience.
When CP101 came out, my immediate thought was, “How did the universe know exactly what I needed when I was feeling so stuck!?” Literally!
For someone who likes to be organized and was just starting out, not knowing how to prioritize different tasks or how much I had to get done on a particular step before I could consider the next step was frustrating. It was incredibly helpful to finally have a really concrete roadmap that answers these questions.
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.
Remembering where I was a couple of years ago, I can say without doubt that you will grow by leaps and bounds as a conservation storyteller in taking this course.
I picked up a camera for the first time in 2019. For the first couple of years, I was focused on portraits and getting to learn the gear. Then I started to want to do more storytelling.
I love sharing the wonder of nature, but I also want to share it in a way that can impact conservation. A lot of my interests are local as well. So I thought, “How can I combine those interests with photography?”
I saw photo-driven articles come out, and knew I wanted to create published photo stories, too… but I had no idea how.
You can learn a lot by just trial and error, but you can learn a lot quicker by working with people that know what to do. I started reading articles online, I took a couple shorter duration workshops that were helpful, but I knew I needed a course to help me understand really the nuts and bolts of what it takes to get something done. That's what I was really struggling with.
Then I found Conservation Photography 101.
Having steps laid out really clearly of exactly how to get from point A to point Z made everything feel doable.
I enrolled in the course in June, submitted my first pitch in September, and the story was published in Audubon Magazine in November.
I was thrilled about it, and this was actually a story that I hadn't entirely thought out beforehand. But thanks to the course, I recognized how I could shoot it, develop a story from it, and ultimately pitch it. And it was a story happening literally outside my front door.
If I had to describe Conservation Photography 101, it would be “How to Get Sh*t Done 101.” Sure, there are many ways to learn the photography part of this work, but there's a whole hidden world that unless you are in it, you don't know how to work. This course pulls back the veil.
A valuable unexpected gain from this course is the discussions that other students have, and learning from other people. It builds confidence. You hear other people discuss what they're going through and working on, and you recognize you’re not alone in this.
This course helped me realize how many local stories there actually are. There are stories all around us that anybody could document – it's liberating! And Conservation Photography 101 shows you how to recognize, shape and photograph those stories.
I think a lot of us are probably perfectionists or we're very driven, and we want to produce the best work we possibly can. 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.
I like to explore conservation issues and bring light to them. But I have really struggled with entering the publishing forum. I didn’t know what the steps were to get to the end, or how to plan out my work. I loved this program because it focuses on the process and helps people put their plan into action.
Jaymi provides a great mix of keeping people on task, but without too much pressure. I came away with so much, both in knowledge and confidence. 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.
One of my biggest struggles was getting my head wrapped around all the different elements of a story and how I wanted to tell it. With this workshop, I felt encouraged facing that challenge and figuring out how to piece together a complete story that could be published in a magazine.
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. I didn’t have any idea how to go about writing grants or reaching out to editors. But I feel encouraged now.
I am so impressed by how dedicated Jaymi is to teaching. She’s always going above and beyond. I can tell she really wants to be there as much as the participants, which is a great feeling.
Before taking Conservation Photography 101, I wasn’t feeling confident in pitching photo stories to magazines as my previous experience was in pitching stories as a writer. I wanted to fill in the gaps of my knowledge so I could land editorial photo assignments. I kept backing out of sending pitches, as I didn't want to get myself into a situation where I wasn't putting my best self forward.
Now, not only do I have a deeper and more complete understanding of pitching a photo story, but also what it takes to complete an editorial assignment and to design and roll out a larger project. I had holes in my stories before and now I feel I can more confidently shoot the variety and quality of pictures needed to tell the whole story and offer editors a good selection of images. I feel I am a better storyteller from this experience. I’m also finding my unique style and bringing that out more in my photography.
I have published three stories since I joined the course, and while I had pitched and had these stories accepted before the course started, I feel that the work I am submitting in terms of capturing the whole story is improving each time because of the CP 101 experience.
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.