What kind of pictures does it take to really make a difference?
Mandy Barker’s series Indefinite brings attention to the destruction of coral caused by discarded fishing equipment that doesn’t decompose. Photo Mandy Barker
Groups such as Greenpeace and the EDF are tapping into this mass media, as is Earth Hour, which has a specific hashtag to encourage users to share “images that inspire action for a better world.” The Nature Conservancy has a page on Flickr, and the U.S. government’s Environmental Protection Agency uses social media as a way for people to share information and photos.
“With social media, photography is very powerful because it’s immediate,” says Greenpeace’s Novis. “Even when clicking on a video, you wonder if you have time to watch it. But a high-quality image tells you the story very quickly.”
Of course, the idea of collective action goes against the instincts of many photographers, who often like to get out on their own when creating images, particularly when they are of wildlife or wilderness. However, as Mittermeier argues, the impact of pictures only goes so far, and working with NGOs to gain the attention of decision makers is critical. “Photographs by themselves don’t do anything,” she says. “When you trip the shutter—that’s when the work begins.”
Getting Started : Tips from pros for making your photos really count
“Be passionate about your subject. If you’re half-hearted, it shows. And get your work seen—whether in shops, cafés or empty buildings. It’s about getting it out there.”
-Mandy Barker, photographer
“Find an image that’s attention-grabbing or conveys complexity, nuance, and tough ideas. There’s no shortage of photographs that depict a pretty leopard or a butterfly.”
-Jon Coifman, director of marketing and communications, Corporate Partnership Program, Environmental Defense Fund
“Telling people that if they do such and such, bad consequences will follow always falls on deaf ears. The smart approach is to show people how much better their lives will be if they make pro-environment choices.”
-Niall Benvie, photographer and writer
“Understand the aspects of an issue that are visually decisive. Understand the context behind the story. Sometimes what surrounds a story can be more important than its core.”
-Palíndromo Mészáros, photographer
“Volunteer with a campaign group or NGO. When you demonstrate from the inside how valuable you are, it’s surprising how quickly you become part of the budget and get access to projects.
-Cristina Mittermeier, photographer and president of the ICLP
“Choose a good topic, like climate change, and keep it very people-focused. Look at how communities are affected by events such as flooding, people is what wins in photography.”
-John Novis, head of photography at Greenpeace International
“It’s a matter of dedication, having the highest artistic integrity and making sure what you’re shooting captures the truth of the situation and makes connections with the audience.”
-Bob Sipchen, communications director, Sierra Club