Follow the 3 A's
for making the maximum impact with your photography
We’re told a photograph is worth a thousand words.
We’re told that our images make a difference in this world.
We conservation photographers rely on these two statements, since our whole purpose is to use our talents as visual storytellers to drive positive change, save species, preserve wild spaces, make the world livable for generations to come.
We spend years, decades, improving our photography skills, studying our subjects, gathering skills in the latest camera technologies…
…all to make amazing images that will get people thinking.
But it doesn’t matter how amazing our images are if they never land in front of the people who need to see them the most… the people whom we most need to act.
One thing all conservation photographers absolutely must dedicate more time and effort into is figuring out the answers to three questions:
- What is the exact effect I want to have on this world through this photography project?
- Who is the exact audience I need to get in front of to make that impact happen?
- Where do I need my images to appear, and in what form, in order to reach that audience and engage with them in a constructive way?
I call this three A’s:
ACTION: What has to happen to reach an overarching goal?
AUDIENCE: Who has to act for the action to happen?
ARTIFACT: What do I need to create and where do I need to put it to reach those people?
What has to happen to reach an overarching goal?
Conservation photographers are skilled at seeing the big picture. We think in terms of saving entire species, entire habitats, altering the mindset of entire cultures.
But to make any of our broad goals actually happen, we have to zero in with laser-like focus on actual actions that must take place for the goal to be reached.
It’s not enough to say “I want to end plastic pollution.” You must then drill down into the culture shift that needs to happen, then down into the laws that push that culture shift to happen, then into how to make those laws a reality.
In a way, it is embracing the concept of “think global, act local.” Think big, but then drill down, down, down until you have incredibly clear, specific actions that will lead to the desired big goal. Then you know what you’re really working toward.
Who has to act for the action to happen?
The most effective conservation photographers know that preaching to the choir doesn’t necessarily accomplish your goal. Often, all that does is turn up the volume in an already-loud screaming match.
To have a true impact with your images, you have to go beyond those already listening. Go straight to the people who are either responsible for the issue in the first place, or have control over the issue, and connect with them.
Your actual target audience probably doesn’t follow you on social media, probably doesn’t read the magazines you’re usually published in, probably doesn’t know you exist. And you can’t expect them to find you.
You have to understand who they are, and go to them.
You may have studied everything there is to know about the issue you’re documenting. But have you studied the people you most need to reach? If you do this, and approach them on their turf on their terms and speak in their language, you will make extraordinary headway in connection, collaboration, and hopefully a commitment to change.
What do I need to create and where do I need to put it to reach those people?
Once you know who needs to take action and what action they need to take, you have to figure out how to get in front of them. And not just get in front of them, but to do so in a way that compels them to act.
- Are they more affected by what makes them afraid, or by what gives them hope?
- Are they more engaged by what they can contemplate alone, or what they can share with others?
- How does your audience like to consume information?
- Where do they hang out online, and in real life?
Ask tons of questions and figure out what makes your audience tick. Then, take all of the information you’ve uncovered and figure out the kinds of images that your audience responds to, and the format they most want to see those images in.
It could be a series of posts on an influencer’s instagram profile. It could be an interactive installation in a grocery store parking lot. It could be an exhibit at city hall, or the library. It could be a teacher’s visual resource packet handed out at schools. It might be a book placed by you into the hands of a Congressman.
Do your homework, and your images will be able to do their work.
To help you, I’ve created a worksheet packet that will guide you through questions to ask and things to research, so you can come up with an outstanding, creative, engaging platform and make the greatest possible impact with your conservation photography.
Scroll up. Snag the free download. Stash it in a handy place. Spend time with these worksheets at the start of every project.
You’ll discover how these questions help provide clarity in your work, and more engagement from the people you need on your side.