How Your Photos Can Make A Difference
*Published to the Wild Eye Blog*
A few weeks back, Andrew had contacted me and asked if I would do a blog post on how going on a safari has changed my life and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. For the past year or so I have been following Wild Eye’s blog, soaking up as much information as possible to help me improve my photography.
However, my story begins a few years back: when I first stepped foot in Africa. At the time I was 15 years old and had no idea what I was getting myself into. But, after spending two weeks in Zambia, my life changed forever. I had caught the “safari bug” and each day I wasn’t there I had longed to be back
Well, in August of 2014, that dream came true and I was able to come back to Africa for a second time. However, this time the purpose of my trip was different. To be 17 years old and have travelled to Africa twice is something special in it of itself. I always emphasize just how fortunate I have been to have travelled to some of the most amazing places on Earth, but it was after my first trip that I realized there was more to it than that. During my first trip to Africa I had discovered my passion: photography.
After that trip, I spent the better part of 10 months obsessing over improving my photographic skills, but along the way I encountered something frightening. You see, it was not until that I started doing research on Africa and wildlife photography that I began to realize the extent to what was going on.
Many of us have heard the numbers, but it is important to repeat them time and time again: Each day, approximately 100 elephants are killed by poachers. Rhinos have been pushed to the brink of extinction and lion populations have declined from 450,000 to 20,000 in a mere 50 years. Now, these statistics may not seem all that surprising to us because we have heard them said time and time again, but to a 16 year old….well I’ll let you imagine what was going through my head when I read these stats.
It was after reading these statistics that I realized I had to do something. I had been given the incredible opportunity to have travelled to see Africa’s majestic wildlife, but would my kids be given that same opportunity?
After my second trip, I had arrived home with thousands of new images and a mission: to use these images to teach my peers about what is going on in Africa. As I began posting images on social media, displaying some of the facts that I had listed above, the feedback I was getting was overwhelming. People were commenting and approaching me left and right asking “is it true” and “are rhinos really going to go extinct in the next 15 years?” And it was then that I had realized that I had the ability to make a difference.
In this day in age, social media is the living, breathing animal that us wildlife photographers live on. Whether it’s hashtags or comments, many of us know the ins and outs of sites such as Facebook and Instagram. And although these websites have become instrumental in helping wildlife photographers grow in popularity (I have seen some with followers in the hundreds of thousands), they have the ability to do much more than that.
A few months ago, I asked Gerry whether it is our duty, as wildlife photographers, to preserve the wildlife that we are shooting. You can see his response here, but, in essence, he agreed that, as wildlife photographers, we must always keep conservation in mind. However, it is important to note that taking a picture of a rhino and posting a bit of information about the species does not make you a conservation photographer. That being said, with the incredible followings that some of us wildlife photographers have, we should always keep conservation as a priority.
After raising awareness about conservation for a few months after I had returned home, I decided I wanted to do more than that. After travelling to Botswana, I had found an incredible charity started by National Geographic explorers in residence, Dereck and Beverly Joubert. They had started a new initiative, called Rhinos Without Borders, which set out to move 100 rhinos from high poaching areas of South Africa to safe havens in Botswana in hopes of establishing a sustainable population there.
After first learning about this charity, I saw it as a great way to further make a difference. After discussing it over with the organization about what I could do to help them, we came up with a great idea: since I was getting such amazing feedback on my photographs, I could sell prints of them with 100% of the proceeds going to Rhinos Without Borders. This excited me greatly because it gave me an opportunity to make a difference doing the thing that I loved: wildlife photography.
3 months and nearly 30 prints later, I had raised over $1,500 (USD) for Rhinos Without Borders. I had found yet another way that I could help with wildlife conservation using my photography, which made what happened next all the more special.
Earlier this year, the folks at Rhinos Without Borders contacted me and invited me to come to South Africa and participate in the first stage of their rhino relocation. Absolutely in awe, I immediately said yes and three weeks later I was on a flight, alone, to Joburg. That experience alone was something like no other; getting up close and personal with a rhino was like nothing I had every experience and probably will ever experience again. Not to mention I was able to photograph alongside my role model in wildlife photography and conservation: Beverly Joubert.
But the point of this blog post is not to merely explain my story, but rather to show you all that I am just one example of a photographer taking action. Now, I’m not saying you have to go to Africa and gets hands on with a rhino to help raise awareness for conservation, but as photographers we do have a duty: to preserve the wildlife that we love so dearly and rely on for our photographs.
So below I am going to list a few ways in which you, as a wildlife photographer, can help with wildlife conservation:
Hashtags- Use hashtags such as #takeaction or #everyrhinocounts to reach as many people as possible.
Spread Awareness: Discuss a bit about the subject in your photograph in the description. Maybe give some information about the state of that animal and what your followers can do to help (the more people that know, the better).
Pick a charity: Mine was Rhinos Without Borders, but there are plenty of amazing organizations out there doing fantastic work to combat the destruction of nature. I’m not saying you have to donate to that charity, but talk about it a bit on social media and help it gain much needed attention.
If you’re selling prints, donate a small portion to conservation: It doesn’t have to be anything astronomical, but something such as 10 or 15% of what you make going to wildlife conservation can go a long way.
Respect the wildlife that you are shooting: The Wild Eye team has discussed this to great extent, but I feel compelled to say it again. What is the point in discussing wildlife conservation if we’re not going to respect the wildlife ourselves!!?? Please abide by photographic ethics and respect what you are shooting!!
The most important way you can help with wildlife conservation: Go on a safari in Africa!!! All of the camps across Africa have a vetted interest in preserving their wildlife, but the only way they can do that is if you keep coming on safari!!
I hope that this blog post has shed some light on how you, as a wildlife photographer, can take action.
I just wanted to thank the Wild Eye team for inspiring me to make a difference using my wildlife photography.
I hope that I could have inspired a few of you!!!