What It Takes To Grow A Career In Conservation Photography: An Interview with Lauren Owens Lambert
Wondering how to make a living as a conservation photographer? Then this interview with Lauren Owens Lambert is for you.
“Yeah, but how do I make a living at this?”
It is a very common question, and for good reason.
Making a career in conservation photography can feel daunting. There's no “right” way to do it. You really have to navigate and figure out how in the world you create a successful career as a conservation photographer.
But the thing is, it's possible – and my guest today proves it.
Lauren Owens Lambert is a professional conservation photographer with an impressive career trajectory. From landing assignments with big outlets from the Nature Conservancy to Audubon magazine, and being accepted to the Emerging League with the International League of Conservation Photographers, it’s been phenomenal to watch her career progress.
So, knowing how tough it is to find success in this field, what's her secret?
In this episode, Lauren talks about what she's been doing over these last few years to forge that career. What are the moves she's made? What's gone right? What's gone wrong? What is she focusing on?
Spoiler alert. This interview is definitely a mega-source of insight and inspiration.
- Why making a career in conservation storytelling isn’t as scary as you think
- Why just saying yes is so powerful, and what it leads to
- How to know whether your story is ready to pitch
- Surprising insights about life in conservation photography
- The true value of community
Resources & Links Mentioned
This episode is sponsored by:
Our episode sponsor is Wild Idea Lab, my membership community where conservation visual storytellers find creativity, community and support for their wildest work. Wild Idea Lab is designed specifically for emerging and established photographers, filmmakers, and artists working in conservation and science communication.
With monthly masterclasses, live events, community engagement and so much more, members from around the world accelerate their growth as creatives and find their place in a network of colleagues and friends. Whether just starting out or you’ve been a pro for years, Wild Idea Lab has the resources you need to do more, and go farther with your work.
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What It Takes To Grow A Career In Conservation Photography – An Interview with Lauren Owens Lambert
SEE THE SHOW NOTES AT JaymiH.com/40
Yeah, but how do I make a living at this? That is a question I hear on an almost daily basis in some shape or form, especially in my work inside of Wild Idea Lab, where I work with hobbyists as well as aspiring pros and professionals alike, who are all trying to figure out how to earn a living and really forge a career inside of conservation photography or conservation visual storytelling. It is a very common question, and for good reason, this can feel really daunting, there's no road map, there's no right way to do it, you really have to navigate and figure out how in the world you create a successful career as a conservation photographer. But the thing is, it's possible. And my guest today proves it.
Lauren Owens Lambert has been working as a conservation photographer for quite a few years now, and it's been phenomenal to watch her career progress and progress and progress. And so I wanted to bring her on to talk about exactly what it is that she's been doing over these years to forge that career. What are the moves that she's made, what's gone right, what's gone wrong, what is she focusing on? There's a lot of insight and inspiration inside of this interview, if you too are looking for how to figure out how to make a career, how to create a living as a conservation photographer. So I invite you to dive into this conversation with Lauren Owens Lambert.
Welcome to Impact, the conservation photography podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place. From conservation to creativity, from business to marketing, and everything in between, this podcast is for you, the conservation visual storyteller who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in.
Hello and welcome to this episode of Impact. Thank you so much for listening. Back when I was first getting started in conservation photography I found it really difficult to find community, to find other people working inside of this niche, so that I could talk about the work or brainstorm ideas with people who really get it, and especially it was hard to find educational resources that would teach me how to actually use my images in a way that was effective for conservation.
I know that my journey to where I am now would have been a lot smoother and a lot speedier if I had had one place to go where I could meet other people working in this realm and, importantly, get at those educational resources that would walk me through the different things that I need to know in order to do this work well. And as I advanced into working professionally as a conservation photographer, I've noticed that there are some very specific needs for those who are trying to earn a living as a conservation creative, it was time to build a resource where everyone with a drive to use their art, photography, and films to benefit conservation could get what they needed and to be able to network easily with other people in this field. So, Wild Idea Lab was born.
Wild Idea Lab is where conservation visual storytellers find creativity, community and support for your wildest work with monthly master classes, live video hangouts, live Q and A sessions with editors and experts, curated resources like a successful pitch samples database, and of course, an amazing community of like-minded and talented people, Wild Idea Lab is truly a one-of-a-kind resource.
No more feeling isolated in your work or wondering how to do things. This community is built for you, no matter where you are in your journey as a conservation visual-storyteller. If conservation photography, film making, or artistry is a passionate hobby and you're looking for ways to better serve local conservation organizations, or if you're excited to find your path into professional conservation visual-storytelling and you're trying to figure out exactly how to do that. Or if you're already a professional in this field, and you're trying to figure out how to streamline your business or how to market yourself, or how to get your work out in a bigger way, Wild Idea Lab has what you need. I invite you to visit join.wildidealab.com to learn about all the many benefits of becoming a member. That's join.wildidealab.com. I hope to see you in the lab.
JH: And now, let's dig into this episode. Lauren, thank you so much for joining us on this episode of Impact, the conservation photography podcast. So, we met a few years ago, and when we met you were just getting going and I remember talking with you and there was sort of this like, I don't know, kind of an air of frustration with determination on getting going as a conservation photographer, and since that meeting where I first met you, you have just boomed in your career, and it's been so much fun to watch where you've headed from projects and collaborations and assignment photography and everything that you've dug into. And I'm watching you take on new skill sets and all kinds of stuff, so I'm really excited to get to talk with you about what the last few years have been like and where you're headed from here.
Lauren Owens Lambert: Cool, yeah, that sounds great, and thank you for having me. I'm really excited to have this conversation.
JH: Yey. Well, so let's actually kind of dive in from that beginning point. So when did you decide that conservation photography specifically was where you wanted to head in your career as a photographer?
LL: Honestly, this is something that I've been wanting to do since I was a little girl. I remember I've always been an artist, whether it was drawing or painting, or photography or music, and at a really early age. I'm super into science and nature, but I don't really have the make-up to be a scientist, I've always been more drawn towards the arts. So around the age of like six or ten or kinda that age range when you've picked up your first National Geographics and you're looking at the pictures, and of course they're amazing, and it kinda clicked one day that there's somebody on the other side of that tool seeing this in real life.
LL: And that was sort of when it clicked for me that that was something I wanted to do. ‘Cause it really bridged the gap from art and an art form into the natural science world. So the camera was sort of like my tool or my key into the scientific and natural world, so it's something I've been wanting to do forever. And there's no real clear path, as we all know, it's a very unique and challenging field to kind of bushwhack your way through. So, yeah, that's sort of when I guess started the journey to trying to figure out how to get to that point, but it's a long winding path. Through traditional education was always really difficult for me. I'm very dyslexic, so traditional schooling was always a challenge. So after high school, I went to an art school and just sort of realized I wasn't ready for college straight out of the gate. So I took a few years off and kind of taught skiing and traveled around out of the back of my car across the country with my camera, and was just trying to find my path and find how to make this happen.
LL: And eventually, I just kept working at it and found my way out into Washington state where I found this college called Fairhaven, it's like an alternative learning program, so it's sort of based on your experience versus just tests and grades. And they had this environmental publication called The Planet. So I worked with The Planet Magazine throughout my entire undergrad and that really built my first skill set, I guess, in terms of making this dream more of a profession. So that's sort of how… Those were the really early days and how I got started, and I think eventually finding my way through a higher education program really helped me get focused and figure out that it's possible and I can start carving away at making it a career.
JH: Right. And what were some of those first ways that you started carving into it?
LL: Yeah, well, during my time at The Planet Magazine, I picked up a small intern with the local chapter of the Nature Conservancy in Washington State, and that's where I really did my first bigger environmental stories. They were working on this restoration project in… Where was it? It was like this coastal… It was this coastal forest that used to be… It had some of the few remaining old growth left in the state, and they were trying to kind of rebuild or re-grow this old-growth forest. So it's one of the largest and most long-term restoration projects in the world right now because of course, it takes hundreds of years for this forest to mature. So they're doing selective forestry methods and they're trying to revitalize this habitat with a handful of existing old growth, but that was mostly logged. So I think it was the Ellsworth Preserve. Yeah, that was it, the Ellsworth Preserve. Anyway, that was one of my first really big kind of… Not really an assignment, 'cause I seeked it out on my own.
LL: I reached out to the Nature Conservancy, being like, “Hey, I'm a photographer and I'd love to work on some of your projects. I found this one in particular really interesting.” So I kinda pitched them the idea, and we worked out a deal where they would sort of let me do this. And it was really great 'cause it was kind of my first real professional opportunity to work with a team. I got to work with the Nature Conservancy scientists and work with the coordinators and travel down there and spend the night and make this visual story about all the different… All the different, I guess, effects that this particular conservation project would have on the community, on the fisheries, on some of the endangered bird species that rely on these coastal old-growth environments. So that was sort of my first, I guess, bigger, more professional story that I took on.
JH: Awesome. I love that you say that you really sought this out, and I think that that's something that I kinda wanna go back into and dig into, because I get asked fairly often like, “Yeah, but how do you ask that you want to work with someone? How do you approach someone, how do you collaborate? How do you do that… ” As if there is a structure to it, and it's like, “Well, ask. Just ask. Go, and… ” These are just normal people that we get to talk to, so I love that you say, “I found something and then I just asked, ‘I'm a photographer, I found this particular thing really interesting, I would love to work on it.'” Would you mind talking a little bit about maybe the mindset that you were in? Did you have butterflies in your stomach or how did you address that concept of just asking?
LL: Right, yeah. I don't know what it is, I feel like I always have butterflies in my stomach. But that's also because… ‘Cause it's a little bit nerve-racking. You're putting yourself out there, you're reaching out to strangers, at first they're all strangers, and you're trying to make something and that's really precious to you and has this bigger message of environmental science and the human/nature relationship and sustainability and conservation. So for people in our field, we really care about these topics, and photography, and whether it's still photography or video, the visual medias are such an effective way to communicate the science and the complicated web of connections that happen with every conservation story. So it is nerve-racking, so I think those butterflies are always kind of there, but I have taken the effort for most of my projects. I would say 80 to 90% of my work has been thought of, created, and initiated by me, the creator. So I feel like it's really rare when somebody calls you up and says, “We have an assignment for you. This is what it is. Go do it.”
LL: It's not saying that doesn't happen, 'cause that does happen occasionally, but for the most part, as the creator, you're sort of thinking about these stories in a holistic sense, “What's plausible? What do you wanna do?” And then, “Who can you reach out to? Who can benefit from the story?” Whether it's working with the non-profit directly or kind of collaborating with them on a different sense to then approach an editorial publication to make a story out of it. So there's different approaches in terms of how that collaboration looks like. But, yeah, for the most part, I'm definitely the initiator. I think that's almost like a necessary aspect that most conservation photographers have, or I think it's a pretty common approach for a lot of different types of story creation.
JH: Absolutely. And I think that that mindset is kind of at the core of why I've been sitting here on the Oregon Coast watching you and what you create and seeing your career really progress forward because you are… You're driven and you're creating things for yourself. And I'm wondering what are some of the kind of strategic moves that you made in order to really establish yourself career-wise as a conservation photographer? And by that, I mean, were there certain decisions that you made where you're like, “If I do this, I know that I'm gonna be recognized as a conservation photographer and potentially open more doors for myself.”
LL: Yeah, that's a good question. One was deciding to go back to school and find the program that worked for me, I think that was a really big moment where I'm like, “This can help me in my career.” Even though that was super early, it was much more educational-based. I kind of felt like without this it's gonna be a whole lot harder to get any kind of recognition or experience. So that was a big help. I feel like maybe this is a lot of people, or maybe it's just me, but I kind of just say yes to everything, and if it's something that I think can help, where I can learn a skill or I can… Like this interview, just chat with you and every little bit of exposure, every piece that you publish, every skill that you learn helps legitimize you in some way, shape, or form, down the road. So, yeah, I don't know, I hope that helps. [chuckle]
JH: Yeah. No, that's great. Actually, so I wanna mention one thing that I know that you said yes to, where I was just like, “Oh my God, she's getting so good, so good.” So, last year a magazine reached out to me because I was in Monterey and was like, “Hey, we've got this story that we're doing. Can you photograph it?” And I said, “No, I can't, I'm teaching a workshop. Can't do it.” And it turns out they turned and tapped you for that story. And I remember looking at the photos that came out, this was for Audubon magazine for Debi Shearwater, and you did such a beautiful job on that story. And I was like, “I never would have photographed it quite in this way.” And it was just such a wonderfully done story. And I'm curious, 'cause you say most of what you create is you drive that yourself, but here you are getting very much noticed and recognized as someone who needs to be tapped on the shoulder to go shoot something, because you do a beautiful job of that. Have you noticed that happening more and more since really kind of getting your foot in the door?
LL: Yes, I have. I think that that's sort of one of the biggest changes, is that more editors are sort of either tapping me on the shoulder or I already have now a relationship with them. So it's easier to have these just sort of candid conversations about like, “Oh well, I'm working on this story, what do you think?” Or, “Oh, well we're looking for these types of photos, do you have anything that matches?” Or “Could you go out and get those?” So, being reached… I guess having the editors turn around and start talking to me about assignments is a new aspect of what's happening in my career, and I really enjoy it. I think it's awesome, because that kind of two-way collaboration where I'll pitch an idea and either they take it or they don't, or they'll be like, “Oh well, we're looking for these type of images,” that kind of just very candid back and forth is a collaboration that I've been looking forward to having for a very long time. And that's just starting to happen now, and the Audubon trip was really the launching pad for that. That was really my first big kind of national break. And yeah, I'm so glad that Sabine reached out to me, it was a really, really fun and amazing journey. I mean it was… Debi Shearwater was incredible, she's such an amazing woman.
LL: And it was really fun to go out and just test my skills and make sure that I can stand on my own two feet with this kind of trust. Because it's a lot of trust that the editors give you, 'cause they're giving you what you need to go out and photograph this assignment. So, obviously I was nervous but also really excited at the same time. And, yeah, I think it came out well. I'm really happy with kind of the end result. And thanks for the kind words.
JH: Yeah. No, it's a beautiful story and really well done. And you mentioned something just now that is really important, that sometimes editors will reach out to you and say, “Hey, we're working on this thing, it's this story, do you have any images that match this or do you have any images that we might be able to use for this?” And that's a pretty big component of getting going in conservation photography, is having a library of images that if an editor needs something, a one-off shot here and there, that you actually have that, because you've been out there working on your own projects and your own collaborations. And I've noticed you do this, and it's been really fun to watch in particular one project that you've been working on, which is the farmer and the fisherman, because I think you've been working on this for a while now. And I'm curious, can we talk a little bit about that project, but then a few of the other ones that you've chosen to work on that are very interesting?
LL: Yeah, yeah, of course. And that's a really interesting one, 'cause the farmer and the fisherman has been going on for a while. I originally submitted that project to the Blue Earth Alliance for some kind of support and collaboration there, so I am an active project photographer with them on that particular one, and it's really interesting 'cause it is sort of a longer term project where I'm documenting the daily lives of our Gulf of Maine fishermen and aquaculture men and women here, but it's also about climate change and sort of how these industries are affected by climate change within the Gulf of Maine, because it's one of the fastest warming bodies of water in the world. So there's a lot of change happening right now within our gulf.
LL: So species are moving, temperatures are shifting, storm patterns are changing and becoming a little bit more intense, so the fishing community has to figure out how to adapt and not over-fish the species that are there. So how do we conserve the species that are existing and how do we shift our markets to maybe saying goodbye to cod and hello to black sea bass. So there's sort of this constant shift that's happening right now, and that's something that I'm documenting throughout the last couple years here. But the really interesting thing about that project is that it hasn't been published yet. I'm still kind of thinking about what my next steps are with the story because there's so many different components to it.
LL: I don't know whether to really approach somebody with the images and with the story as it is right now, or if I should continue to build on it. So that project is still sort of in production, it's in the works. It has yet to be published in any kind of physical magazine or anything like that. So it's an exciting stage for the project because there's still so many directions it can go, and there's still so many opportunities for it. So yeah, that's that one. [chuckle]
JH: Awesome. Well, and even if it's not ready quite yet, you're building up this kind of storehouse of images that will be so relevant to so many other stories as this whole thing kind of unfolds and other people decide to talk about certain aspects of it. Here you are with this increasingly well-developed portfolio of images that explain the entire story.
LL: Yeah, yeah, and I think part of the next phase of that project is to really go out with the scientific community more and see what their field work looks like in terms of monitoring temperature and acidity levels and things like that, so I have to start photographing more of the science aspect of the story, which is something I'm excited about, so it could be a really good opportunity to formulate a pitch and maybe reach out to some editors and be like, “Here's what I have. This is what I need. Are you interested?” So I kind of think that's maybe where it's at right now.
JH: What have you been learning over the last few years that helps you in figuring out whether or not your story or your project is ready for editors?
LL: Yeah, that's a really good question. I think what I've found out is if the story is like 60% done, it could be a good time to reach out, but I'm sure every story is a little bit different, but I think going out and collecting a few initial images, making the contacts you wanna make, just so you're not reaching out to the editors with nothing, with just an idea. ‘Cause the idea is almost like the easiest part. There's a lot of ideas out there but can you gain the trust of the people that you're gonna be following, are they okay with having you document their work or their life story, or whatever it be? So you have to kind of reach out to the initial subjects or characters that are involved in the story first, and then maybe follow them around, make some initial images, gather your story synopsis, and a few captions. And then where do you wanna go from here? What are you trying to do? And the story usually always changes or morphs halfway through anyway. So when you're 50 or 60% there, you can really finish off the story and then maybe approach editors to be like, “Here's where I see this going. This is what I have already. Here's the quality of work, I have the connections. Are you interested? And if so, let's figure out a publication schedule”, kind of thing.
JH: What you just outlined is something that I think a lot of people when they're just getting going, struggle with figuring out, because there's a confidence barrier in there too. There can be… Well, I should back up and say sometimes there's overconfidence in which you're ready to pitch an idea when that's all you have is an idea, and you have no idea how it's gonna play out. And then sometimes there's a lack of confidence in that, “Oh my gosh, I have to have every last little piece of the story done and buttoned up and ready to go before I can pitch.” And the way that you've outlined your process on it is one that is kind of developed as you gain a lot of confidence in knowing what to expect, knowing how to navigate things. Have you watched your confidence level shift or have you watched how you approach stories like that shift as you've become more and more established and centered in yourself as a professional conservation photographer?
LL: A little bit. I think the longer you go in the career and sort of the more of a name that you go through yourself and the more that editors kind of already know. They know who you are or they know you exist, maybe you've worked with them in the past once or twice already. I think the further you go the easier it is to just reach out. And kind of what I said earlier is to have a little bit more of a candid open-ended discussion with your editors, 'cause they're colleagues, they're co-workers at that point. So you can just sort of reach out and be like, “Hey, I have this idea, or I've talked to X, Y, Z people, I think there's a story here. This is what I'm thinking.” So if anything, I think the farther you go in the career I've been starting to notice that I can reach out to editors with a little bit less of the story completed and have it be more of an idea.
LL: And they'll be more willing to kind of talk it through with you and sort of look at the story as a creative process versus, “Show me you can do everything, because we don't know who you are first.” So I think once they sort of know who you are and they trust that you can make the images that are up to their caliber or up to their professional quality level, that there's a little bit more trust there, so you can just sort of be like, “Oh, I'm gonna be out on a boat with a scientist doing the shark thing, are you interested?” Or whatever it may be. So that's something that I've been noticing. I think it becomes a little bit easier the longer you go, and there's just more trust there. But I'm still definitely building stories that I'm interested in that I'm not quite sure where they're gonna end up yet, and putting a lot of that upfront work into it, so when I do reach out to some editors I can just be like, “Look, I'm almost done with this story. But it's still a little bit open-ended, so we can curtail it or change it”, or have it be a little bit more of an open-ended creative process between you and the team, the editorial team. So a little bit of both, but yeah, I guess the long and the short of it is that the longer you go the easier it is, I think, to connect a little bit more candidly with the editors.
JH: You mentioned that as you start to develop that trust with an editor, and at that point they're kind of a collaborator, a co-worker, and so you can approach with more of just an idea and work through it together and bounce ideas off each other, and it's a really… It's a comfortable place to be and it's also a really creative place to be when you have someone else, especially someone who's incredibly experienced and also creatively talented to help navigate through an idea into the images that you'll ultimately create. And I know that, at least for me, for quite a few people I know, finding someone who can navigate that with you early on, and that you can reach out to in either a mentor capacity or in maybe ongoing portfolio reviews with an editor that you work with, that can be so incredibly powerful and helpful. What has been your experience in that? Especially maybe from earlier days, years ago, to now. And in trying to find… “Mentor” might be the wrong word, but find someone with whom you can really have those conversations and dig into ideas in order to develop your visual eye for stories a little bit more?
LL: Right, right. Yeah, because it's a really important part and it's not always available, that kind of partnership or collaboration, and when you do get that with an editor, I absolutely love it, and it can be the writer too. Sometimes writers are incredibly creative people and they're really interested in the same story usually. So partnering with the editor and a writer, and you're the visual side of the same story, it's just really fun when you have all those people working together to create something that's well-rounded and beautiful. But when you don't have that, if you don't have a writer and you don't have an editor to work with and you're kind of just out there on your own, which is where I have been many, many times, and I'm sure all of us have been there, I just sort of show my work to as many people who will see it. Friends, I show my mom almost everything, I call her up, I chat with her about ideas and story angles and, “What do you think about this?” And to see, gauge her reaction to it, kinda helps me figure out what's exciting, what isn't. What do people already really… What's common knowledge and what isn't common knowledge. So reaching out to your friends and family is always really helpful.
LL: But in terms of a little bit more of a professional outlet, that's something that IOCP and the Blue Earth Alliance have really offered me. I think being a part of these conservation groups, or even just reaching out to people who are a part of those groups, to be like, “Hey, I'm working on this thing, I really like your style of photography, what do you think about my work?” You can always sort of reach out to people. And I find that our community is pretty open, so more often than not, unless they're traveling or just super busy, they'll turn around and they'll look at your work or they'll give you advice. And that's a really nice way to build friends and build a community, because on top of everything else it's a very lonely career, it can be.
LL: And especially before joining these two groups, it was very daunting and it was very lonely, and you don't quite know how to get started or what to do first, so just sort of looking around at who else is out there, who else is doing it, and connect with those people has been really helpful for me, just to not feel so alone in the process. You can call up somebody and be like, “Oh my god, how do I put together this budget for this idea of this project?” And they'll be like, “I know it's so hard.” And they'll just talk to you about it. So I just sort of think they don't have to be a professional, to have somebody that you know and love can critique your work or work through the story with you, but also we're here and we're available and if you want to learn, there's no harm in reaching out or sending an email to, I think, any one of the conservation photography community members.
JH: Absolutely, I've definitely found the same thing, and I don't know if it's particular to us or not, but everyone is so generous in the conservation photography and visual storytelling community, I think because we all have such a big shared overarching goal and this love of something that is bigger than all of us, and so we enjoy helping each other to actually move toward that.
LL: Yeah, yeah, I totally agree. I think that we're here to build each other up because, as you said, the goals are bigger than us, it's bigger than just our individual success or not, it's really about the mission and trying to live in a more healthy, sustainable world that includes the natural processes in how we go about our daily routines. So yeah, I think because we're all so connected to this sort of conservation umbrella. Yeah, it really helps. It's a pretty wonderful group of people, I've really enjoyed being a part of it.
JH: What has been different about this career that you expected, as you delve farther and farther into it what has been either a surprise or not as you expected it to be?
LL: I think one of the surprises for me and for my journey at least, has been really recognizing how many amazing stories there are right in your backyard, and at a super local level. I think initially, when you're young or when you're kind of dreaming about this career, it's a lot of travel to exotic places, and you're spending hours in a hide in Zanzibar or whatever. It's like you're kind of out there in the wilderness or with these very far away communities or locations. And at least in my experience I rarely travel, I do a lot of local stories, and part of that is because the budgets are hard to come by, and… Especially when you're early in your career. That might be something that changes like, again, the more confidence you get and the more… What's the word, trust that you gain from editors and the outside community, maybe they'll put a little bit more into your stories or into your reach in terms of where you can go physically, but I think I've been really amazed with how many stories that need to be told at a local level, I feel like I could make a whole career, I have made a whole career almost, just right here in the Gulf of Maine, in New England. This region is filled with people, and I thought, “Oh my god, I'm leaving Washington state where there's all this beautiful nature and there's BC and Canada, and Alaska and California and Oregon. All right here, and I'm going to Massachusetts,” like, “What's wrong with me?”
LL: But I grew up here and there are so many stories, and maybe where there are so many people there's even more of a need to tell these environmental stories and to showcase the conservation work, and to really reconnect people with these natural systems that are in their backyard. I mean Cape Cod has some of the most pristine beaches in the world, they're gorgeous, and we have these endangered sea turtles that wash up every fall. I mean, I didn't even know we had sea turtles eating and swimming in the bay in the summertime when I was a kid. And it turns out that we have the world's largest sea turtle stranding event that happens every year, and that's crazy. [chuckle] So, that's just one example of the things that you can learn about your own community, and if you can point your camera to your neighbor and tell their story about… I mean, our neighbor is a lobster-man and the other one down the road is a ground fishermen, and I went to high school with people who now are the head of this large aqua farm, shellfish farm.
LL: And it's like, I don't know, if you just tell their stories and showcase how important our ecosystems are to be healthy and functioning and to save these endangered species, and I think maybe you could make a really big local impact within your own community, and I think that's something that I've been recognizing more and more, like the farther I go in the career it's more about making change. And if your change happens to be in your neighborhood or your community or your region, then only you and your neighbors are gonna benefit, and that's great. So I just think that recognizing how many local stories there are is pretty exciting to me. I think that's something that I've been learning.
JH: I'm so glad that you dug into that, and I'm so glad that you really… You outline that in such a beautiful way, and it's so true, and it's something that I repeat and hammer all the time as well, because there's so many conservation photographers who are professionals and who do a lot of work in their own region. They know it really well, they recognize this just plethora of stories that can be told. And in that, in doing stories that are in your own area, and then maybe your own area benefits that, but it's of interest to other people and other people get inspired about what is in their own area. And again, as you actually learn how to explore your own area as a conservation photographer, as a storyteller, as someone who is out there with the purpose of finding and telling these interesting stories, you learn about things that you had no idea existed right next to you your entire life. And it's incredible to realize everything going on around us that we're essentially blind to, and then as we become a professional conservation photographer or even an avid hobbyist, we get to play the role of illuminating that for other people, and it's an extraordinary power to gain.
LL: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And with that, you can see the change more… I think a little bit quicker. You're making a direct impact with your own community through conservation education, and then you can maybe hopefully drive more funding to the science or to these non-profit organizations that are working on these conservation stories by showcasing their work. And if you can… It's great to start that way as somebody starting out in the career, but even the more farther along you get and you build that name recognition. I mean, to be able to take your own local stories and have them in a national publication, that's fantastic, I think. That just makes me so happy to think about 'cause it's really highlighting your community. And it's highlighting your environment that you grew up in or that you live in. And just like you said, you get to learn so much.
LL: And access is easy. You can really spend more time dedicated to these stories because they're in your backyard, like, “Oh, it takes me 10 minutes to go there,” or it's an hour drive or whatever have you, and you can just sort of spend more time and get deeper involved within these conservation stories on a hyper local level. And especially with… For me, we're here on the coast, but a lot of these coastal issues and marine stories, that's a very tough ecosystem, I think to have people feel connected with, are these aquatic animals and these aquatic ecosystems because you don't spend a lot of time scuba diving or whatever. And a lot of the ocean is just sort of way, way, way out there, nobody gets to really see it or interact with it. Most of the people that even live on the coast will never go out on a whale watch or see a whale or interact with these creatures. So even though they're “in our backyard”, it's still really hard to get to them and sort of interact with them on a daily basis.
LL: So to showcase sort of our local marine environment and bridge the gap by telling these human stories, hopefully is another way to connect us to our backyard environment that can also be hard to interact with, so people can learn about it and therefore become maybe involved in some of their own conservation work or “Don't litter on the beach,” or “Go clean up the beach”, or “Make sure to watch your carbon footprint because it's affecting our fisheries and it's affecting your neighbor because of all the oil that we're burning, etcetera.” So if you can sort of tie these human stories to these sort of obscure concepts like climate change or marine life, then I think that's another… And especially if that's local, then that's another way to really bring it in and hopefully connect people on an emotional level to their community and their ecosystems.
JH: Well said. Well said. As you become so much more embedded in this community, you're really well-established as a conservation photographer, you've made contacts in so many ways to be able to tell stories that you're excited about and that you care deeply about. What's next for you?
LL: Good question. I mean everything's a little bit weird right now with COVID. I'm working on a couple stories. One is the continuation of the sea turtle stranding on Cape Cod. I've partnered with bioGraphic for this season. So starting in the fall, I'll be in re-approaching a lot of my contacts there and working with the aquarium and Audubon to continue to tell the story about all the volunteers saving the turtles, and then the turtle sort of journey through the rehabilitation process, and then they're flown by volunteer pilots to the Gulf of Mexico to eventually be released back into their warmer waters. And the cycle starts all over again, 'cause it's a seasonal thing. They migrate up, they get stuck, and then they get hypothermic and wash ashore, and then they have to be rescued.
LL: And it's kind of this cyclical conservation effort that happens every year, and it's a massive effort, there are volunteers from all over, dedicating so much time to save these turtles. And most of them are Kemp's Ridleys, which are the smallest and most endangered sea turtle in the world, so that's just really… Again, it's that human connection that I really love. So by telling the story of the volunteers and of the researchers and scientists and the pilots involved, you really get to showcase all the work that goes into saving the species. At the same time, climate change is affecting them, and they're moving farther north, which is why we keep seeing an increase in strandings.
LL: So if anything, we need more hands on deck to help rescue these turtles. So hopefully as the story keeps getting told and worked on, more people can become involved. So that's gonna be happening this Fall. I am also working with Vineyard Wind, which is the first offshore wind farm development, and it's happening just off the shore of Cape Cod. And we're producing a video that is all about the fisheries' research and how the wind farm is affecting the fishing community and the different species at the development site. So I'm gonna be following some environmental assessment practices there, and we're just gonna be producing an educational video about the impact that wind farm development could and will have on the fisheries and the fishing community. So that's gonna be fun. I'm excited to start filming that.
JH: That's gonna be really interesting to see roll out. I'm actually really excited to hear that that's something that you're working on because it's such a meaty, interesting, complex, emotionally divisive and politically divisive, but also community-driven story, so I can't wait to see how you end up tackling that project, it's gonna be amazing to watch.
LL: Yeah, thank you. I'm really excited about it, 'cause it is gonna be very interesting. ‘Cause of course, the scientific community is… There's very real concerns with any kind of large development. At the same time, we have to get off of fossil fuels. And this is a really windy and productive area, so there is definitely a balance of, “How do we develop clean energy while also having the smallest impact on our marine life and coastal bird life as well?” ‘Cause it happens to be right in the Atlantic flyway.
LL: So part of the story is about documenting all the different bird migrations that happen through that area to see how the windmills are gonna deal with that. We also have the right whales that migrate through here to calf, so we have a lot of very sensitive species that we have to work around, or that the wind farm developers have to work around, but we also have a very thriving fisheries industry that of course is also vulnerable, although it's thriving because of climate change and all that stuff we talked about earlier. So yeah, it's a really complicated story, it can be really divisive, but at the same time it's about producing clean energy. So yeah I'm really interested to start that and to see where we go. I think our first shoot is gonna be about lobsters, so we're gonna start with lobsters and plankton and go from there. [chuckle]
JH: Oh man, it's gonna be so good. Well, I swear it's been so amazing to watch you over the last few years and to get to kinda sit back and be like, “I know her. Look at what she's making now, look at what he's making now. Oh my gosh, this is so amazing.” From when we first met, and I remember talking about the head space that you were in and everything a few years ago, to where you are now, you're so impressive to watch, and I feel so lucky and grateful that you're dedicated to conservation through your storytelling talents. I know that this project, the wind farm project and everything else that you work on is just gonna massively benefit by you being involved, and I cannot wait to see how things pan out from here.
LL: Oh, thank you so much. Yeah, I really appreciate it. Actually, there's one project that I'm really excited about, it's kind of wrapping up, it's coming to an end, and I haven't done a lot of promotion for it yet. But we're gonna be having an exhibition outside on Long Wharf which is, it's the wharf right in Boston, where the ferry comes in. Anyway, so I'm partnering with Boston Harbor Now, which is a nonprofit in the city, and we've been… Over this past year, I've been making these environmental working portraits of all of these job diversities of people within Boston Harbor who are vulnerable to sea level rise. So it's all different types of industries. It's everybody from bartending to the aquarium, to wastewater treatment plants, to historical museums. It's sort of this array of all the different people who rely on a healthy functioning working harbor who kind of stand in the way or are vulnerable to climate change.
LL: But there's also jobs that are being created to focus on mitigation efforts. So the portrait just is sort of talking about all the economic effects of sea level rise within the city. So this October we're gonna be having an outside exhibition where we print the photos out, and actually, I have to go there tomorrow to take snapshots of the exhibit location to brainstorm how we're gonna print them out and what it's gonna look like and everything. But we're gonna try to match it with the king tide, because at these king tides there's tidal flooding that happens in the area, so we want the photographs to be resting within that tidal flooding experience, that phase. So when you go up to read the captions and look at the pictures, you're sort of walking in ankle deep water, to kinda illustrate sea level rise.
JH: That is brilliant.
LL: Yeah, right? I'm like really excited. [chuckle]
JH: Oh my gosh, that is so… Talk about creating an immersive visceral experience.
LL: Right. Right, exactly. Yeah, and ideally, this was before COVID, we wanted to have a big public gathering where it was just open to the general public, and we'd have scientists and government officials, and I was gonna invite every person that I photographed to come to the event, and they can talk if they wanna talk, they don't have to, but it was just so that they're there. So when you're seeing the portraits they're actually there and they can interact with the audience in however they want to, but it would be focused around this topic of sea level rise and climate change mitigation efforts within the city. We're doing that virtually, now, so we're trying to figure out how to kind of have that same event happen in a digital space. But we'll see… And there'll be more to come for that, I'll be posting about the event and the exhibition when it's ready to be posted, so if you happen to be in the area. [chuckle]
JH: That's fantastic. And so you mentioned something very important that I don't wanna leave this interview without saying, is how can everyone follow along with your work? Because if I wasn't already excited about your career I really am now, and I know that anyone listening will be too. So how do we follow along and see what all you're creating?
LL: Sure. Yeah, well Instagram is a really good way. I'm not the best at social media. So I really just do Instagram and Facebook, and you can find me at Instagram @lauren.o.lambert. And Facebook is just my name Lauren Owens Lambert, and my website is laurenowenslambert.com.
JH: Perfect. Oh, that's fantastic. Well, thank you for everything that you do for conservation and the creative brilliance with which you roll out your work. I'm really excited about the exhibition, I cannot wait to see how that works and the kinds of conversations that are sparked by that type of experience.
LL: Yeah, me too. It's gonna be exciting, and I know there's a lot going on in the world right now where we're in an election year that's very divisive and there's COVID, a global pandemic happening. At the same time though, climate change isn't stopping, so I don't wanna overwhelm people, but I do hope that it sparks good conversations and it can help move us to a healthier more balanced world.
JH: Well, thank you so much, and I'm gonna make sure that everything that you mentioned in the interview, including where people can find you, is linked in the show notes. So if anyone listening is curious about how you can instantly click and find Lauren, you'll be able to find links to everything in the show notes, and I'm gonna loop back around to you in October and find out more about how things pan out with your exhibition.
LL: Awesome, cool, that'd be great. Thank you so much for having me, Jaymi, I really appreciate it, and this is a lot of fun.
JH: Awesome, thank you.
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