Nature photography comes naturally to most of us. A magnificent sunset, a beautiful flower, or an impressive bird can inspire us to raise our cameras and take a picture. Some of the earliest photographers were aiming their lenses at nature, too. Carleton Watkins’s images of California’s Yosemite region even helped convince Congress to establish our country’s first federally protected park in 1864. Nature photography that helps protect the wildlife and places it depicts is called “conservation photography.”
For science and conservation organizations like Archbold Biological Station, photography is an essential tool in community outreach to teach about and foster appreciation for nature. Recently, Archbold’s Education Coordinator Dustin Angell was invited to work with the Riverwoods Field Labratory (RFL) to teach an evening photography workshop as part of a boat tour on the Kissimmee River. Angell, who is also a conservation photographer, worked with RFL to create a workshop that would show people how they could use their photos to bring awareness to the ongoing restoration of the river, the largest river restoration in the world.
On April 4, 2018 the small group of amateur photographers from around FL met for the workshop at RFL, just east of Sebring, in Lorida. RFL Director, Loisa Kerwin led the first part of the program, which explained the history of the river and current restoration project. Participants learned about how the Kissimmee River–once a shallow meandering river that brought water to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades–had been altered over the years to facilitate boat travel and make the land nearby more easily farmed, ranched, and lived on by people. Unfortunately, these alterations–particularly the channelization in the 1960’s–caused unintended consequences, like harming the bird and fish populations in the river and lowering the health of Lake Okeechobee. The state’s South Florida Water Management District began its large-scale restoration in 1999 and is now nearly finished removing the channelization and returning over 40 miles of river to its shallow-bottomed meandering ways once again. RFL, which is run by Florida Atlantic University’s Florida Center for Environmental Studies, monitors the project and gives tours for college classes and other groups.
Angell ran the second part of the program, which consisted of a 45 minute presentation on the history and philosophy of conservation photography. Some of Angell’s tips for the photographer participants included to: do no harm to your wildlife subjects, research your topics, be authentic, and create relationships with scientists and conservation organizations.
After the classroom portion of the workshop was finished, the facilitators and participants loaded into a pontoon boat and spent two hours photographing on the river. Phones and cameras of all sizes were used to photograph the water, birds, alligators, and shoreline. The class was even treated to a distant rocket launch from Cape Canaveral.
Participants were encouraged to create a three-image photo story to share on social media and to carefully caption it to tell the story of the river restoration. Below are the photos that students submitted to Angell. Captions are not included.
Scott Zucker calls his series “A River Takes Shape.”
Joan Baush titled her series “IRMA WAS HERE! The Restoration Continues.”
“Each of us with a camera or a cell phone is a photography storyteller,” says Angell. “When we share our photographs of nature we are adding to a conversation about our relationship with nature. We need stories. We need powerful authentic stories that help us understand our role as environmental stewards and how we might create a sustainable future for ourselves and the Floridians that live after us. Anyone can be a conservation photographer. And perhaps, with enough of us out there sharing our photo stories, we can ensure a happy ending.”