The Magical Ah-Ha Moment of Finding Conservation Visual Storytelling with Kathy Lichtendahl
Time and again I hear from photographers how fulfilling their photography feels after they discover conservation photography, and pivot toward this niche for their focus. Today's guest shares the joy of her epiphany moment, and how it's changed the way she approaches photography, for good.
More often than not, when a photographer discovers that such a thing as conservation photography exists, it's like a switch flips inside of them. A fire is lit.
It's such an exciting thing to realize that you can not only enjoy the process and the activity of photographing nature, but that you can benefit nature at the same time. Now that's exactly what happened with Kathy Lichtendahl.
Kathy is a highly experienced, highly talented wildlife photographer, who one day realized that conservation photography was the path for her. The energy and momentum that she has found since making that decision and moving beyond gallery portraits and into storytelling is extraordinary.
Kathy tells us all about her “Ah-Ha” moment and how things have shifted and where her photography has gone now that she's completely embraced conservation visual storytelling as her primary aim.
- The difference between shooting for wildlife portraits versus storytelling
- How Kathy sees the world with fresh eyes now
- How she's building a new audience for her work after leaving her gallery
- Kathy's pairing of a podcast with visual imagery to expand her storytelling strategies
Resources & Links Mentioned
This episode is sponsored by:
Conservation Visual Storytellers Academy trains photographers and filmmakers who are passionate about conservation and science.
We are the only online education platform designed specifically for conservation photographers and filmmakers. Our ever-growing selection of robust online courses, in-person workshops, mentorship programs, and membership community are designed specifically to address the unique skills and resources you need as you focus on documenting environment, science communication, and conservation issues. We help you follow your passion to be an effective, successful, and joyful conservation visual storyteller.
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Episode 062: The Magical Ah-Ha Moment of Finding Conservation Visual Storytelling - An Interview with Kathy Lichtendahl
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
Nearly every single day, I have the pleasure of meeting photographers who are discovering conservation photography for the first time. More often than not, they are nature photographers or wildlife photographers who have been very happily photographing places and species, but not realizing that they could make a positive impact for those places and those species through their very images. And when they discover that such a thing as conservation photography exists, it's like a switch flips inside of them, it's like a fire gets lit inside of them. It's such an exciting thing to realize that you can not only enjoy the process and the activity of photographing nature, but that you can benefit nature at the same time.
0:00:47.0 JH: Now, that's exactly what happened with my guest today. Kathy Lichtendahl is a very experienced, very talented wildlife photographer, and one day she realized that conservation photography was really her path. I feel so lucky to have been in her sphere when she realized that she wanted to leave behind wildlife portraiture and fully embrace conservation visual storytelling. And the energy and the momentum that she has found since making that decision is just extraordinary. She is just filled with so much energy and ideas and projects, and so much more. Kathy is joining us today to tell us what that "a-ha" moment was like for her, how things have shifted, and where her photography has gone now that she's completely embraced conservation visual storytelling as her primary aim. Let's dive in.
0:01:47.5 JH: 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.
0:02:18.2 JH: Kathy, welcome to the podcast. It is such an honor to have you here as a fellow podcaster, because you've launched your podcast earlier in this year. So, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.
0:02:31.3 Kathy Lichtendahl: I am delighted to be here, thank you for having me.
0:02:33.9 JH: Awesome. Well, so we know each other through Wild Idea Lab, where you're a member, we know each other through Conservation Photography 101, and what has been so awesome being able to see is your kind of evolution into conservation photography since we met. Because you've been a conservation photographer, but it's like watching you really embrace your role inside of that and make this big transition has been really exciting, so I'm excited to talk with you today about what that's been like.
0:03:09.4 KL: Yeah. Evolution is exactly the right word. That's how it feels to me as well. You say I've been a conservation photographer for quite a while, and I will say I was calling myself a conservation photographer. I have been a conservationist for many, many, many years, and I have been a photographer for about a decade, but I would have to honestly say that my evolution to conservation photographer has really happened in the last year, in large part, because I found Wild Idea Lab.
0:03:48.2 JH: That's amazing to hear. And I'm curious, would you mind taking us back a little bit, and where have you arrived from? What's been your past in photography?
0:04:01.8 KL: I went back to college at the ripe old age of 50-something, and got an associate's degree in Science, in Photographic Communications from Northwest College. And from there... And the program is very much commercial photography. Nature photography, wildlife photography was really not part of the program. But as you know, as a photographer, that really doesn't matter because I was there to learn the science of photography more so even than the art of photography. From there, I did do some commercial work. I began trying to get my work into some magazines and some publications, but my primary focus was in making images to sell at a gallery in Cody, Wyoming. And then from there, as I said, a number of things have happened about a year ago. I ended up leaving the gallery all on very good terms, but just because I felt that that was not where I really wanted to be anymore, and I have embraced wholeheartedly this idea of becoming not... I would say not even so much a conservation photographer as a conservation storyteller, so embracing the entire genre of not just photography but telling stories with my photography.
0:05:39.5 JH: How did you arrive at that moment, that sort of epiphany moment, where you really wanted to make that change? What was that like for you?
0:05:50.0 KL: I think what finally hit home to me was that I was spending so much time trying to make a perfect image that would sell on a gallery wall, and most of those images were being dictated. The subject of those images, the type of images were being dictated by the people that were showing up to purchase those images. And I finally realized that that was not what I wanted to be doing. What I really wanted to do was to control the story myself, to tell a conservation story, not to have an image that might be a lovely image that hangs on somebody's wall just because it matches their living room sofa, but to have an image that maybe someone hangs up, or maybe they read about it in a magazine, or see about it in a magazine, and it actually changes their behavior. And that was truly an epiphany, to realize that it's possible to use your photography to do good, to make a change, to make an environmental difference in this world.
0:07:07.7 JH: Wow. And I feel like that must have been a really powerful moment for you, because I know that you did something so brave, which was to walk away from this relationship with the gallery and something that was a very comfortable, safe space for you, in order to make that space for conservation storytelling. What did you go through when you made that decision?
0:07:31.7 KL: I did go through some angst, I won't lie, because I think any time that you make a change where you walk away from something that has become comfortable and relatively easy and dive into something that's brand new, there are those moments of stress and of questioning yourself and saying, "Oh, boy, was this the right thing to do? Did I make a big mistake?" And I had some moments of frustration, but it's been pretty amazing in the last... I would say the last two months it has all of a sudden felt like everything that I have started working toward is coming together, and I feel like I have this forward momentum at the moment, and it is such a richer experience. I am just amazed by how much happier this makes me, by how excited I am about getting out there and photographing, by being able to add those layers of storytelling. Even of the photos that I'm taking, I'm not trying to get that one perfect image, I am building that story and I'm including people in that story, which I could never do when I was selling in the gallery. People don't want photos of other people on their wall, they want the profile of the grizzly bear or the wolves with blood on their muzzle or something like that. So being able to build that story, the richness of that experience, has really been gratifying to me.
0:09:18.9 JH: Well, that's amazing to hear, and it's especially amazing knowing what it is that you've chosen to work toward. And I do not want to ever underestimate the amount of work that you have put into this over the last year. You've truly invested time and energy and thought into really delving into storytelling, but one of the things that makes me so happy about the transition that you've made is where your focus is at, which I think is an unexpected area. Do you wanna tell us about where you've chosen to... Or the subjects, I should say, that you've chosen to focus on?
0:09:56.7 KL: Well, for the last year and a half or so, I have found myself drawn more and more to the world of insects, and I don't know why I am having so much fun. I swear it has taken 30 years off my life to be able to crawl around in the dirt looking for bugs, to figure out what they are up to, why they are doing what they do, and to really focus on the beauty, the incredible beauty. If you had have asked me... I feel like I'm pretty environmentally aware, but if you had have asked me three years ago how many insects I think I could find on my place, I probably would have said, "Oh, 20 or 30." There are thousands, thousands of insects on my place alone. And some of them, I have been running by, walking by every day for the last 30 years and had no idea they were there. It's just, it's a whole new world. It is like being able to explore one of the last great adventures in this world, it feels like to me. Because all these other places, everything has been explored, everything has been done, everything has been attempted, but here is this incredible world right in my backyard that I didn't even know was there. How does that happen?
0:11:35.4 JH: Yeah. And considering that you live in one of these ecosystems that people travel far and wide to visit because of the megafauna that's there, the bears, the wolves, the moose, and everything else. And here you are suddenly finding this kind of new passion in life because you're zeroing in on the tiniest living things around you.
0:11:55.8 KL: Yeah, it has been a real journey and just an absolutely delightful one. And one I am so happy to share with others, which again is an unexpected benefit of all this, is that I'm finding new audiences, I'm finding new people to talk to and to show photographs to and to preach to about the value of insects.
0:12:22.4 JH: I would love to ask you about that, the concept that you have really needed to find a fresh audience for your photography. It used to be that your audience was really clear, it was gallery visitors. You knew them very well, you knew what they wanted, you were able to produce these stunning images that they wanted to hang in their home, but now you've changed directions into storytelling, which means that you are understanding audiences in a new way and finding them. So, how are you connecting with these audiences and how are you finding them in order to kind of help them see the wonder that you're discovering?
0:12:57.2 KL: Well, that too is a journey, and I'm still exploring it in many ways. I had a gallery exhibit that was supposed to... This was to be my unveiling as a bug photographer, an insect photographer. I keep using the word "bug" and I know there are entomologists out there that are just shaking their head going, "Oh, I wish she would stop doing that." But I'm using it in the very common-ist form, that people tend to refer to bugs as everything from arachnids to beetles to true bugs. But I was to have this exhibit in Cody in April, and that was going to be my coming out, and of course COVID just ruined that totally. So, like everyone else, that forced me to rethink what I was doing and to try and figure out where I could find that audience, how I could do things differently.
0:13:55.7 KL: I have been finding people through the podcast, I've been finding people through my blog posts. I have a Facebook page called Bugs Are Beautiful that has introduced me to a whole bunch of people that I would not have met otherwise. I have given some workshops on photographing bugs, and I have a couple of others coming up once we get out of this situation. And I've approached various magazines about the idea of doing stories on insects, whether that is the bigger story of why we all need to be concerned about insects and be thinking about insects, or whether it's something far more specific about a particular insect and why it is critical to the future of the world. And I'm not even exaggerating there. There are certainly insects that we are losing on a daily basis. And I think that's part of not only this story, but part of what makes me passionate about it, is the realization that we are losing these insects at such a rate, and many of them are going to be gone before I or anyone else in the world even sees them, even knows they exist, which is so disturbing.
0:15:20.8 JH: Yeah. And you mentioned something that I think is something we really need to dig into, which is you've become a storyteller. And that's not just visual storyteller either, you have launched your podcast, which you briefly mentioned, which is something that I'm addicted to. I definitely listen to every single episode as it comes out, and you truly tell stories. What has the experience of also moving beyond photography in order to talk and connect with people been like?
0:15:53.2 KL: It has been very gratifying. I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. I came to podcasting because, again, of Wild Idea Lab, and listening to a master class that talked about using audio and telling stories with audio. And I thought, "Let's just give it a try." And I have to admit, when I first started, I thought, "What have I done? How am I ever going to talk every two weeks, once every two weeks? How am I ever gonna talk for 10 to 12 minutes about a particular subject and do this for more than three weeks?" Well, here we are now in the six-month mark, and I have so many stories that I just can't wait to tell that I'm so excited to record and to share and to keep going at this as long as I can.
0:16:49.3 JH: You've explored storytelling in some really amazing ways, and you're now blending that audio style of storytelling with visual storytelling in one of the larger projects that you're working on. Are you willing to dig into what's in the works right now with that?
0:17:05.6 KL: Sure. And this, again, just shows how things change over time, and how this whole journey with starting with Wild Idea Lab and then starting with the podcast and then adding in the blog post, all of that took me from where I had been heading, where I was concentrating solely on bugs and insects and their importance in the world, back into the larger world of other animals, other creatures, other stories. And so I began looking again for... Because how can you tell... How can you do a podcast and a blog post about bugs in January in Wyoming? It's almost impossible. So, I started looking for other stories as well. And something that I've been involved in and very interested in for a number of years is migration in Wyoming. And I was lucky enough in 2019, I was appointed by Governor Mark Gordon to serve on his task force, representing the conservation community on his task force, looking at how to preserve migration corridors within the State of Wyoming. And that experience, along with some of the other work I've done with a variety of conservation organizations, really brought me back around to this thing that could so easily be solved if people were simply aware of it, if people could be more cognizant of their own backyard, and that is this idea of wildlife-friendly fencing.
0:18:56.7 KL: What also struck me at that point was that there was another person within Wild Idea Lab who is considered an expert in wildlife-friendly fencing. She and I... And that's Christine Paige, who is amazing and so well known in the State of Wyoming for her work in this field. And so she and I began talking and connecting, and decided to work together, her at her end of the ecosystem, because we're both within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, she is down at the southern end, I'm up at the northern end. And so we're working separately, but together to try and tell this story going forward of wildlife-friendly fencing and how important it is, why it's important, what people can do, and how we can make a better future for the ungulates that are crossing this state of ours.
0:19:51.3 JH: I love so much that you found a collaborator that you guys can work together in some really tied together ways, but also unique, independent ways, because you also bring some really amazing talents to that project. Christine is a phenomenal writer and has been a writer for her career. She's also an incredibly talented photographer and storyteller. And then you're an incredibly talented storyteller in so many ways, from visual and to narration and the way that you approach things. What has it been like to actually collaborate? What have been some of the challenges as well as the benefits of working together and bringing your talents together on one effort?
0:20:37.1 KL: Yeah. There are challenges because we are geographically separated, and in this year in particular, it's not like... Even though we're only probably five hours apart within the state, it's not like we can just run down and work together on a project. It's just not that simple right now. Luckily, Zoom is available. We've been able to talk quite a bit on Zoom, we've been able to talk on the phone, we've been able to discuss different things. We've used the tools that we've learned in Conservation 101 to set up a number of spreadsheets that have allowed us to collaborate on the shot list that we want, on the people that we want to pitch to, on the people that we want to have interviews with, all of those types of things. And so it has really been good. And Christine has such an incredible focus and just an ability to plan that I admire so much. And she keeps me on track. If it was me, I would be running out there and taking all these photographs and then saying, "How about this? How about this?" And Christy just keeps me on track "We need to talk about this, and we need to do this, and we need a plan for this." And it's perfect. It's just perfect. Yeah. So, we work well together, and I'm excited about what we can accomplish.
0:22:06.0 JH: Oh, my gosh, I'm incredibly excited, too. I'm so lucky to be able to work with both of you in Conservation Photography 101 and see how this is evolving, and there's so much beautiful potential inside of this collaboration. I'd love to rewind a little bit and talk a little bit more about how you're thinking differently now that you moved away from creating portraits for galleries and into storytelling, because you absolutely light up when you talk about storytelling. How are you thinking differently inside of just your general thought process when you're thinking about what you wanna tackle and what you wanna do now that you have this new focus on away from single shots and into storytelling?
0:22:49.4 KL: I think the biggest change is probably that I feel like I'm almost working backwards sometimes. So, rather than saying, "Oh, I have to get this shot," I am really starting with, "What are my goals? Who is my audience? What do I need to do in order to reach those goals with that audience?" And then working backward from there, looking at your six must-have photos, and planning around those so that the story can be told not only in the way it should be told but in a way that is interesting enough that people are going to look at the photos, because those must-have photos are all there. So, it is that sort of working backwards and knowing what the story is before I ever pick up the camera. And it's so wonderful. It's so wonderful. I feel like I... I didn't realize it at the time, but now that I look backwards, I feel like I was wandering around in the dark, and now I have this light that I'm working toward. [chuckle] I know that sounds very other-worldly, but I feel like there is that goal, that light at the end of the tunnel, and I'm working toward that and I'm taking the steps I need to take in order to get myself to that spot.
0:24:22.7 JH: What has been some of the sticking points for you that you've discovered as you've made this transition into a new way of thinking, a new way of approaching? I've watched you sail forward and yet at the same time I'm sure there have been these moments where you're like, "How do I tackle this?" or, "This is new territory for me." What have been some of those challenges for you?
0:24:45.7 KL: Yeah. The challenges are mostly on the side of, "How do I pitch this? Who do I pitch it to?" Those are the types of challenges that I have. I think, technically, as far as getting the photographs, that's been much less so. Although I will say one of the other benefits of this whole evolution is that I'm using all my lenses. I got to a point for the last couple of years that I would go out with my camera and my long lens, and that was it. And now I'm back to using all of my lenses, I'm back to really thinking through the shots. The challenges, most of the challenges have really been around figuring out, "Okay, so now I've created this story. How do I get this story told?"
0:25:44.5 JH: Got it. Yeah. One thing I'd love to ask you about, too, is for a lot of folks who are primarily nature or wildlife photographers who move into storytelling, you mentioned earlier that now you're photographing people as part of the story, and that was just not something that you dealt with before because that's not gonna be something that you sell in a gallery. Was that something that was new to you or awkward? Because a lot of times I know people who primarily shoot nature or wildlife, when they start to move into storytelling, they're like, "I don't know about photographing people. This is new turf." How did you tackle that?
0:26:15.6 KL: This is where we go all the way back to that degree, that Associate Degree in Commercial Photography, where we spent an inordinate amount of time in the studio with the full setup, with all the equipment, all the gear, and learning how to photograph people. And so nothing has changed in that regard, but I will admit, I had to remind myself, I had to re-learn, go over my old notes, think about it again, and start to remember how to photograph people. And so it's been a little bit of a learning process, but I have that background from years ago, and it did all start to come back. And the funny thing is, I now remember that I really enjoy photographing people.
0:27:13.5 JH: That's wonderful. Is that something that you would recommend to someone who struggles with working with people? Having some classes, some training in maybe studio photography or portraiture, has that played out well for you in moving that into storytelling?
0:27:31.4 KL: I think it has. And one of the main ways that it has helped me is in understanding light, and understanding flashes, and understanding the use of strobes and various pieces of equipment that you don't generally use when you're out photographing animals. And so remembering to have those along with me and remembering to use them in the proper way, it had really helped... That studio classes helped a lot in knowing how to use all of that equipment and when to use that equipment.
0:28:08.1 JH: Awesome. Thank you so much for that. I think it's really helpful to remember that there's all kinds of training that we can get in other areas that we can then apply to what we do in conservation storytelling. There's so much to learn, it's just endless learning possibilities. I wanna change the direction a little bit of the conversation and ask you who or what... Maybe it could be projects or stories, but who inspires you in your photography, in the direction that you're headed now?
0:28:39.8 KL: Oh, there are so many people. Clay Bolt comes to mind immediately because of his work with bees and how well-known he is for that work. But not just that, not just the work. When you look at what Clay does and how he does it, he is constantly changing the way that he photographs, he's constantly evolving himself. Even though he is this really well-known photographer who's been doing this for a long time, every time he goes out and shoots something, there's something a little different. And so he's really amazing to watch and to learn from. But there are lots of people. Morgan Heim is a major... I'm a major fan of hers and the work she does with video, but... And again, then to discover when you see her still photography, it's just phenomenal, it's just incredible. So, to understand, to get that from her that you can really be flexible, you can do all of these things and do them well, that's just absolutely amazing.
0:29:48.5 KL: Melissa Groo, another person that... A bird photographer, for the most part, that's what she is well known for, but her ethics and her humanity and the way that she approaches photography, I feel like I've learned so much from her just from following her on Facebook and having an occasional conversation with her. There are just so many people, so many people that I love to follow and see what they're doing and talk to when I can.
0:30:23.7 JH: And it sounds, too, that you are really aware of not just the images being posted, but you're so aware of the source within the photographer that creates the images and being aware of maybe the philosophy that's behind them, or some of the why that's behind those images, and I love that you recognize that in people.
0:30:48.1 KL: Yeah. Well, I think that that is the key to being a conservation photographer rather than a nature photographer or a wildlife photographer, is that intention, is that ability to get your message across and to have a message. I think that it's such an important part of being a conservation photographer.
0:31:15.0 JH: If you were to turn around, let's say, five years from now, and you were to turn around and look at your journey, what would... Where would you be in your career, and what would you have accomplished if everything were to go perfectly for you for the next five years?
0:31:34.0 KL: If everything would go perfectly for the next five years, I would have a lot more articles published about the subjects that mean a lot to me. I would still be doing my bi-weekly podcast with new subjects every time. One of the major things that I'm hoping to change, I'm hoping to explore more is the idea of video and adding video into the stories I'm telling, and to do that in a way that is effective and that works well. All of those things, I'm hoping. But again, I am just, I'm enjoying the journey so much that even if none of those things happen, I am still going to be perfectly happy doing what I'm doing and telling the stories I'm telling to my little mini audience.
0:32:35.4 JH: If someone were to have a moment like what you had a year ago, and they're like, "I love what I'm doing inside of photography, but it's not as fulfilling. I think that conservation is really the route that I wanna go with my storytelling skills and I wanna grow in that area." What would be a word of advice or something helpful to tell them at that moment when they're waffling in their new direction?
0:33:05.4 KL: You're gonna think that I'm doing this just because I'm talking to you, but I swear that this... What I would tell them is join Wild Idea Lab, because of the community, because of the support. You can bounce ideas off people, you can... In your various groups, you can talk to people about issues that you have or concerns you have. And people are so generous with their time and willing to get into a discussion with you and help you out of any sticky spots you might be in as far as creatively what you're trying to work through. So, having that community has been really important to me, and I think that that, that above all else, having that cheering section, is so important. I hear people talk about, "Well, how do I approach new conservation photographers? How do I approach an organization that I want to work with?" Well, guess what, there are tons of people inside Wild Idea Lab who have done that recently or a long time ago, and they're willing to talk you through that, to talk to you about what needs to happen, how to make it happen, give you some good tips on things to say, things not to say. And it's just been... For me, that has probably been the single biggest boost to everything I'm doing, is having that community.
0:34:39.9 JH: Wow. Honestly, I can't tell you enough how wonderful it is to hear you say that, and I definitely did not... We did not arrange to make this a promo for Wild Idea Lab, but to know that you've gained so much out of it is huge. And I think that it's truly because community is incredibly essential to what we do, not only for that brainstorming side of things, but also, like you said, the camaraderie and the cheering section. 'Cause what we do is so difficult in so many ways, and so I think to have people who understand what that difficulty feels like, the emotional turmoil that sometimes our projects have on us and our mindsets and dealing with things that are really scary, like the idea of pollinators disappearing, and what that actually means to us and our planet. You're wrestling with that in addition to wrestling with, "How do I tell the story? How do I photograph it? How do I get it out in front of the world?" And so I think that being around a community that really understands that, and is so generous with knowledge and help and assistances, it's the only way we get through, really.
0:35:48.7 KL: Yeah. And I think one of the things that unfortunately has happened in the last number of years is that photography has almost become a competitive sport, particularly wildlife photography. And it's not fun to be around people who are simply out to get the shot that no one else can get. Well, there's a reason no one else can get that shot, because no one should be trying to get that shot because it's too disturbing for that species or that animal or that location. And people inside Wild Idea Lab or within the conservation community understand that, and it's just so good not to have to feel like, "Well, I need to try to explain this to this person why they shouldn't be walking on that sensitive area, why they shouldn't have their camera stuck in the bird's nest just as the chicks are about to hatch." In Wild Idea Lab or within that conservation community, that's not a problem, people understand that, people know that. And if they don't, they're willing to learn. So, it's just a little bit of a different group. And not to sound elitist, but I think it's important to be able to bounce things off of people that understand those types of things, that have this similar way of thinking about the world and the way it runs.
0:37:25.3 JH: How has ethics and ethical photography come into play in photographing insects?
0:37:32.7 KL: Even in photographing insects, it's been very interesting. There have been so many times when I have had to say, "I'm just not going to go for that shot because it's going to disturb that insect too much." And it's just like any other animal that you're photographing. If you are changing the behavior of the animal, then you're doing something wrong. And there are some insects that are quite willing to put up with you in their face. Jumping spiders, for example, they're the greatest thing in the world because you stick a camera in the face of the jumping spider, and the first thing it does is turns around and poses for you. They're wonderful. But then there's other things that you just know you cannot get that close, you cannot perhaps use a flash the way you wanted to. You have to think of other ways of photographing them that is not going to cause that animal harm.
0:38:41.9 JH: What's your mindset when you walk away from a shot that you want and are like, "No, just not gonna get it"? What's going on in your brain when that happens?
0:38:53.8 KL: I hate to say it but it's disappointment a lot of times. But I have made the decision long ago that I'm a conservation photographer, and that conservation is first. Conservation will always be first, and photographer will be second. And I'm not going to change that at this point. I'm just not willing to cause harm to that species, to that particular animal. That hurts my soul too much to try and get the shot in that way. It just is. You just can't do that. So, if that's what it takes, then I'll walk away.
0:39:46.9 JH: Yeah. Well, I really appreciate that so much. I love your honesty and being real that it is disappointment, but it's always a disappointment that I think is kind of flavoured with a bit of a joy of knowing that you more took part in what was going on around you by walking away or leaving the situation, than by staying there and disrupting and kind of... It's almost like your image would be a little bit tainted, in a way, if you had gone forward and captured it. And so I deeply appreciate that mindset. I know that there's some just incredible photographers out there, especially of insects, that they are bringing ethics to the forefront. I think that when we think about ethical photography, it's really easy to think about staying away from nests or den sites and all of that, but we also don't think about what goes into amphibian photography and insect photography.
0:40:39.5 JH: Javier Aznar is one of them, who practices ethical insect photography and just walks away with some of the most insanely cool shots. It's harder, it takes longer, but there is nothing lesser about his work. And in fact, I think it's made even greater by that ethical flow as he's taking images. And I'm sure exactly the same for you. You create just beautiful images. Oh, which reminds me. One thing that I wanted to talk with you about that I've completely forgot until now was, for a while, you were all about a certain moth species, and you were just a kid in a candy store. Would you mind telling us about your moth species and experience?
0:41:26.5 KL: This is another one of those just crazy things that where I live is high desert. My yard, for lack of a better word, it's not really a yard, but my front area is covered with yucca plants. And a lot of people don't even realize yucca plants grow in Wyoming, but we have yucca plants everywhere. And I did not realize until probably two years ago that yuccas have one pollinator and one pollinator only, and that is the yucca moth. And so the yucca moth and the yucca plant have evolved together over millions of years so that the yucca moth is permitted to go in and lay its eggs inside the flower of the yucca plant in return for collecting pollen and taking it to another plant. Now, the yucca moth doesn't eat... As an adult, it doesn't eat at all, but it still will go into these yucca flowers. It will scrape off the pollen, it will take it to another plant far away so that there is no issue of tainting one particular area, and it will drop off the pollen there. And at some point, the plant will then permit it to lay its eggs within the plant. And the larva of the yucca moth will eat the yucca plant, but it only lays enough larva, enough eggs, so that the plant will not be destroyed.
0:43:12.7 KL: And there's so much more to it. It's just an unbelievably complex story of specialization that has evolved over so much time. But what is terrifying about it, of course, is that if the yucca goes extinct, then the yucca moths does as well. If the yucca moth goes extinct, then we have no more yucca. So, they are so co-dependent on each other. But once I heard this, once I understood this and started looking for yucca moths, well, it is the most fun thing in the world, and you have to... We have prickly pear, that's the other plant that we have all over the place, so I've had to get this pad that I take out with me because, again, I don't want to disturb these moths. They have this very specific deed that they need to do, and they need to do it within a certain amount of time. So, I'll take this pad out and I'll lay it down on the ground and lay on my back on the ground, looking up into the yucca plant, and that way it doesn't seem to bother the moths too much, and I can photograph them inside the plant. And, of course, I then found out that I probably have hundreds of thousands of yucca moths in my yard, and I didn't even know they existed.
0:44:34.0 JH: Oh, my gosh, that is so cool. Well, I swear, Kathy, your enthusiasm for everything that you're discovering and your just sheer joy of pursuing it is truly infectious, and it is so much fun to watch you explore and to produce beautiful work. And because it is so infectious and so joyful and wonderful to watch, I wanna make sure that anyone listening can go and find you and get a hold of your podcast, get a hold of your website, so where can listeners find your work?
0:45:06.7 KL: Well, it just so happens that I have a new website that is coming out this week, should be coming out this week, and all of those things can be accessed from the website. And the website is very simple, it's kathylichtendahl.com.
0:45:24.6 JH: Perfect. Oh, that's so wonderful. I know that you've had different things in different places, so to see it all come together, I cannot be more excited to check out the new website. We'll make sure also that that is linked in the show notes as well. And, Kathy, thank you so much for, first of all, for being here on the podcast. But more so, thank you so much for finding your stride in conservation photography. I think that this planet is gonna be that much better off with you just championing small creatures and the things that we can do in our own backyards.
0:46:01.2 KL: Well, thank you, Jaymi, I really appreciate the opportunity. And thank you for all you do with Wild Idea Lab. It's just been amazing for me, a life changer.
0:46:13.4 JH: Yay, wonderful.
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