Getting Your First Conservation Photo Project Out to Multiple Publications with Carla Rhodes
Conservation photography is mostly about what you do AFTER the photos are taken. Here's how one rising star navigated her first pitches, and got an inspiring conservation story in front of broad audiences.
It's intimidating enough to tackle your very first conservation photography project. With learning how to research, plan and capture storytelling images, you're juggling a lot of new things, pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, and becoming expert in fresh skills.
But that's only half the equation in this field.
Because the most important work a conservation photographer does happens after images are safely in the can.
The real work is getting the story in front of audiences where it can inspire, and hopefully create positive change.
How do you jump into the big (often nerve-wracking) realm of pitching for the first time?
Well, Carla accomplished it with a canon-ball dive.
Carla was with us in episode 31, where she talked about finding the courage to begin her first conservation photography project.
Since completing that project, Carla has done an exceptional job of getting that story out into the world, from bioGraphic to the New York Times.
For the first time, she's navigated the pitching process and all the ups and downs and failures and false starts that come with that.
So she's back to talk about her big lessons learned, what she did right, what she did wrong, what she wouldn't change for the world, and how she's built up a successful path for herself and for a story
- Carla's strategy for finding where to pitch her story
- The best way to navigate getting multiple “yes” answers from editors
- Why honesty is the best policy in pitching
- Finding pitchable stories even in the seemingly mundane
- Carla's 3 biggest take-aways from her experience
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Episode 077: Getting Your First Conservation Photo Project Out to Multiple Publications - An Interview with Carla Rhodes
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
Today, I have the joy of welcoming back to the podcast, Miss Carla Rhodes. Now, Carla was with us in episode 31, where she talked about finding the courage to begin her first conservation photography project. She told us all the ins and outs and fears and anxieties and successes that came with diving into a project that revolved around the greater adjutant stork, it's an endangered species in India, and she talked about how she figured out that this issue exists with this stork and how she shaped her project and how she dove in head first for the first time on something really in-depth. Well, since completing that project, Carla has done an exceptional job of getting that story out into the world for the first time, she's navigated the pitching process and all the ups and downs and failures and false starts that come with that, so she's come back to the podcast to talk about how she took her very first conservation photography project and how she got it published in publications, including bioGraphic, the New York Times, NowThis, and probably some more publications that are in the works, more than likely.
0:01:16.2 JH: Carla's gonna talk with you about her big lessons learned in navigating through for the first time, how to get the story out into the world, what she did right, what she did wrong, what she wouldn't change for the world, and how she's built up a successful path, not just for her as a visual storyteller though, for sure, she is finding success in this field, but how she's found a successful path for a story, a conservation story that she cares deeply about and making sure that it gets in front of audiences, so that she can help make a difference for this endangered species and for the people who are working to help save that greater adjutant stork. Now, without further ado, let's dive in.
0:02:04.5 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.
0:02:35.5 JH: Carla, welcome back to Impact: The conservation photography podcast. I'm so excited that you're back here to talk about all of the wild adventure that you've had since you were on the podcast before.
0:02:48.0 Carla Rhodes: I am so excited to be back, and I have been spending in a lot of time getting wild, and I'm really excited to talk about it with you. It's an absolute honor to be back.
0:02:58.5 JH: Yay, well, I talked about this a little bit in the intro with basically your entire project and where you were the last time we talked, but just to refresh the listeners a little bit more, tell us in your own words what your project is about.
0:03:15.9 CR: So my project focuses on the most endangered stork in the world called the greater adjutant, there's less than 1200 left, and it's in a remote part of India, the North East, Assam, and there is a group of women saving them, so the story... The gist of the story, if I'm with you in an elevator is, the most endangered stork in the world and the women who are saving them.
0:03:39.0 JH: Wonderful. Oh, nice. You've really honed that tagline, Beautifully done.
0:03:43.0 CR: Elevator pitch, in case I'm in the elevator with the editor of Nat Geo or something, I have it ready. If we can ever be in elevators together again.
0:03:53.5 JH: Right, well, and honestly, that's... You're not all that far off from that because you're here on the podcast today to basically do round two, the first episode was all about really just talking about your courage in pursuing a project, even through the really scary bits and saying, "Hey, there's this thing, there's a story I wanna tell, and I'm gonna gather up the courage even if I don't know what I'm doing yet and figure it out." And since then, you gathered up a whole lot of courage to get this story into the world and you've experienced just a whirlwind of firsts. So let's start out from the big top, where has this story appeared, and in fact, you announced something on Facebook like an hour before we even started recording this podcast, which is yet another one, so where all has the story appeared.
0:04:44.0 CR: This story has appeared now in bioGraphic, as a video piece on the millennial news platform, NowThis News, and it has appeared in a pretty unknown newspaper based out of New York called the New York Times, which was...
0:05:02.2 JH: Woohoo.
0:05:03.5 CR: Sorry, I'm very excited about that one because it's... It really hit my goal with reaching a really broad audience, so I was really excited about that, and... All of them excited about, of course.
0:05:18.6 JH: Yeah. And what was that announcement that you just made on Facebook about some... And yet another place that it's appearing.
0:05:26.6 CR: It has appeared, it's highly honored in Nature's Best Photography Awards this year in the conservation category, which is really exciting for me, so they had, I think, 30,000 entries. I actually wasn't notified, two friends from Wild Idea Lab told me, So...
0:05:43.3 JH: Nice.
0:05:43.8 CR: That pretty exciting. My friends, Mark and Melissa called in and I was like, "Oh my God, really."
0:05:51.8 JH: I love the Wild Idea Lab is breaking the news to you about your wins, that's awesome.
0:05:58.6 CR: Just an aside, the relationships I've made in Wild Idea Lab have just been invaluable through this process, because I was doing this completely alone before and the people... I talk to someone from Wild Idea Lab every day. It's become such a part of my journey. So you guys, if you're not in the lab, you better join, it's where all the cool kids are.
0:06:21.2 JH: Well, let's talk about that journey because it's one that we've gotten to witness for months now, but like inside of Wild Idea Lab for sure, but also outside of it, where we get to really see the hustle that you have put behind this story. So you pursued this project because you cared so much about this stork and telling its story, and then you have just hustled and you've done so in a really smart way to get that in front of people so that you could make a conservation difference. Can you talk a little bit about what that journey has been? What were some of these steps that you were taking because you've...
0:07:01.0 JH: I know that I'm trying to get to a question to actually hand the mic over to you, but some of the things that I've seen you do is you created a way of pitching that has inspired a ton of other people for how they're pitching. You've been able to navigate the territory of do I pitch to multiple publications at ones, and how do I do that, and is it valuable for me to put this into a competition as well as pitching publications, and so you've navigated so much territory that is big and scary and full of questions for a lot of people who are starting out, and you've done this with enthusiasm and persistence and grace, so let's start at the very beginning. When you decided that you were gonna get this story out into the world, what were your first steps?
0:07:44.9 CR: That's a hard question. 'cause my mind is always going a million miles a minute when I get excited about stuff, so when I wanted to start getting it out, it's really just brainstorming, and now my favorite new thing is a huge black board on my wall that I write endless things on... And I know you work that way too, you have to see it in front of you, but before that, at the start of the story, it was like a 80-paged Google document, and I'm on the Internet way too much, and so I would see publications I wanted it to be in, bioGraphic was a number one choice from the beginning, NowThis, I was like, this is a really cool way to get a... Sneak, a conservation story in, the New York Times, I'd been following their column world through the lens, since it started. And so the steps was really a lot of watching and honestly, a lot of failure... I lost count of how many people I pitched to. And you said big and scary, and as you know from personal conversations that we had, especially last summer, that this was not an easy process at all, there were lots of tears, there were lots of struggle, I mean, it took me three days, to get to Assam for example, from the self-financing, I've been working on all this since 2018, I feel like I'm kind of answering your question, it's just...
0:09:10.1 CR: There's so much to answer behind it, so as far as the steps goes, I mean, I just really lived and breathed this story and took it step by step, and I would try something, and if it didn't work, I would try it a different way, or I would pitch some place, and if they didn't answer, I would follow up a bunch... That's one thing I wanna share with people out there interested in this, you really gotta follow up with these people and it sucks and it's scary and it's humiliating, but if you believe in something bigger than yourself, you have to remember... It's not really about you and your ego. It's about something else. So that was a big part of it, the pitching process, especially as someone... I turned 39 this month, and I've started later in my career. So it's been particularly hard to start from the ground up, so the steps it took, I feel like that's not the best answer, just learning, being immersed and trying many, many things, and honestly, failure has been a huge part of this, and I learn by failure, so whether it's making a misstep and having a growing pain, but one of the biggest steps is just always getting up again and trying to navigate that process.
0:10:37.4 JH: So you started out with having a plan for where you wanted the story to go because you were watching. You were doing all of this research and the types of publications and who you wanted to actually pitch to, and so you were looking at that, and you mentioned that bioGraphic was a number one choice, and especially in conservation photography, like bioGraphic kind of rises to the top of our thoughts, as well as some of these other kind of big nature publications, but you also mentioned NowThis. And so NowThis is... Can you tell... For anyone who doesn't know what NowThis is, can you talk about that? Because I think that this kind of goes toward getting the story out in front of unexpected audiences and reaching beyond the choir.
0:11:18.0 CR: Right, so NowThis was actually secured, the way things came out was interesting because everything came out with the... Within the span of weeks of each other, but for example, NowThis was secured... Before I even went to India, NowThis is a millennial news platform, it's only digital, and they're short little one-minute videos, one to five minutes with texts about political topics, of nature topics, that type of thing. And I say millennial because it's all digital, it's the movement towards having bite-sized news, especially formatted for digital devices, I think they're on TikTok as well, but I'm refusing to create a TikTok or a Snapchat because I'm frankly social media fatigued, like I get it. So that's what NowThis is, and I just thought, Wow, this could be a cool way to encapsulate the story quickly and get it to a younger generation and hopefully inspire them, because what I love about Purnima's story, of course, she's like family now, I love her and the storks, but her message is really about taking care of what's in your own backyard, so whether you're just removing an invasive plant and replacing it with something beneficial to the wildlife around you, that falls in line with her model. So I was particularly excited about getting that out to a younger generation because the children are the key to our future.
0:12:50.9 JH: So you already had, NowThis secured, so you were already thinking about reaching beyond the choir before you even launched into the project, and then you started the pitching process, so you had that document that had all of these publications that you wanted to appear in, tell us a little bit about how as a first time... You were really pitching for the first time when it comes to your photography. So tell us a little bit about what that process looked like for you.
0:13:20.2 CR: Well, I'm laughing a bit because I'm thinking to that last summer being in the middle of it, it was really, really hard. So what it was is, so my background is in the performance arts, show biz... And so what show biz... And so what I wanna share with everyone is you really have to put yourself out there in that world and get rejected a lot, and the biggest thing that I can share with everyone about the pitching process... And this whole process that I was able to transfer from my last career to this one, I think unless you're really, really lucky, these editors and these people, they're not gonna find you, you have to knock on their door and if they don't hear you, knock louder and knock loud again, I mean, sure be great, and be polite and be gracious and be kind, but... So that was a lot of what helped me kick off my pitching process, and then also, I don't think there's a easy way to go through the pitching process, you really have to do the ground work and do the research to find these contacts, and it's really all out there, you just have to...
0:14:22.9 CR: You have to look and it's hard. And so what I did is I made a big spreadsheet, publications, sometimes I would guess the email address, and if it would bounce back, I would guess it, because lots of these companies follow a format, that's another little thing that some of us know about. And so I just listed publications and would just... I would multiple pitch a lot because I didn't know that that wasn't the standard, and then I would just follow up, and I'd go down this list and I'd have a column like pitch yes or no follow-up, yes or no, date, that type of thing. And that's kind of how I did it until something stuck and luckily, Steven at bioGraphic got back to me, he's a friend now, he's great, and I wanted to be in there just because it's such a cool publication and it's so visually immersive, and they were really, really, really great to work with. And I was really happy with how that turned out. I was particularly happy how Steven chose to... With that story, it's about a female conservationist, a group of female shot by a female and written by a female, Emily Sohn who wrote it.
0:15:40.1 CR: So that kind of answers your question. [chuckle] I hope, by the way, as an side, you can cut this out, but I hope I'm hitting it, it's just... I feel like there's so much. So if I'm a little unfocused, let me know.
0:15:54.8 JH: Yeah, no worries, that's my job, it is to help kind of hone that conversation a little bit because you're right. It is something, especially when you're in the midst of it, and for the first time, you start to realize how many moving parts there are and how many things you're keeping track of and how much you're trying to be really strategic about how you're moving forward. With the conservation photography 101, I had a student ask me about... Basically, they had a publication that gave a very soft yes, and so they wanted to continue to pursue with other pitching, and I was like, "Wait, let's slow down. Let's be strategic about this." Let's talk about what this means to be pitching when you've kind of got a soft yes from a publication, and what are the ethics involved and what's the... How are you gonna manage all of these moving parts, and how are you going to transition your story to get in front of the most audiences as possible, and audiences being plural, because there are so many groups of people and different types of people that when it comes to conservation, you wanna get in front of.
0:16:56.3 CR: I think your student's question is a very good one, and it is very tricky, but someone very near and dear to me, named Jaymi, told me last summer with the pitching process, you just have to be really honest and I'm a very... My husband tells me I'm way too honest, and sometimes it hurts me because I say too much and it's kind of scary to be completely straightforward with editors, but to your student or anyone else, I would say it's just better for your mind and your anxiety, just to tell people, what's up. And if someone gives you a soft yes, maybe give them a week or two, and if you wanna pitch, just be like, "Hey, editor fancy-pants, Mc-fancy. I would like to move forward with pitching this piece. Can you let me know?" I think sometimes I've learned these editors are so busy and you just sometimes have to be very honest and straightforward with them, you know.
0:17:56.4 JH: Yeah, absolutely, and I think that... I mean we're getting into the weeds a little bit here, but when it comes to talking with editors, honesty is really the best way to go because they need to be able to make strategic decisions... You need to be able to make strategic decisions, and the more transparent you are about those needs, the better everyone else is, and that's how you form really good working relationships because they know they can trust you, and you know how they think and what their needs are. And so you can either pitch or move forward better.
0:18:31.0 CR: I completely agree, and having that attitude that you just mentioned has actually helped me form some really cool relationships during that just because I just tell people what's up. [chuckle]
0:18:45.8 JH: That's wonderful. So tell me a little bit more about... There's two things that I would love to talk with you about, one, is navigating kind of a big hurdle that you struggled with, which was basically the result... The overwhelmingly wonderful, yet also anxiety producing result of having multiple editors say yes to your story. And the other thing that I wanna navigate with you is the relationships that you've built because of everything that you've been through in learning... It's so funny because the way that I envision you is just like... Especially because you have this gorgeous head of curly hair that's always doing its own wonderful thing. And so I just picture you as this golden lock Tasmanian devil, just like spinning and out there.
0:19:33.3 JH: And you're like, "I'm gonna make it happen." And I'm gonna go a million miles a minute. And I'm gonna figure it out, and it's gonna be crazy and epic and wonderful, and I'm going to be so strong because of it. And I... Literally have watched you do that over the last year. And so... But you've had to navigate some really difficult situations that were emotionally really tough for you. So are you willing to kinda give us a bit of the background of that.
0:20:01.2 CR: I was so inspired by your Melyssa St. Michael episode, so I'll try to make myself vulnerable with that. Because one thing... Especially as I get older, I really wanna help people. But yeah, I mean, this was... Doing this project, it may look like all results and all this great stuff, and I'm very excited and so grateful, and in a state of disbelief where it's gone. But it's literally the hardest thing I've ever done. And I've done and survived some very hard things in my life. And this project has been the hardest thing I've ever done, mainly because at the beginning, I had no idea what I was doing. But because of that, I do think there's a certain... Great thing about not knowing what you're doing because you do things that are out of the box maybe.
0:20:53.7 CR: Like multiple pitching and stuff like this. And navigating that process... Well, number one, I didn't have exclusives with anyone, so I really read... Really read those contracts. But I'm also very upfront with people. So for example, New York Times bioGraphic, NowThis. They really ended up not having an issue with it because it came out at all different times. It was very important that the bioGraphic was published first, they had the story first. So that was really just talking to the editor and just being honest.
0:21:31.9 CR: We did a few phone calls and I can't wait to meet Steven one day. He is awesome. He is such a cool, understanding guy. And frankly, I learned so much talking this process through with him. He was so patient. He was so understanding when this opportunity came up. I just had to... I just had to call him and tell him. And that was scary and that was big, but... Talked to my pal Jaymi about it.
0:22:03.5 JH: Wait let me back up a little bit... I wanna back up really quickly because you mentioned that you just needed to call Steven and tell him. What was it that you needed to call Steven and tell him about? Just for the clarity, for audiences... Or for listeners.
0:22:17.4 CR: Oh, I'm sorry. Well, when The New York Times was interested in my piece, I had to tell the editor of bioGraphic. I told him immediately. And that was a hard conversation because they're different publications. The New York Times has a different type of reach. And I had to navigate this multiple story thing with another editor. And to me, that was scary because they're both huge opportunities for me. And the type of person I am, as I navigated it this way. I said, bioGraphic had the story first, and I am loyal to you guys, so if I can't do the other one, so be it. Luckily, he was totally cool with me doing the Times. And I'm forever grateful for that.
0:23:10.3 CR: Because if he would have said, "I'm not cool with this. No way." I would have just... I would have gone with them because everything I've learned and just as a human being, relationships are more important than being published once in another publication. I hope to be friends with him for a very long time. I think that publication is wonderful and so many friends are involved with it and they're doing great work. So navigating that for me was pretty scary, but luckily, I was dealing with a super, super cool editor. I hope all editors that I work with in the future are as cool as Steven at bioGraphic. I hope he doesn't hear this. He'll be like, blushing.
0:23:58.0 JH: Well, I hope he does, because I think the world of Steven as well. He's just extraordinary. But I am curious about also what the editor at The New York Times said when they said, "Yeah, we want the story." And you said, "By the way, it needs to run in bioGraphic first."
0:24:13.6 CR: I remember talking to my friend Jaymi about that. I'm sorry to keep outing you. But I just want everyone to know that Jaymi... Jaymi helped me through some pretty emotional, tough turns in my journey. She would just get a barrage of texts and scream-y faces. I just... When The New York Times accepted it, I just told them straight up, this is gonna run in a science website called bioGraphic. And the editor didn't even... They honestly didn't care. So that was great. And The New York Times had a great contract. It just basically said they can use my images for this publication for the story, which is kind of a dream contract. So I got really lucky with the story as well, because no one had an exclusive, so legally I was fine.
0:25:14.5 CR: But again, exclusive or not the relationships are very important, and being transparent is important. And working with The New York Times was great, and I would do it again in a second. And it's actually... This sounds ridiculous, and I still can't believe it, but it's my first published piece as a writer, so I had to write it and they gave me three days to write it. So I did just 12 hour days and wrote it and wrote it because they didn't want me to write it until they got... Until they gave me the photo edit. So I had notes and stuff, but it was a big learning experience. So again, I think there's something about just jumping in and doing the work and pushing yourself past fears 'cause you may be surprised what you can do if you do that.
0:26:05.2 CR: And it seems like almost every problem is solvable if you're a good person who's honest and can navigate things. So I'm glad I got through it. And again, all the great results, there was so much hard work behind it. Lots of joy, but lots of hard things, as well. [chuckle] So I'm re-living it as I tell you, because it's only been in the past couple of weeks, I'm coming out of the woods. So to see... And can kind of see back on what I did. Because I've been in the middle of it for so long and it's still kind of... I'm still in a state where a lot of this feels like a dream... Just to be transparent, I would have never, ever imagined any of this happening ever. So... [chuckle]
0:26:54.8 JH: Well, so let's dive into that a little bit more about how long the process has been. Because I think that there's kind of a misconception that can happen, which is like you go out and you shoot a story and you pitch it and they say yes, and then it appears. And there's a whole lot of time and energy that actually happens in the meantime, and all of that. So how long have you been working on pitching from the time that you started actually sending out a pitch to now when you have been published in... The story has been published really beautifully in bioGraphic, New York Times, and Now This. How much time has passed?
0:27:31.2 CR: It's gonna probably be another place too, but I'll... Which is really funny, I found out the other day, but I'll save that. So there might be one more place and then I might move on to another story. Or maybe I'll just do storks forever. I started pitching... So let's see... I went to Assam for the first time in 2018 when I first saw the storks. So that 2019... I started pitching the story before I went back on my second trip in the fall of 2019... And then I went to Assam in February and March of 2020, and then when I came back, started really pitching hard that summer. And then COVID... All the pandemic happened too so navigating in the middle of that was really hard.
0:28:23.1 CR: But I can see now that it was kind of an advantage that I had this story because editors were looking for content no one could travel. So another thing I wanna share is that I'm fully aware that a lot of this is about hard work, talent and all that, but a lot of it is about luck and being prepared if the moment comes. Like for example, The New York Times said, "We need this in three days." A lot of people might have been like, "Oh my God, no." And psyched themselves out. But if these... Anyone listening, if these opportunities come, that's from my performance days, you really gotta grab them. So I think a lot of it was that too. And it's a lot of luck and a lot of obsessive thinking. I don't think my husband wants to hear about the storks for a while. He's very supportive, but all he heard about for a long time, every day were these storks that live in the garbage, eating garbage.
0:29:21.0 JH: Yeah. But that's part of why I think it has worked out so well for you is because you've been so... Getting the story out into the world because you're so passionate about the mission that Purnima has in saving these storks and then bringing the community into the process of saving the species, and protecting the species. And you're so wrapped up in that conservation effort that you're able and willing to put in the incredible amount of emotion and time and energy into months and months, and months, and months, and months. So it's been... Most of 2020 until now that you went through the pitching and navigating yeses and getting things out to editors, where do you intend to go from here?
0:30:07.9 CR: That's a good question. I actually, since last fall, I was doing a project in my own backyard, so I'm currently pitching that... I'm working on a few projects in the Catskills. The stuff right now for the foreseeable future is closer to home. I'm working on another project with Travel next year. I'm continuing to be involved with Purnima and the greater adjutants. That's another thing I wanna say as well, kinda backtrack... I volunteered for her and did stuff like made posters, I helped with social media. That made me care even more just being part of it. I'm a big fan of Amy Vitali's work... Like I know with her rhino story, she's been going for 10 years.
0:30:55.1 CR: So I kind of almost see besides the other projects. I would see myself going back to Assam in the future. I would love to go back and shoot it again with what I know now, and even a few years from now. So I kind of think, honestly, I'm not done with the storks. There's just... It's one of those moments in my life that just grabbed me, and there's part of it that's kind of like... I live in Woodstock now, so maybe it's being surrounded by tid dye and crystals and wind chimes and stuff. But there is something really magical that happened to me in that moment. I'm getting a little tingly thinking about it. And it's really strange and supernatural, almost like an Oprah moment or an aha moment.
0:31:42.8 CR: I'm a big fan of Oprah's ahas, even though she's not on the air anymore. It's one of those things I can't explain, but when you find something like that that drives you... It's really about something bigger. So it's almost like a lot of this process... Again, it sounds a little woo woo, but the... It was... Something was pulling me from another place, and I don't know why, but I really hope that... I think in this world, I'll continue to find projects like that because I really do care so much. And projects I wanna live and breathe and be part of. I desperately care about wildlife and helping them and giving them voices. I'm really good at giving you 20-minute answers that veer off into alternate directions.
0:32:28.8 JH: Well... But speaking of really loving wild life and being passionate about giving wildlife a voice, I think that you've been more bold than the average person that I talk to who's just getting started in a lot of ways. Because you even pitched a very quick turnaround on a turkey story, who... You named this turkey and photographed her behavior, and you recognized that that behavior is not very commonly talked about or photographed, and so you went ahead and pitched that. Can you tell us about that?
0:33:00.6 CR: Sure. I'd love to talk about Della the turkey. And it's cool that you brought it up because I saw one on the edge of my yard today. We've had to put up a fence since Della originally came to visit to contain her. And if you wanna talk about a Tasmanian devil, we should talk about my rescue mutt, Maveline. But it was the height of the pandemic last May, and this big dirt bowl started to form in my yard and I didn't know what it was. And I'm a big... Hopefully, everyone listening, if you're not, you should really be into ethical photography, which means no bathing or luring and really tuning into the signs of wildlife.
0:33:37.2 CR: Because if you do, it's almost like becoming a detective, like a secret world. And I saw this dust bowl forming. And I had no idea what it was, so I put up a really cheap trail camera. And this lady turkey was coming every day and taking... Going to town and taking a bath. And I just thought it was crazy and amazing, because we know chickens and birds do this, it was just really cool to see. And because I was at home all the time because of the pandemic, I was able to really focus on it. I made a spreadsheet.
0:34:07.6 CR: You're starting to see I'm fans of spreadsheets. I know Jaymi is too. And I started to track the time she would show up, the temperature... Like if it was hotter in the day, she showed up later. And then I really just started to see it almost as a story because it was just... The things that this turkey revealed to me, like coming later in the day if it's hotter and... They even have this whole language. She would cluck softly as she showed up. Or if something scared her, she would have a different cluck. So then Thanksgiving started to roll around, and I noticed that the majority of the turkey coverage is about eating turkeys.
0:34:48.2 CR: And it's usually if you see a turkey in the news, it's the male turkey. And I just thought, wow, this is a cool view that will hopefully show people and engage them in turkey behavior as opposed to just recipes to brine your turkey or whatever is going on. So I just... I had gone on assignment for Smithsonian for a tourism thingy in Florida in early 2020. It happened a week before I went to India, which is crazy. That was really hard as well. I remember editing pictures on the plane while I was going to India and for the first week there. And I had asked... I just sent it to them and they went for it, and it was great. So they did a whole little online piece on Della the turkey.
0:35:39.0 JH: When you say you just sent it to them, what was your...
0:35:42.4 CR: Oh. [chuckle]
0:35:43.3 JH: Yeah, tell us a little bit more about like how did you format this. And did you send it to the editor that you had already worked with for the previous assignment, or was this different.
0:35:50.4 CR: You know, that's a good point. So I actually asked the editor that I worked with on the Florida story to give me an intro if they could to another editor, which they did. And I just wrote this person and laid out the story in the email and was just very... Frankly, way too excited about this turkey taking a bath in my yard. And they were really interested in it because I think it was a different spin on the typical Thanksgiving turkey story. And so that's how that happened. That pitch was honestly more informal than the way I normally do pitching. Because I feel like when you have an intro, you can pitch in a different way.
0:36:37.2 CR: Again, as you know, this is all about relationships. So pitching is a lot easier with an intro, I think. I think you would agree as well. Right?
0:36:46.6 JH: Oh, for sure. For sure. That's so wonderful. One of the things that I really admired about you sending that pitch out was because you genuinely recognized a unique angle. You recognized coverage that had already happened, you recognized a unique angle that you were witnessing and you knew that something that could have been so boring and lame as a turkey taking a dust bath was actually something really cool and unique. And your enthusiasm about this turned Della into a story in Smithsonian. I think that that's kind of amazing and it's something that is truly a creativity trait and talent and skill to be able to do storytelling. Because so many of us would look at that and not see a story there. And you did. And I admire that very much.
0:37:35.0 CR: Thank you. And they... I actually. It was funny because I wish I had had a little more time to shoot it because near the end, I really hard core started thinking of it as a story... They didn't include it in the story, but I have her going by my husband's hammock, creeping out behind a tree and wider shots and smaller shots. And I think that's been one gift of the pandemic, is... The gift of the pandemic. That sounds like a movie. Like some weird movie. But being able to really focus on what's around us and look at it in a different way, because who knows if I wouldn't have been in that situation, I might have not even noticed it because normally I'm out in the woods or going some place else.
0:38:22.1 JH: Well, for all of the work that you do solo... You've, really mentioned how you are kind of alone in the woods, and you've been able to focus in, and delve in deep. You also do something that is really critical, which is you lean on your community to help you. You reach out to people and talk things through, and... So even when it came to the image selection for your pitch for Della the turkey, you leaned on friends and community to help you figure out which images to even include.
0:38:53.8 CR: Yeah, Wild Idea Lab had this really cool thing called Mastermind. And it was a group of us and you'd be in a hot seat and people talking about ideas or how to navigate stuff. And I thought, well, let's do a live edit, because I find... When you get really deep into this stuff... I lose... I think my hunches are good, but I lose perspective a lot too. One of my favorite things also for imaging editing is to ask my husband or someone that isn't in this world at all, to be like, "What do you... How does this impact to you?" And it was really cool to go into Mastermind and have the group say what they really liked and what they thought was story telling.
0:39:30.9 CR: And it was interesting how... I definitely was attached to certain images... It might have not worked so well, just because I remember... Maybe that day I was in a 90 degree line and sweating and I got a certain shot of one feather shining in the sun. But there were more photos that were effective. So I have leaned on the community a lot... You know who you are, if you're listening, including Jaymi. And it's been a process of making myself vulnerable and building trust, which in my past career was very hard for me. But it's really helped a lot and it's been an invaluable part of the process to have.
0:40:09.8 CR: Even if it's just a... Whining about something about how hard it is or just having someone's perspective. I do lose perspective a lot. I get really immersed in something and sometimes can't see straight. So it's great to be able to go to people and get that point of view.
0:40:27.7 JH: Yeah, I think it's so important to... Whether you're selecting a portfolio of images or you're trying to hash out a story angle or something to be able to talk to other people about that. I remember in an interview with Noppadol Paothong, which is... I think I'll link to the episode. It's one of the ones that aired a few... I think in February. And he talked about his wife being his best editor ever because she would just say, "This is a really good image. This one's terrible." And he'd be like, "Well, but it was so hard to get that image." And she's like, "I don't care how hard it was to get the image, it's a bad image."... Like, "This is not doing justice to the species."
0:41:02.3 JH: And... So being tough, but realistic, and to be able to have people around you to bounce that around and to navigate the difficulties of what is a very emotional process when you're getting going or what can be really nerve-racking is a really powerful, wonderful thing.
0:41:20.9 CR: Yeah, that makes me laugh 'cause that sounds like Andy, 'cause his review skills are, "I don't get it. I like that, babe. What's that?" [chuckle] So it... It actually helps, so... And I think... I missed that interview somehow. I'm usually very caught up on your podcast, but I'll check it out. But... I do think there's something that you said having someone removed from this world look at your stuff, because if you think about it, that's really gonna be who's viewing your images. I mean, of course, we're all gonna be looking, but how does it affect someone outside of this world, because... Especially as a conservation photographer, my goal is to get people to connect to the images and hopefully turn their mind a bit about respecting and adoring and liking wildlife.
0:42:08.9 CR: So it is kind of important to get that outside point of view. But people should definitely appreciate how hard it is to get a lot of these shots because people just do not realize how hard this is, but that's why it's so addictive as well.
0:42:24.9 JH: What would be some of the biggest takeaways so far for you from the experience that you've had in finding a project, pursuing that project, and then putting the work in to get that project in, in front of as many eyes as possible?
0:42:42.4 CR: That's a very hard question 'cause there are so many takeaways. So I have to think... This is where we have the uncomfortable silence.
0:42:49.5 JH: That's totally fine. You know me, I'm fine with silence.
0:42:53.9 CR: The biggest takeaway. There are so many ways I could go with this question too, but I'm trying to...
0:43:02.0 JH: Feel free to go on any tangents you want.
0:43:04.2 CR: Me go on a tangent. I don't know how to verbalize what I'm thinking. But this experience for me personally, has exceeded like my wildest dreams. I'll keep saying that... I would have never... I'm stunned and just so grateful for the story getting out there. And I think my biggest takeaway is you will be surprised... When I say you, I mean anyone in the world, and conservation photography especially. You will be surprised at what you can do when you just really do the work and focus and don't give up. So much of this is about persistence and pushing through. And you have to remember... A lot of this is like the ocean. Sometimes the waves will be crashing around, but then you're gonna get calm too.
0:43:55.9 CR: And sometimes a mermaid will hop out and give you like a giant milk shake with a cherry on top and whipped cream. I don't know. I mean, that's been the biggest takeaway. I have learned so much about myself in the past few years through doing this work, it makes me wanna cry thinking about it, than I have in my whole time on this earth. Because if you really put yourself in very difficult situations and navigate your way through, you're just bound to learn stuff. And I also... It's made me... In my last career, I really, really got in my way and that's probably why I never had a Netflix special. I had all the pieces there, but I would talk my way... I'd I get on TV and freeze up.
0:44:44.2 CR: People wouldn't know, but I would know I could be so much better. And with this... Because it's not about me, I'm able to push through. And it's really taught me that I'm capable of so much more than I ever thought I was. And so I would just definitely let people know to not be afraid to fail because I failed so many times during this project. My first... When I scheduled to go to Assam. I don't think I talked about this last time. I was supposed to go in December of 2019, and I had to cancel it. And I had to move the trip and that sucked because there were riots and political unrest. And I almost didn't go.
0:45:26.7 CR: I almost didn't go because I was scared and I didn't know what was gonna happen, and I was self-financing and there were so many unknowns. And I cannot imagine, what if I didn't go, 'cause frankly, every one in my life around me at that time thought I was insane. Because it was a really insane thing to do. But now Purnima is a lifelong friend and she wants to come to America. And I can't imagine like if she comes here and speaks and spreads this message of conservation. And I just keep saying that, don't be afraid... Don't be afraid to fail. There are so many things I've learned, but it's been such... Even if nothing ever happens with me again.
0:46:12.4 CR: I hope it does, but this experience has been invaluable. It's made me grow as a person. It's built my self-confidence. It's shown me things that I didn't think I could do. It led me to Wild Idea Lab. You're never gonna be able to get rid of me now. Get your guest...
0:46:28.0 JH: Thank goodness.
0:46:29.8 CR: Get your guests room ready. But I've made so many friends in Wild Idea Lab. I constantly learn so many things. So I forgot what the original question was, but... [laughter] That's my... Well, it's just 'cause... It's like, we almost need to do a five-part series or something, because... There really was so much... Basically, I guess doing this project was like... I have a degree in mass communications, and I went to college for four years in Tennessee. Which is basically, if you go to college in Tennessee, it's like you're not going to college 'cause you're going to college in Tennessee. That's a funny joke. Right? [chuckle] You have to... But through this project, I learned more than I did in college. If that says anything. I learned so much and that's just... That's been a big take away for me.
0:47:18.4 JH: So I've gotta... I know that there's the superlative version of this. And I wanna kinda dig down, what would be three things that you learned, whether it's about yourself or about this field, or about... Skills or anything... Three things that you learned that you can't imagine not knowing now.
0:47:43.4 CR: That is such a hard question, but I have to stick to my own guns and not be afraid to fail. Number one, don't be afraid to fail. That's the biggest thing. I think the fear of failure stops so many people, and that's what stopped me in my last career. The fear of what other people think and do. Fears. Being fearful. So that would be number one. To overcome the fears you have about something is very important. Of course, be safe, carry weapons if you have to. Be safe. But don't be scared of being rejected by an editor. Don't be scared if a biologist says, "No." Guess what? There's other biologists. If they don't want you to work on their projects, their loss. So it's kind of learning to have self-esteem. It's normal to be scared, but push through it. That's the 20-minute answer to number one. Number two is... Jaymi, these questions are hard.
0:48:38.7 JH: I know a lot of what you've gone through is truly pushing yourself past fears and anxieties and picking your self back up and heading back through. What's something that you learned about yourself that's incredibly empowering?
0:48:55.9 CR: The most... I've spent my life struggling and coming up against very hard things without going into too much detail. But the second point would be being surprised of what you're capable of. That's been the most surprising thing to me. Like, I frankly didn't know I could do... A few years ago, if you would have said, you'd do, X, Y, Z, I would have thought you were insane. I really mean that. I had no idea that I could be in this world doing that. So I would... That's one thing. I think a lot of people don't realize what they're capable of. And a lot of that is getting out there and just walking through it, and you'll surprise yourself.
0:49:45.8 CR: The third thing is just, I've always been grateful for what's around me, but just traveling to India and going to a landfill every day. I cannot express to you what it's like to be in the landfill amongst children and cows and this endangered bird and all these things. And just the life I have and that I'm able to do this and tell these stories is an immense sense of gratitude. And it just makes me wanna do it more, that basically, I've picked up these skills.
0:50:21.3 CR: All these varied skills in the 39 years on the planet. All these skills that everyone... At one point in my life, someone really hurt my feelings. They said I was a jack of all trades and master of none. And that really hurt my feelings because at one point... There was ventriloquist, comedian... My day job was as a graphic designer in newsrooms in New York city. But guess what, guy, of course, a guy that said that to me. All these skills came together into this world and I'm able to use them in creative ways. And so I'm immensely grateful for that. Because again, I'm just... Talking to the listeners as well. It's fun to talk about myself, but I hope people can learn from me as well.
0:51:09.6 CR: Don't forget that everything you learn can go into an envelope of something one day. I really do think that all of these things that life has a plan or something for things to line up or something. [chuckle]
0:51:23.7 JH: Oh, I could not agree more. I think that anyone looking back at they're route towards something can figure out that all these little mini steps or strange directions they went on... We pull from that in order to be who we are and whatever role we've got now. And I think the three things that you listed are such beautiful lessons to have learned, in what is quite a short time span already. And I have one last question for you, which is you've already pitched and got accepted into Smithsonian, pitched and got accepted in The New York Times, pitched and got accepted into bioGraph. Is there anything that you still aspire... Like what else is in your list of aspirations because you seem to be ticking off those boxes really quickly.
0:52:12.5 CR: Well, it's wonderful to be in those publications and it's great. And my head's spinning from all this. It's wonderful, but... The boxes I wanna tick off is to keep doing this and to keep learning... Last night, for example, I was in a local pond, it's like 50 degrees in chest waders for the first time trying to learn to do split shots. You know, I just wanna keep being... And they're all terrible, by the way. And I came out and got home and got out of my car and there were leeches all over my seat, and I ran inside covered in leeches, you should have seen Andy. This is just an aside, but the next box to check off is to keep learning and to keep finding these stories.
0:52:56.2 CR: And of course... I would love to be able to keep being published and I would love to... One thing I'd like to do is to work with an editor because I'm self-producing at this point. So I would really be interested to know how I could push myself working alongside an editor. But also to keep self-producing is something I wanna check off because there's actually... I'm starting to see in a lot of ways that self-producing is a really smart way to go as well. So those are some boxes to check off, I hope.
0:53:31.2 CR: And of course, I want the cover of Nat Geo, we all do, right? [chuckle] But, I do wanna... One box to check off is I do wanna keep pushing myself to get in broader publications as well. I think the state of the environment is pretty dire. I've been very upset about it lately. And I think it's so important to reach people... Especially the younger generation, to appreciate and respect wildlife because as we all know, all the answers are in nature. It looks chaotic, but nature has all the answers.
0:54:03.7 JH: Well, Carla, I really appreciate you being so open and honest with what your journey has been like. Because it's really easy to say, "Oh, I had all these successes." And you really opened up to let us know that those successes are really hard won. And you put in the work and you put in the effort. It's been really, truly incredible to watch you over the last... It's been... What? About two years or so since, I think we met. And it's been amazing to watch you not just enter the world of conservation photography, but plow into it and set yourself up for successes. You put in that work and it's paying off and it's a beautiful thing, because your successes that are paying off for you are paying off for wildlife and for stories and for fulfilling the mission of a conservation photographer, and it's very inspiring to see you.
0:54:57.9 CR: Oh thank you. And thank you for being part of my journey, Jaymi. I'll never forget, I was following your work for years online, and I was so excited. Because I was, I found Wild Idea Lab. And I'm so excited to be part of that community and really value the things I've learned and the relationships that I've made within the community. Seriously, I think these are friends that I will have for life.
0:55:21.7 JH: Yay.
0:55:22.3 CR: Wild Idea Lab, yay.
0:55:24.1 JH: That's wonderful. Well, Carla, I can't wait to see what it is that you do next. And hopefully we have you on for yet another episode exploring your latest grand adventure.
0:55:35.1 CR: I would love that. Thank you so much Jaymi.
0:55:40.9 JH: Before we wrap up, I would love to ask you to do one quick thing, subscribe to this podcast. As a subscriber, you'll not only know when each week's episode goes live, but you'll also get insider goodies like bonus episodes. You might miss them unless you're subscribed and I don't want you miss out on a thing. So please tap that subscribe button, and I will talk to you next week.
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