5 conservation photography projects you can start today
Raise your hand if you’ve been in this place before:
You feel a little bit stuck in where you are in your photography. You want a way to practice your skills and need an outlet, something to work on, a goal that’ll get you to pick up your camera, a motivator that’ll get you outside and working.
You know a new photography project would help, but you’re drawing a blank on what.
- It can’t be too big, or too ambitious. You want a motivator, after all, not a new source of pressure and stress.
- It needs to be fun and engaging, but also push you past your comfort zone
- It needs to stretch your skills and make you excited to explore, yet not have a huge or intimidating learning curve.
- And you need to see some quick wins to keep you inspired.
My hand is raised right now! I’ve definitely been in this spot multiple times in the past, and if you’re reading this, I have a feeling all that stuff rings true for you, too.
If you’ve been wanting to start a conservation photography project and have just been trying to figure out what that looks like, here are 5 ideas that can spark your creativity.
I’ve curated them to be interesting, customizable, and that “sweet spot” in difficulty level – just enough to challenge you but also keep you engaged until you hit the finish line.
And if none of these ideas quite fit your needs, I created something special for you. Grab my list of 15 conservation photography project inspiration triggers! You can select an idea straight from the list, or let it spark your creative brain and come up with a project perfectly suited to you.
Project Idea 1. Meet Your Neighbours
This is a concept I just adore! Started in 2009 by Niall Benvie and Clay Bolt, the Meet Your Neighbours project calls all nature photographers to get to know the species living right in their own ‘hood. The objective is to use a simple field studio set up to take portraits of local species on a clean white background, in order to keep the focus on the species itself.
Meet Your Neighbours contributors can be found all over the world, and are putting their images to use to spark interest and enthusiasm for local species within their communities. Cool stuff, right?
Use a simple and cost-effective field studio set-up to create portraits of the amazing species living in your own neighborhood. The skills you’ll need include an understanding of flash, ethical animal handling, and some editing software skills to clean up the image during post-processing. You can download a high quality how-to ebook from Benvie’s website.
There’s a wonderful range of possible products you can create with this project. You can hold an exhibit at your local library, community center, city hall, park visitor center or other location. You could could create a calendar to use as a fundraiser for a local nonprofit (see project #4). You could put your images up on billboards or bus stop signage or interesting places to get people curious about local species. The options are practically endless.
If you haven’t explored creative use of flash yet, this is a truly excellent project to get you down that path in an unintimidating way. It will also push your macro photography skills.
Meanwhile, it will dramatically improve your naturalist skills. You’ll need to learn a lot about species-specific behaviors, needs, signs of stress, and other important details in order to handle your subjects with the highest ethical standards.
And finally, if you’re feeling bored at home and think that you need to travel to have exciting wildlife photography opportunities, this is a great project to re-engage interest in the wildlife around you. You’ll be absolutely fascinated by what critters you didn’t know about before!
Project Idea 2. A Place Profile
Create a photographic essay about an extraordinary location near you.
And by extraordinary, I simply mean a place you feel is special. It could be a park path, or a reserve, a local wetland or grassland. It just needs to be a place whose story you want to tell.
Select a place that you feel connected to. Brainstorm a list of images that would help tell its story. Consider the characters who appear here – the plants, animals, people or even its defining topographical features.
Include details like the paths, the patterns of light, waterways and signs of inhabitants. How will you capture the location’s various moods and secrets? What is this location like at dawn, mid-day, dusk, midnight? How does weather affect it, and how does it change with the seasons?
A storytelling portfolio of images that can be transformed into an exhibit, installation, book or any number of other beautiful displays.
This really stretches your creativity in storytelling! Since you’re photographing a place, you have to think about the location as a living being, and then think about how to continue to photograph it again and again to capture that spirit.
Once you have some obvious shots, you’ll have to push yourself through boredom or stuckness into new possibilities for images. And, if you take on the challenge of photographing at different times of day or night, you’ll likely grow your creativity in both what you decide to photograph and how you photograph it.
Project Idea 3. A Local Documentary Story
Photograph the efforts of, and the people behind a local conservation nonprofit. Take a deeper photographic dive into telling the organization’s story through beautiful, engaging, emotive images. This can be for a short amount of time, or expand to a multi-year project.
Are you already involved with an organization as a volunteer? That could be a perfect place to start!
If you aren’t already connected with an organization, do an internet search to find a group that interests you. Go to a few meetings to make sure you’re on board with their mission and activities, and get to know the folks behind it.
If everything clicks, and you feel confident in working with this group, then you can approach them about documenting their story. Most local organizations will be over the moon that a photographer wants to volunteer with them.
The second is a portfolio of images you can license for a fee to third parties, like media outlets or publishers, when there’s a need for them. Your high-quality images might be in demand, and if you have a great relationship with the organization, they’ll happily point image requests in your direction.
You’ll stretch your people-photography skills with this project, something essential for growing as a skilled visual storyteller. You'll have a chance to practice capturing environmental portraits, and spotting those “decisive moments” during events and activities.
Volunteering for an organization is an amazing thing to do, it’s a fantastic bonus when those efforts pay off for you financially as well through licensing images down the road!
Project Idea 4. A Photo-centric Fundraiser
Organize a fundraiser event for a conservation group or cause that’s important to you that revolves around your images.
The core of this project is deciding on a theme, and building a cohesive portfolio of images for a fundraiser event. The event could be a calendar fundraiser, a print auction, an exhibit with a door charge… The sky is the limit for how you fundraise.
But to get there, first decide on the organization you want to support. If you want to collaborate with them for the fundraiser event, set up a meeting and talk with them about your goals and their needs.
Next, think creatively about what kind of images the organization’s core audience responds to. After all, you’re ultimately appealing to the financial supporters of the organization. So take a little time to learn more about them.
For Example: If you’re supporting an Audubon society chapter, more than likely their supporters respond to portraits of birds. If you choose to fundraise for a watershed council, the audience will probably respond to beautiful landscapes of their local watersheds.
Once you know the images you’re going for, set a fundraiser date and create a shot list. Then calendar out dates to go work on capturing your best photographs from that shot list, and when you’ll need to process and print images for the fundraiser.
With a defined and time-sensitive goal, you’ll have plenty of motivation to get out and shoot! You can be working on photographing the images while also planning out the fundraiser event.
An event that gets your name out into the community as a conservation photographer, and a pile of money for your favorite conservation organization.
This gets at the core of conservation photography: making your images go to work for a bigger purpose. This project stretches your planning skills, networking skills, and photography skills all at once!
Project Idea 5. Portrait Series of Conservation Volunteers
Create a portrait series of conservation-oriented volunteers in your community, a la “Humans of New York”
Make a list of conservation organizations in your area and their contact information.
Create a short pitch about your project, as well as a one-page document explaining what you’re up to. Reach out to the group’s leaders with your pitch and ask if they’d be willing to share it with their volunteers. Put the call out for subjects on your social media platforms as well, posting it to your page and into groups.
Keep track of folks who respond on a spreadsheet – you’re going to want names, contact information, and a place to keep notes about them for your caption information.
Decide on the style of portraits you want to create, and set up sessions with your subjects. Be sure to give them a thank you gift for their time, such as a print of their final portrait.
After you’ve completed your images, write captions that explain who the conservation volunteer is, what they do for your community and the impact their work has on your local environment.
A cohesive portfolio of inspiring portraits, which can be shown as an exhibit, an ebook, an article in a local magazine… there’s so many directions you can go with this.
You will meet SO MANY amazing people in your community, and build relationships with folks who are tightly linked to conservation efforts in your area. Hello leads for more photo projects!!