Photography in Conservation

July 01, 2017  •  24 Comments

The first Sunday of each month, St Marks National Wildlife Refuge presents a program for visitors.   A few months ago, I was asked to present my "work and its influence on conservation" for the July 2nd slot. I don't often speak publicly, but this was my "home-base", (and the program was to include an ice cream social), so I've been working hard on a Power Point (which for me, always means re-learning how to use PP!)  Since I'd never before assembled a collection of my photos used specifically for conservation, it has been daunting to gather the wide-flung material, and I've been impressed by how much of it there is.  So, now that it is done, I'm going to get some extra mileage from that prep by creating this month's blog post from selected Power Point slides and some of my talking points. 

These photos kind of picked themselves in that they have all been used to speak for the education and conservation of our remaining wild lands and creatures by a wide variety of organizations and institutions. (I've excluded most of my own direct conservation efforts to keep the length manageable.)

An early success, this photo was chosen as one of the winners in a National Wildlife Refuge Association contest in 2007...   

Then I was contacted in 2010 by the US Dept. of Interior, after the Gulf Oil Spill, for permission to make silk prints of my photo for a special collectors cachet (envelope) for the new Duck Stamp.  Needless to say, I was deeply honored.  This effort raised money and awareness for the National Wildlife Refuges along the Gulf of Mexico.  

Whoa!  My efforts to expand my audience -- via my website (from 2005), monthly blog (2006), searchable keywording, and contest-entries -- were moving me into a bigger world of conservation photography.  As if the Duck Stamp Cachet wasn't enough recognition in 2010...

The Nature Conservancy Calendar contest - with tens of thousands of entries from around the world - chose two of my photos to represent April and July that year. Heady stuff, and earned me a lot of "street cred" in the alleys of conservation photography.

I recently read a Time Magazine article called Wildlife Photography: Why It Matters in a Post-Truth Era. It was based on an interview with veteran National Geographic wildlife photographer Nick Nichols.  He said that, because images hit you emotionally, they can still get through when science and facts can be ignored.  I thought, yes, that old adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words" is more true than ever.

Shot blind from my kayak in a small clearing of a cypress swamp where I had found this solo lily in the Apalachicola National Forest.

Over several years when the Florida Forever Program was being de-funded, I was invited to participate  in creating a Florida Forever Calendar -- to be used for fundraising, awareness-raising, and lobbying. Each of 12 Florida conservation photographers was assigned a vulnerable property from the Program's priority list.  In 2011, my shot made the cover.

  Early on, I had learned that donating my photos to non-profit organizations for use in conservation and education was a good way to help them juice up publications, websites, and statistics for their viewers... and keep me in the field instead of meetings.  Requests have come in regularly over the years from a surprisingly wide variety of sources.

For example, 1000 Friends of Florida, ...

...and American Forests...

Audubon Florida...

American Museum of Natural History in New York asked to use one of my scallop photos for this exhibit in 2015-2016. The exhibit is now travelling through museums across Europe.  

From local newsletters...

... nationally distributed ones.  Scholastic News has a young readership of 1.5 million.

Beginning in 2005, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) hired me part time to create photos at our managed properties across the state for use in Recreation Guides, on-site educational kiosks, webpages, and presentations.  Most people don't realize that FWC manages thousands of acres in Florida, far more than even the relatively known Wildlife Management Areas.  Traditionally hunters have used these lands, but our division, Office of Public Access and Wildlife Viewing Services, promoted our lands for other recreational uses like hiking, birdwatching, paddling, fishing, and bicycling. 

Florida Wildlife Magazine had access to my work in the FWC database, but the editor often called to see if I had photos in my personal database of a given animal or habitat for upcoming articles.  Here are just a few examples of many.

Crystal and I were founding members of a local grassroots environmental advocacy group called Heart of the Earth.  The Group organized educational and activist events, and published several books.  One book was Unspoiled : Writers Speak for Florida's Coast, which coincidentally hit the stores immediately after the BP Gulf Oil Spill.  This is a collection of stories by Florida writers with a theme of love for and stewardship of our coast, written when our legislature was leaning toward allowing offshore drilling.  I did the artwork for the book, using my photos to create these stark black and white (oil-on-sand) images.

I am always deeply honored when asked by authors to use my photos for books they've spent years writing.  Coming to Pass, by Susan Cerulean, published in 2015, is very special to me because Crystal and I shared many adventures with our good friends, Sue and Jeff, that Sue later described in the book.  This is a beautifully written, engaging book -- part memoir, part natural history -- of the barrier islands along our Gulf coast.  I highly recommend it if you haven't read it.

Recently I was contacted by Kevin Enge, one of the authors of a soon-to-be-released field guide, Amphibians and Reptiles of Florida.  He had found my river swamp tadpole photos online.

In 2009, Florida Natural Areas Inventory began creating a comprehensive atlas of Florida biodiversity.  As photo editor, it was my job, not only to contribute some of the many photos, but to locate quality shots of species we didn't have in our databases.  The book is now used for both education and lobbying for protection of our natural heritage.

These are some highlights from my talk at St. Marks.  May you be inspired to get out for a taste of nature and to make some contribution in your own way toward seeing that our wildlife and its habitats are safeguarded. 

I appreciate all comments left here at the blog, and please feel free to share the link widely.



Doug Alderson(non-registered)
That's what it is about--appreciating the beauty and biodiversity of our natural world and also working to save and restore the wildlife and natural areas that we cherish. Thank you!
Anne W. Schultz(non-registered)
Thank you for sharing your amazing conservation photos with us. I see the biggest names and most esteemed conservation organizations love your work as much as I. You deserve all these accolades and honors. I'm always grateful for your beautiful images that so enhance my magazine articles about nature. You capture the spiritual essence that illuminates the natural world as I strive to do in my writing. Congratulations.
Marty Quinn(non-registered)
Beautiful photos! Wish I had made it to the First Sunday program at St. Marks NWR to see your PP presentation in person, but your blog is the next best thing. Thanks for getting and sharing such wonderful shots of "Real Florida", especially those blue-eyed scallops.
Judye McCalman(non-registered)
Oh, David, you are such a photography rock star! Every time I think this blog can't get any more beautiful or informative, you come through with yet another astounding entry. I deeply appreciate your talent, and I am beyond grateful for your dedication to the conservation of our exceptional Florida ecosystems and natural beauty. Thank you for all you do to help protect our precious home. I'm thrilled to see here the documentation of some of the recognition you richly deserve.
Dorothy Cunningham(non-registered)
Thank you for your such an outstanding blog and images. It does my heart good to see the beauty and wildlife. You are helping with conservation with such a blog. Thank you.
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