5 Conservation Photography Projects You Can Start Today
Excited to be a conservation photographer? You don't have to travel far or invest in expensive equipment to get started.
In fact, you can start right at home with simple gear.
Choose one of these 5 photo projects that'll grow your skills in this unique field of impact-driven photography!
Psst…Enjoy This as a Podcast Episode
Why start a conservation photography project?
I'm a firm believer that creativity flourishes best when you put some boundaries around it.
I know… it sounds like the exact opposite of everything we've ever heard about the creative spirit.
But when it comes to photography, it's easy to get completely overwhelmed by all the possibilities.
Between the endless array of lenses, lighting options, subject matter, styles and – in our case with conservation photography – goals you have for your photos…
It's not hard to go from inspired to utterly stuck. I know because I've been there plenty of times.
See, conservation photography isn't just about snapping beautiful wildlife photos. It's about what you DO with those photos to bring awareness, inspiration and action for the causes and creatures you care most about.
With that big-picture purpose in mind, it's even harder to find your flow in your photography.
That's why I believe that finding a just-right-for-you PROJECT is the quickest way to find clarity for your creativity, and an outlet for all the energy you have for your photography.
So, if in this moment you're feeling:
🌟 a little bit stuck in where you are in your photography
🌟 wanting a way to practice your skills while working toward a bigger goal
🌟 craving a motivator that’ll get you outside and working with your camera
well, I have 5 photography projects that'll do the trick.
How to choose the best conservation photography project for you:
It's one thing to think up a project… and it's another to actually do it.
As someone whose been working in this field for over a decade, I can't count how many times I've watched photographers dream up something ambitious and wonderful, then let it slip to the back burner because it doesn't suit the reality of their life, let alone their creative or conservation goals.
Here's the thing about the just-right-for-you photo project:
- It can’t be too big, or too ambitious. You want a motivator, after all, not a new source of pressure and stress.
- It needs to be fun and engaging, but also push you past your comfort zone.
- It needs to stretch your skills and make you excited to explore, yet not have a huge or intimidating learning curve.
- And you need to see some quick wins to keep you inspired.
These are the must-haves for a project that'll keep you fired up and learning fresh skills.
If you’ve been wanting to start a conservation photography project and have just been trying to figure out what that looks like, here are 5 ideas that can spark your creativity.
I’ve curated them to be interesting, customizable, and that “sweet spot” in difficulty level – just enough to challenge you but also keep you engaged until you hit the finish line.
And if none of these ideas quite fit your needs, I created something special for you. Grab my list of 15 conservation photography project inspiration triggers! You can select an idea straight from the list, or let it spark your creative brain and come up with a project perfectly suited to you.
Project Idea 1.
Meet Your Wild Neighbours
This is a concept I just adore! Started in 2009 by Niall Benvie and Clay Bolt, the Meet Your Neighbours project calls all nature photographers to get to know the species living right in their own ‘hood. The objective is to use a simple field studio set up to take portraits of local species on a clean white background, in order to keep the focus on the species itself.
Meet Your Neighbours contributors can be found all over the world, and are putting their images to use to spark interest and enthusiasm for local species within their communities. Cool stuff, right?
Use a simple and cost-effective field studio set-up to create portraits of the amazing species living in your own neighborhood. The skills you’ll need include an understanding of flash, ethical animal handling, and some editing software skills to clean up the image during post-processing. You can download a high quality how-to ebook from Benvie’s website.
There’s a wonderful range of possible products you can create with this project. You can hold an exhibit at your local library, community center, city hall, park visitor center or other location. You could could create a calendar to use as a fundraiser for a local nonprofit (see project #4). You could put your images up on billboards or bus stop signage or interesting places to get people curious about local species. The options are practically endless.
If you haven’t explored creative use of flash yet, this is a truly excellent project to get you down that path in an unintimidating way. It will also push your macro photography skills.
Meanwhile, it will dramatically improve your naturalist skills. You’ll need to learn a lot about species-specific behaviors, needs, signs of stress, and other important details in order to handle your subjects with the highest ethical standards.
And finally, if you’re feeling bored at home and think that you need to travel to have exciting wildlife photography opportunities, this is a great project to re-engage interest in the wildlife around you. You’ll be absolutely fascinated by what critters you didn’t know about before!
Project Idea 2.
Create “Place Profile” of your Favorite Wild Space
Create a photographic essay about an extraordinary location near you.
And by extraordinary, I simply mean a place you feel is special. It could be a park path, or a reserve, a local wetland or grassland. It just needs to be a place whose story you want to tell.
Select a place that you feel connected to. Brainstorm a list of images that would help tell its story. Consider the characters who appear here – the plants, animals, people or even its defining topographical features.
Include details like the paths, the patterns of light, waterways and signs of inhabitants. How will you capture the location’s various moods and secrets? What is this location like at dawn, mid-day, dusk, midnight? How does weather affect it, and how does it change with the seasons?
A storytelling portfolio of images that can be transformed into an exhibit, installation, book or any number of other beautiful displays.
This really stretches your creativity in storytelling! Since you’re photographing a place, you have to think about the location as a living being, and then think about how to continue to photograph it again and again to capture that spirit.
Once you have some obvious shots, you’ll have to push yourself through boredom or stuckness into new possibilities for images. And, if you take on the challenge of photographing at different times of day or night, you’ll likely grow your creativity in both what you decide to photograph and how you photograph it.
Project Idea 3.
A Local Documentary Photo Story
Photograph the efforts of, and the people behind a local conservation nonprofit. Take a deeper photographic dive into telling the organization’s story through beautiful, engaging, emotive images. This can be for a short amount of time, or expand to a multi-year project.
Are you already involved with an organization as a volunteer? That could be a perfect place to start!
If you aren’t already connected with an organization, do an internet search to find a group that interests you. Go to a few meetings to make sure you’re on board with their mission and activities, and get to know the folks behind it.
If everything clicks, and you feel confident in working with this group, then you can approach them about documenting their story. Most local organizations will be over the moon that a photographer wants to volunteer with them.
The second is a portfolio of images you can license for a fee to third parties, like media outlets or publishers, when there’s a need for them. Your high-quality images might be in demand, and if you have a great relationship with the organization, they’ll happily point image requests in your direction.
You’ll stretch your people-photography skills with this project, something essential for growing as a skilled visual storyteller. You'll have a chance to practice capturing environmental portraits, and spotting those “decisive moments” during events and activities.
Volunteering for an organization is an amazing thing to do, it’s a fantastic bonus when those efforts pay off for you financially as well through licensing images down the road!
Project Idea 4.
A Photo-centric Fundraiser
Organize a fundraiser event for a conservation group or cause that’s important to you that revolves around your images.
The core of this project is deciding on a theme, and building a cohesive portfolio of images for a fundraiser event. The event could be a calendar fundraiser, a print auction, an exhibit with a door charge… The sky is the limit for how you fundraise.
But to get there, first decide on the organization you want to support. If you want to collaborate with them for the fundraiser event, set up a meeting and talk with them about your goals and their needs.
Next, think creatively about what kind of images the organization’s core audience responds to. After all, you’re ultimately appealing to the financial supporters of the organization. So take a little time to learn more about them.
For Example: If you’re supporting an Audubon society chapter, more than likely their supporters respond to portraits of birds. If you choose to fundraise for a watershed council, the audience will probably respond to beautiful landscapes of their local watersheds.
Once you know the images you’re going for, set a fundraiser date and create a shot list. Then calendar out dates to go work on capturing your best photographs from that shot list, and when you’ll need to process and print images for the fundraiser.
With a defined and time-sensitive goal, you’ll have plenty of motivation to get out and shoot! You can be working on photographing the images while also planning out the fundraiser event.
An event that gets your name out into the community as a conservation photographer, and a pile of money for your favorite conservation organization.
This gets at the core of conservation photography: making your images go to work for a bigger purpose. This project stretches your planning skills, networking skills, and photography skills all at once!
Project Idea 5.
Portrait Series of Conservation Volunteers
Project Idea 5. Portrait Series of Conservation Volunteers
Create a portrait series of conservation-oriented volunteers in your community, a la “Humans of New York”
Make a list of conservation organizations in your area and their contact information.
Create a short pitch about your project, as well as a one-page document explaining what you’re up to. Reach out to the group’s leaders with your pitch and ask if they’d be willing to share it with their volunteers. Put the call out for subjects on your social media platforms as well, posting it to your page and into groups.
Keep track of folks who respond on a spreadsheet – you’re going to want names, contact information, and a place to keep notes about them for your caption information.
Decide on the style of portraits you want to create, and set up sessions with your subjects. Be sure to give them a thank you gift for their time, such as a print of their final portrait.
After you’ve completed your images, write captions that explain who the conservation volunteer is, what they do for your community and the impact their work has on your local environment.
A cohesive portfolio of inspiring portraits, which can be shown as an exhibit, an ebook, an article in a local magazine… there’s so many directions you can go with this.
You will meet SO MANY amazing people in your community, and build relationships with folks who are tightly linked to conservation efforts in your area. Hello leads for more photo projects!!
Grab the episode transcript!
Episode 019: 5 Conservation Photography Projects You Can Start Today
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
Okay, Raise your hand if you have been in this place before: you feel a little bit stuck in where you are in your photography. You want a way to practice your skills and you need an outlet. Something to work on something that is a goal that you will get you to pick up your camera, something that's a motivator that's gonna get you outside and working. You know that a new photography project would help, but you are drawing a blank on what. It can't be too big or too ambitious because you want a motivator after all, not a new source of pressure and stress. It needs to be fun and engaging, but also pushed you past your comfort zone. It needs to stretch your skills and make you really excited to explore new skills. But you don't want it to have a huge or intimidating learning curve, and you don't want it to have an expensive price tag attached because it requires specialized equipment or something. And also you need to see some quick winds that will keep you inspired.
I mean, my hand is raised right now. I have definitely been in this spot multiple times in the past, trying to figure out exactly what kind of conservation photography project is going to suit my needs. And if you're listening in, I have a feeling that all this stuff rings true for you, too. So if you've been wanting to start a conservation photography project and have just been trying to figure out what that looks like, I have five ideas that can spark your creativity.
I've curated these five ideas to be interesting, customizable and hit that sweet spot in difficulty level just enough to challenge you, but also keep you engaged until you hit the finish line. And if none of these ideas quite fits your needs, I've created something special for you. I've created a downloadable list of 15 conservation photography project inspiration triggers, so you can download that from JaymiH.com/19 the number 19 for this episode. You can download that list, go through and see if anything sparks that creativity for a perfectly customized conservation photography project that is just right for you. But for now, let's dive into these five ideas that I have, because I think that you just might find the perfect project for you inside of this episode. Let's dive in.
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 conservation visual storyteller who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in
Idea number one, Meet your neighbors. Now this is a conservation photography project that you can do from anywhere that you're at. And not only is it a cool project that will help stretch some of your skills, but there are dozens of people around the world working on this as a project, which means that not only do you get a chance to do something cool and stretch your skills, but you will develop community. You will find other people working on the same things and build a community around your project pretty cool right now. You might have heard me talk about Meet your neighbors before because Clay Bolt has been on this podcast before, and he is a co founder of the Meet Your Neighbors Project. Now this project calls all nature photographers to get to know the species that are living right in their own neighborhoods. So the objective is really simple. You create a field studio set up, which is very inexpensive to build, and you take portrait of local species on a clean white background. And this keeps the focus on the individual animal itself rather than the habitat. You're looking specifically at a species and getting to know it on its own, and you're not getting distracted by anything else around it in the composition. So meet your neighbors. Contributors can be found all over the world. They're putting their images to use to spark interest and enthusiasm for local species within their own communities. It is really cool stuff. I've seen billboards, bus stop signs, hallways filled with huge printed portrait, all of these really great ways of getting your meet your neighbors work out into your community and sparking interest about these really cool species living right there among you and your human neighbours.
So how do you get started on this project If meet your neighbors is something you're excited about. How do you get going? All you need to do is to use a simple and cost effective field studio set up to create portrait of the amazing species living in your own neighborhood. I'm going to include in the show notes. Links to Resource is that will show you what the's fueled studio set ups look like, but they are indeed inexpensive to build. You could make it as complex as you want, but you can also keep it really simple. The skills that you'll need include an understanding of flash because you will incorporate at least two flashes and also ethical animal handling. So you need to be really aware of the species that you're handling and how to ethically handle that animal so that you don't cause any stress or damage to that. Species like this is critical. Another skill set that you'll be working on with this project is some editing software skills to be able to clean up the image during post processing because again it relies on that clean white background as wth e very clear style of the meet your neighbors project again. All include links in the show notes to additional resource is so that you can really dive in to the meet your neighbors. Process and style. If this is something that sparked your interest, so what's the benefit of working on a meet your neighbors project? Well, if you haven't explored creative use of flash yet, then this is a truly excellent project to get you down that path, and it does so in an unintimidating way. It's also going to push your macro photography skills. So if you're interested in getting into macro into being able to get up close shots of smaller critters, this is a perfect project. Meanwhile, it is going to dramatically improve your naturalist skills, so you'll need to learn a lot about these species. Specific behaviors needs signs of stress and other really important details in order to be able to handle your subjects with the highest of ethical standards. So you're going to learn a lot about species about nature and where to find them. You're naturalist skills are going to get a significant bump. And finally, if you're feeling bored at home and you think that you need to travel to have exciting wildlife photography opportunities this project is gonna turn that notion on its head. This is a great project to reengage interest in the wildlife around you, even wildlife, literally in your own backyard. You'll be absolutely fascinated by what critters you didn't know about before. It's an amazing way to open your eyes as well as the eyes of your community, to the wildlife living among you. So meet your neighbors is Project number one.
Project number two is a place profile. So with this project, you create a photographic essay about an extraordinary location near you, and by extraordinary, I simply mean ah, place that you feel is special. It could be a park path or a reserve, a local wetland or a grassland. It just needs to be a place whose story you want to tell. So how do you go about making a place profile? First, select a place that you feel connected to, so simply brainstorm a list of images that would help to tell its story. Consider the characters who appear here, who are the plants, the animals or even defining topographical features that really make this place unique include details like paths, patterns of light, waterways, signs of the inhabitants. How are you going to capture the locations, various moods and secrets, or to be able to record it at Don midday, dusk, midnight and the different activities that occur here during those times? How does weather effect it? How does it change with the seasons? There are so many ways to make this a really in depth, long term project, or you in a very quick, short term project that you can complete over the course of a single week. It is completely up to you on how you design this, but really, diving into how to tell the story of a location is going to stretch some skill sets.
Now, if you need help in figuring out how to photograph these characters and the mood of a place and how to get all of the shots that tell the story of this location, go back toe. Episode seven In Episode seven I talk about the six must have shots for a photo story. If you go back and listen to Episode seven, you're going to get a lot of information in designing a photo essay, a story and all the different types of shots that you can grab in order to effectively tell that story of your location. So what you create with this while your product is going to be a storytelling portfolio of images that can be transformed into an exhibit, an installation, a book or any number of other beautiful displays. So not only will you get practice of photographing, but you can also get some practice at how you display the images that you create.
The benefit of working on this project is that it really stretches your creativity in storytelling. Since you're photographing a place, you have to think about the location as a living being and then think about how to continue to photograph it again and again to capture that spirit. Once you have some obvious shots, you're gonna have to push yourself through boredom or stuck nous into new possibilities for images. And if you take the challenge of photographing at different times of day or night, you will likely grow your creativity in both what you decide to photograph and how you decide to photograph it. So this is an amazing skill. Stretcher When you hit a blank because something seems so familiar are done. You have to learn how to push through that creative block and get to the next level in your images. Now, in Episode 12 I talk about how to push through creative barriers When you get to that stock point, it's about creating a photo essay assignment for yourself and pushing through some barriers when things were really familiar. So if you're having trouble with getting past that creative barrier, you can go back to episode number 12.
Project number three, a local documentary story. Okay, so what is this project with a local documentary story project? You're gonna head out and photograph the efforts of a local conservation nonprofit, but you're not just going to take some snapshots. You're actually gonna take a deeper photographic dive into telling the organization's story not only what it is that they're out there doing, but also the people behind the organization. And you'll do this through beautiful, engaging, a motive images. This could be for a short amount of time, like maybe you'll follow them for a month or it could even be a multi year project. So how do you get started on a local documentary story project? First of all, are you already involved with an organization as a volunteer. That could be the perfect place to start. If you're already involved, you can just go ahead and pick up your camera and start documenting. If you're not already connected with an organization, then do an Internet search to find a group that interests you. You can go to a few of their meetings and make sure that you're on board with their mission and activities, and you can start to get to know the folks behind it before you actually really get started. And then if everything clicks and you feel really confident and working with this group, then you can approach them and say, Hey, I'm really interested in documenting your story and find out what they think about that most local organizations are going to be over the moon that a photographer wants to volunteer with them and photographically document their work.
Project Idea Number four, a photo centric fundraiser. So with this project, you'll organize a fundraiser event for a conservation group or a cause that's really important to you, and that fundraiser will revolve around your image is. So how do you accomplish this? Well, the core of this project is deciding on a theme and building a cohesive portfolio of images for a fundraiser event. Now, this event could be a calendar fundraiser, a print auction, an exhibit with a door charge. The sky really is the limit for how you fund raise. But to get there first, decide on the organization that you want to support. If you want to collaborate with them for the fundraiser event, then set up a meeting and talk with them about your goals and their needs. Then, after you established what each other's goals and needs are, then you'll think creatively about what kind of images the organization's core audience responds to, because, after all, you're ultimately trying to appeal to the financial supporters of the organization, so you need to take a little time to learn more about them. So, for example, if you're supporting a local Audubon Society chapter than more than likely, their supporters are gonna respond to Portrait's of birds. Meanwhile, if you choose to fundraise for a watershed counsel, the audience will probably respond to beautiful landscapes taken in their local watersheds. Once you know the images that you are going for, then you'll set a fundraiser date and you'll create a shot list. You can then calendar out the dates to go work on capturing your best photographs from that shot list, and also you'll need to process and print images for the fundraiser. Pretty straightforward stuff. It's very easy planning once you really get started, but with a defined and a time sensitive goal, you're gonna have a lot of motivation to get out and shoot. You could be working on photographing the images while also planning out the fundraiser event so you'll be able to stay really highly motivated and excited. And again, you have a due date That'll keep you really motivated and out shooting because you know that you've got a certain date where you need to have a certain number of images ready to go.
Now. What do you create from this project? While your product is an event that gets your name out into the community as a conservation photographer and a pile of money for your favorite conservation organisation, you are creating an event where you are fundraising for an organization that matters to you and that ultimately, is your product. The benefit, of course, is that this gets at the core of conservation photography. Making your images goto work for a bigger purpose is the heart of being a conservation photographer, and this project really goes straight to that goal. This project stretches you're planning skills, your networking skills and your photography skills all at once. So if you are feeling pretty ambitious and you really want to put your images to work right now, this is a great project to take on.
Project Idea Number five is to create a portrait series of conservation volunteers. So with this project, you're going to create a series of portraits of conservation oriented volunteers in your community, kind of like a humans of New York style. So these could be volunteers that are working with different conservation organizations in your area, or they're organizing their own events that help with conservation efforts.
So how do you pull off this project? Well, there's a few simple steps. This is one approach. There's multiple ways to do this, but one approach is to make a list of conservation organizations in your area and their contact information. Then you're gonna create a short pitch about your project, and you can even do a one page document explaining what it is that you're up to. Then you'll reach out to the group's leaders with your pitch and ask if they'd be willing to share it with their volunteers. So essentially, you're putting the call out with these organizations saying, Hey, I'm interested in photographing Portrait's of volunteers in our community who are helping with conservation. You also put the call out for subjects on your social media platforms as well, Like you can post it to your Facebook page and into Facebook groups that are local oriented groups. Keep track of the folks who respond on a spreadsheet because you're going to want names, contact information and also place to keep notes about them, which you're gonna want for your caption information.
So once you have your list put together of who you're photographing, you want to decide on the style of the portrait's that you want to create. Consistency is pretty key in doing a series of portrait. It's so you want to decide. Okay, I think I'm gonna do environmental portrait of the volunteers in the locations that they typically work in. So maybe for one volunteer that might be the beach because they organized beach cleanups for another volunteer that might be inside a wildlife rehab center, where they volunteer. Whatever it, maybe you're thinking about consistent environmental portrait's. Or maybe you want to photograph them at home because you're showing the personal side of them that the community doesn't necessarily get to see. Whatever it is that you decide, just make sure that it's consistent. Then you'll set up sessions with your subjects and get all of your images.
Now. One key thing is, be sure to give your subjects of thank you gift for their time. This could be simply a framed print of their final portrait after you've completed your images right out captions that explain who the conservation volunteer is, what they do for your community and the impact that their work has on your local environment. And at the end of this, the product that you walk away with is a cohesive portfolio of really inspiring portrait. It's and this could be shown as an exhibit or an e book or an article in a local magazine. There's a lot of directions you can go with this, but that portfolio is going to be such an inspiring collection of really amazing people in your community who all are working toward conservation efforts. So what's the benefit to you for this project? Well, you are going to meet so many phenomenal people in your community, and you're gonna build relationships with folks who are tightly linked to conservation efforts in your area. And guess what? That leads to far more photo projects in the future. So this is a fantastic project, especially if you want to stretch your people skills, especially if you want to stretch your portrait photography skills. And if you want to find leads into organizations that you want to work with later on down the road, this can end up being one of the most inspiring projects of all.
Now, again, these five projects are Meet your neighbors so you're heading out and you're photographing the animals that live right in your own area. Using a very specific style, you're going to stretch your macro techniques and you're lighting techniques. With this one, there's the place profile. You're going to stretch your storytelling skills with this project by coming up with a photo essay that tells the story of a place. There's the local documentary story where you really stretch your people photography skills and you connect with a specific conservation organisation, all of their activities. There's the photo centric fundraiser, so this is where you're going to really stretch not only your photography skills, but you're planning skills. You're going to stretch how it is that you get your images out there to work for organizations. So this is really getting at the heart of putting conservation photography to work and then, of course, the portrait series of conservation volunteers. And this is where you're going to stretch portrait skills, and you're going to learn so much about your community members.
So these are five project ideas that can be really customized to fit your schedule and your abilities and what you wanna learn by working on a project. But again, if you're looking for even more ideas, you can download the 15 conservation photography project inspiration triggers from my website. You'll find that at Jamie h dot com forward slash 19 the number 19. I really hope that one of the's project ideas has struck a chord and that you're very excited to get going on one of them. And if you do, I would love to see how your efforts are panning out or what it looks like when you're done. If you're not already in the free Facebook group Conservation Photographers, a community for creativity and support, then I invite you to come enjoying right now and let us know inside the group what project you're working on right now. Post an image or two and let us be inspired by you and what it is that you're working on as well as come on over and find some inspiration from what other people are working on. There is a link to join the Facebook community in the show notes. So if you want to come join conservation photographers, a community for creativity and support, just head into the show. Notes. Find the link to join the community and away we go. And meanwhile, I will talk to you next week
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