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Conservation photography?

Conservation photography, i.e. the use of photography to advocate for and promote environmental advocacy and preservation efforts. Anybody else out there doing it? Would love to hear about people's projects. Here's what I'm up to:

The Potomac River viewed from the Washington Canoe Club.The Potomac River viewed from the Washington Canoe Club.

This is the Potomac River. It's both a success story and a place where so much work remains to do. I find that many people imagine it as it was 20-30 years ago when it was full of bacteria and other pollutants to the point that one dare not get a small cut while kayaking because an infection was guaranteed. It's come along way since then. Fish are returning. Dolphin's have begun giving birth at the river's mouth. The Potomac Riverkeeper Network just posted on Facebook today about how 150 dolphins were observed yesterday alone near the river's mouth.

At the same time, agricultural waste is a major problem. Urban sewers backup and the overflow gets swept into the river. The widely given advice in the area is to go kayaking . . . just not the day after a big rain. 

So I've joined with a local nonprofit to promote their work monitoring pollution in the Potomac watershed and cleaning it up. Basically I go out with the people doing this work weekly. And I do photos for them to use in their newsletter, website, and other educational materials. I'm also thinking more and more seriously about applying for a grant to document the entire course of the river next year to show the work done and still remaining.

Anybody else out there doing conservation advocacy and, especially, conservation photography? I'd love to connect with others doing this type of work and REI seems like a likely place to find people like that. 🙂 

P.S. Actually, it occurs to me this is REI . . . maybe some of the REI employees could tell us about what REI is doing in this area? I bet they've got some neat conservation advocacy going on. Because it's REI. 🙂 

6 Replies

Hi @AngiePaddlesandMore - What an amazing topic! Thanks for bringing it to the community.

It's great to hear about your work with a local non-profit supporting the Potomac. What you wrote has me interested to go research more. Spreading the news about successes is such an important piece of conservation education. Your photo is gorgeous! Hearing those stories about fish returning and dolphin using the mouth of the river as breeding grounds is incredible. Like you said, it good to celebrate the wins, but also know how much more there is to be done. Do you have any additional days of photography planned to support that group or any other organizationss?

You are right that there is some neat conservation advocacy happening at REI right now! We are excited to support our partners doing incredible work for public lands, including National Scenic Trails, American National River Cleanup volunteer program, Freshwater Land Trust and so many more. If you want to dive in a bit more, take a look at our REI Stewardship page or our latest Impact Report.

I have personally done photo work for conservation groups in the past and really enjoyed the experience. I lived in Panamá for most of my adulthood, so much of my work was based around protecting the areas considered biodiversity hot spots. A project with the Smithsonian on the Barro Colorado Island was a highlight, due to the incredible amount of diversity in the jungles of their research institute. 

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It would be great to stay updated on your projects! Seeing your photos is always amazing. Thanks again for bringing such a great topic our way!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Quick! To the REI Stewardship information page! I've got my reading to do tonight! 

I'm always happy to share about my projects. Honestly, I just never thought about it as a topic for the forums. I could do that though . . . just be careful what you ask for. You might end up with a weekly blog about Angie's photo activities in the forums. 🙂

As far as what's coming up, I have a couple of things in the works. Yes, there are more shoots coming up with the group I mentioned. The plan is to shoot with them every week, usually on Wednesdays, at least until it gets cold. Basically it's all about showing the work they do, the need for it, and building people's connections to the river. I explained in my bio why I do this sort of thing. I got hurt, I have had to find something else to do with myself, and I feel a sense of awe about the world. It's my way of trying to share the world as I see it. With that sense of awe. 

I've also got an article I'm writing for an online outdoor women's publication that is prepping to launch. The article's working title is "How to Take Ethical Wildlife Photos" and it is about exactly that. There are major issues in outdoor photography with people who use captive animals for wildlife photography, with using food to bait wild animals and so on. I'm on a bit of a pulpit about that issue lately because I'm very unhappy with how widespread that issue is. So I wanted to write an article about how to do it ethically.

And I'll give an example: we had a roseatte spoonbill in a local wetland for about a month. Normally those live down along the Gulf coast, not in Virginia. I went to photograph it and found it all the way on the far side of the park where it had its head tucked in under its wing to take a nap. I could barely see it, even with my biggest super-duper-ultra-major telephoto lens and a 2x teleconverter. I found myself sitting there with two other photographers who also wanted to photograph it. They got bored and told me they were going to leave. I told them that if they waited just about 30 minutes, it would wake up, get active and become a far more interesting subject. They shrugged and left. 30 minutes later, it started fishing. Then it flew over, landed right beside me, and kept fishing. And here it is. 

Roseatte spoonbill, flying in Virginia so far from home.Roseatte spoonbill, flying in Virginia so far from home.

So how'd I do that? Especially while remaining Leave No Trace compliant? Easy. A few minutes of researching told me where this particular bird liked to hang out. Add a little knowledge about when wildlife typically gets to be active, especially in that particular park. Then look at what time it was. That was enough to give me a very good idea of when and where to see it.

I find that wildlife photographers, in particular, seem to have a very bad reputation with various land managers and preservation orgs. When I reach out to them, I always spell out in my first communication that I practice LNT and do not practice baiting and other things. Doing so has made the difference between being told to get a permit and not to count on it being approved versus being invited down to have a look at the wildlife sighting logs.

I also recently shot myself in the foot and blew a potential opportunity to work with an organization that I'm a really big fan. A company known as . . . REI. Not too long ago I had posted on these boards asking about how to request a wildlife photography event be added to REI's community events and was told to talk to my local manager. Well, I went down to my favorite REI store. I did. And in the course of the talk, mentioned I'm a wildlife photographer myself. So she asked me, "Oh, would you be the teacher then?" And of course I said . . . actually I saw myself as a participant. I've been kicking myself ever since because the fact is I'd love to work for REI. I hesitated because I have a disability that affects my wrists and I worry about getting into things that would be fine for most people, but would hurt me because of my wrists. But the fact is, I'd love to work with REI! And I got to thinking about it and realized this isn't some sort of big photo and editing project. It would be hiking (nothin' wrong with my feet!) and guiding people to help them take wildlife photos. And that would probably be fine. Plus there are very few LNT wildlife photographers in the DC area. In fact, that's a big part of why I want REI to offer the class. REI will teach good outdoor ethics in the process. 

And, last but not least, I have a website under construction at The name is meant as a statement. I've been lucky to travel both the country and the world more than most. And everywhere I've been, the people, the places, and the creatures have had an impact on me. I like to think they have made me a better person than I was. Certainly they have filled me with awe. I don't get to do that anymore because of having gotten hurt. So I decided what I'd like to do is try to share the world with people the way I see it so that they too can feel that same since of wonder. Right now there are sections of the site that have a cover page but no image. That reflects partly my decision to go with mostly new photos and partly the fact that my hands and wrists can only take so much wear and tear in a day. It's much more enticing to be out shooting and seeing and experiencing than it is to be working on a website. 

Aaaaaaaaaand that's pretty much the rundown of projects. Your photos, however, look amazing, @REI-CarterC! I'm jealous of your skills! 



A little group you might want to look into, I am a member and believe in their mission.

I try to leave the area I go to a little better then when I got there, picking up trash, or clearing the trail from downed branches I just hate to see plastic water bottles all over the place.I  love the limestone that's around hereI love the limestone that's around here



Landscape / Nature Photographer in training

Thank you so much for the link to Nature First Photography! I signed up! I know what you mean about the trash. If there's one thing I never thought I'd end up photographing, it would be trash, but . . . . 

The judgmental duck is not happy with the human trash.The judgmental duck is not happy with the human trash.

It does show the need for clean up. And it's a good response to all these people who say it should be okay for them to make a mess because their individual mess doesn't make a difference. Some individual person probably thought their water bottle made no difference too. And then there's the junk in the river up above. 

Every year they have a clean the river weekend here on the Kankakee River, every year they pull tons of trash out of the river, it is sad what people do.

Landscape / Nature Photographer in training

That sounds wonderful! The group I'm working with on the Potomac is called the Potomac Riverkeeper Network. Among other things, they do river cleanups on a regular basis as well. It's pretty impressive because they are a small organization, but their impact is pretty big.