Leopard on the prowl in South Africa
South Africa A leopard in South Africa © © Craig McFarlane/TNC Photo Contest 2018

Photo Contest

How Your Photography Can Help Save the World

It starts with stepping outside and recognizing something worth protecting.

A photograph may make you cry. It may give you the chills. And The Nature Conservancy believes it may just help save the world.

There’s a story to tell in anything and everything we want to protect. Through photography, we all have the power to tell it. And from infinite angles.

Plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean off of Australia
Plastic Bag More than 2 million single-use plastic bags are used around the world every minute. A photo like this one off of Shellharbour, Australia can raise awareness of plastic's threat to our oceans. © Aristo Risi/TNC Photo Contest 2018

For over 50 years, TNC’s magazine has showcased the highest quality of ethical nature photography. And for several years now, we’ve run an annual photo contest to inspire others to experience nature and the outdoors. By connecting people with the many shades of nature around them, we hope to generate awareness and passion for conservation.

View The Nature Conservancy's 2019 Photo Contest winners!

Crown shyness in trees in a city park in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Park in Buenos Aires This photo capturing 'crown shyness,' the effect of tree canopies not touching each other, was taken in the heart of a major city, not a remote locale. © Santiago Gonzalez Chipont/2018 Contest

A flood of options

Because photography can be so powerful, it requires a great deal of care to ensure that it’s authentic and respectful. But with so many types of gear, travel opportunities and hashtag communities, it can be easy to lose sight of this.

In addition to cameras and lenses that professionals and hobbyists use, 2.5 billion of us have smartphones in our pockets, capable of taking photos at a level of quality that rises every year. Action cameras allow people to take photos through extreme conditions with ease. And drones allow us to take photos from angles and locations that were literally impossible before.

On the travel side, it’s never been easier to book a flight anywhere in the world. Entire tourism operations exist solely to bring people to the most instagram-worthy spots.

One big ask

Given all of this access, we’d like to remind you that great photos can be made anywhere, and without the best equipment.

And we have one big ask of you: slow down.

Dozens of alligators in Brazil's Pantanal wetland area.
Pantanal Alligators Countless alligators soak up in the northern waters of Brazil's Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland. Wildlife photography can require a great deal of patience. © Jorge Diehl/TNC Photo Contest 2018
Woman squeezes through a narrow slot canyon in Escalante National Monument in Utah.
Slender slots: Squeezing through a narrow slot canyon in Escalante National Monument, Utah. © Tanner Latham/TNC Photo Contest 2018

It may seem counter-intuitive but by slowing down, you’re actually valuing your own time. Many of us can recall the days when cameras only took film. If you only had 36 images per roll and you only had a few rolls with you, you would have to make each frame count.

Taking your time allows you to really understand the subject you’re photographing. If you're photographing people, talking to them and getting to know them on a level will allow you to be more respectful to their story. And the same goes for photographing wildlife.

By slowing down and unplugging, you never know what you’ll experience. And you may come back with a great story.

Lush blooming of Texas Bluebonnets at dusk near Austin, TX
Texas bluebonnets At dusk on an April evening near Marble Falls, TX, Texas Bluebonnets, the state flower, bloom. Said the photographer, "Immersed in nature, time flies by and allows you to forget your worries for a while." © Linda Nickell/TNC Photo Contest 2018

As authentic as possible

In photography, we must carefully consider our footprint. This means refraining from baiting animals. It means following all park guidelines and local laws for staying on trails and not trespassing. And it means that when you have a tool like a drone, you learn how to maneuver it in a way that will not stress out, spook or endanger wildlife or humans.

The idea as a photographer is to be as authentic as possible. And it goes beyond the picture-taking itself. There are also a lot of powerful photo editing tools available, and we must not overdo it. A good rule of thumb is that if you ever start getting the feeling that you’ve manipulated a situation, step away and don’t take that photo or make that edit.

Soaring vista of Dugout Ranch in the Indian Creek area around Canyonlands National Park and Bears Ears National Monument
Indian Creek Landscapes from Utah's Dugout Ranch captured for Nature Conservancy Magazine. TNC acquired the ranch to save it from development. The surrounding area is threatened due to a 2017 decision to cut Bears Ears National Monument by 85%. Photos like this one can raise awareness of what we stand to lose. © Drew Rush

The movement starts with you

Photography has done a lot to start movements. And the conservation of our natural world needs a movement. Recent published research from The Nature Conservancy shows that we have the power to stabilize the planet’s climate, save natural habitat and sustain the world’s growing population – but only if we act in the next decade to change how we use our natural resources.

Joel Sartore is trying to photograph as many species as possible to maintain a visual record of them before they go extinct. It’s telling that he already has hundreds of thousands of images of individual animals. James Balog was one of the first to use time-lapse photography to show the effects of climate change by documenting the world’s melting glacier.

Polar bear hunting over melting ice in the arctic
A polar bear on sea ice There may be no animal whose plight is more associated with climate change than the polar bear. The image of this bear walking through melting sea ice in Tremblay Sound near Nunavut, Canada portrays the challenging reality of an animal that relies on this vanishing ice to hunt. © Florian Ledoux/TNC Photo Contest 2018

But you don’t need to go to the Arctic to take a picture of something you want to protect. It could be as simple as documenting your children, your dog or your home. That has value. You’re saying, “it’s here, and I care about it.”

If you care about something, then at every level as a producer or as an advocate, there is a place for you in our photo community.

Girl kissing a frog
Frog Kiss Terra Fondriest's series of images of her daughter experiencing nature in the Ozarks of Arkansas captured the essence of what's worth protecting. The series was featured in Nature Conservancy Magazine's Spring 2019 issue. © Terra Fondriest/TNC Photo Contest 2018