Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph Blog Pictures with a Purpose – Dr. Ellen's Blog

Pictures with a Purpose

Posted on February 6, 2012 By

Approximately 90 percent of nature photography output is non-conservation oriented. More importantly, the number of well-known environmental/conservation photographers worldwide are actually very few.

Some photography friends and I were musing about this not long ago as we talked over lunch about the evolving crisis state of our natural environment.

We agreed that it is no longer enough just to take pretty pictures. We photographers need to be putting our collective images to much better use.

The pressing need is two-fold:

(a) to create compelling images that visually inform viewers about that which is worth saving in our natural world; and

(b) to encourage conservation education by connecting our photography with the educational and scientific and environmental resources that can make a difference.

The quest, in other words, is for photographers to become ever more creative but with an enduring educational purpose.


Communicate With Your Photos

The art of photography is more than technique and equipment. It is a dynamic form of communication. So go the extra mile with your work: research your subjects, explore the issues, and focus on educational purpose and politics. Put yourself, and your work, out there on a limb and take a stand. Put it where people can see it and learn from it. Take it to the web, to schools, to the media, to the local governments and institutions in your own back yard.

But do SOMETHING other than just accumulate images!

The notion of pretty pictures is a uni-dimensional concept. We can do better than that in the conservation domain. Toxic waste dumps do not yield pretty pictures but – if we try – we can find emotionally provocative images even there.

It is time to think big!


In Zoo Environments

Explore the emotional dimensions of the animals that you are photographing.

Wait for those precious moments that stir the crowd of onlookers. Look for expressions of emotion in both onlookers and the animals they are viewing. Try to document their angst, their life force. Zoom in on the details that make them who they are. Try to capture their essence.

The same with animals or birds in their natural environment. Let your picture tell their story. Who are these creatures and why should we care about them? What possible role do they play in our own lives?


In the Urban World

In urban centers, seek images that transcend the clutter and that speak to the human condition and that beg questions: is this what we want our lives to be? Is it enough? Is a treeless, asphalt world worth the cost? And exactly what is that cost?

When you travel, document the toll that tourism itself takes. Seek local documentary material to back up your photographs. Notice the impacts.

*A Great Blue Heron with a fishing lure hooked into his tongue


Show how your own efforts to explore the Earth differ from others. Investigate the notion of ecotourism and what it means to you.

Look for images that show how life itself is faring wherever you find yourself. And how you and others around you are feeling about that.


But Time is of the Essence

There is no time to waste because we are losing our natural world as we speak; not necessarily from climate change, which is a natural cyclical process at  best. But from things like over-population, intense commercial development and from mindless humans who don’t think too deeply about the world around them.

Some classic examples from my own backyard:

  • Florida boating enthusiasts are in an escalating struggle with the Endangered Florida Manatee and guess who is winning.
  • The Florida Everglades are sinking.
  • Non-native plant species in Florida are encroaching.
  • Central Florida’s springs are being suffocated by toxic runoff and dense algae growth
  • The Floridan Aquifer is suffering from excess water usage throughout the Sunshine State

And that’s just in the state of Florida. Take a good look around where you happen to live — for you, too, may be shocked by what you see.

Commercial development is wreaking havoc in the natural world. What were once green spaces with expansive buffers of evergreens are being turned (seemingly overnight) into condominiums and high-rise apartments and urban financial centers, causing life itself to hang in the balance.

The problem is not just the developers themselves, but with state governments and state legislatures that are increasingly prioritizing commercial income from heretofore unexpected sources like tourism centers.


Even State Parks are looking for new ways for their tourism properties to pay for themselves in the form of increased onsite equipment rentals, privatization programs, and land rentals to foresters and ranchers and others for the singular purpose of revenue-generation.

We can help document the rise of this new revenue-generating era that are already transforming our State Parks — and soon even our National Parks — from pure nature tourism entities into highly regulated commercial entities designed to serve, first and foremost, the fiscal needs of governing bodies.

Use your images to let your representatives know what is at stake!


Two Important Books  by Edward O. Wilson
You Should Read

The Future of Life 

The Social Conquest of Earth