Wildlife photographer Joel Sartore has said, "The typical nature photograph shows a butterfly on a pretty flower. The conservation photograph shows the same thing, but with a bulldozer coming at it in the background."
This is such a wonderfully succinct description of how conservation photography differs from nature photography. In the latter, we work to show the beauty of the natural world while in the former, we work to show both what's at stake and how it's in danger. Conservation photography isn't about the glory of capturing the image, or the beauty or technical perfection of it, but rather about how that image can be used to effect change and to preserve something that's at risk.
But how can photography be used to tell the story of the natural world? In the following videos, some of the world's best wildlife and nature photographers explain their passion for nature, their mission to photograph it, and the importance of nature for the survival of our species.
By the time you finish with even just two or three of these TED talks, you will have gained a new understanding about how important photography is to our understanding of the planet and our decisions about how we treat it.
Mac Stone: Stunning photos of the endangered Everglades
Stone has spent years documenting the swamps of Florida. Though people commonly think of swamps as murky, dangerous and unpleasant, Stone uses his photography to uncover the beauty, biodiversity, and intricately connected web of life dependent on the flow of water through the Everglades. here is how Stone uses images to inspire conservation of this delicate ecosystem.
Frans Lanting: The story of life in photographs
How do you tell the story of life starting at the beginning of the planet in photographs taken only in the last few decades? Frans Lanting has figured out a way to do exactly this. It is one of the most difficult projects he has worked on, but the results are worth the challenges. Viewers are left in awe as we travel through billions of years of time in photographs, watching the fragile and resilient nature of our planet.
Thomas Peschak: Dive into an ocean photographer's world
Ocean photographers have not only the joy of experiencing and documenting the incredible wildlife found under the ocean's surface, but also the heartbreaking challenge of documenting the profound changes that have happened to the seas, from pollution to overfishing to climate change effects. Telling the whole story of the ocean means capturing both the beauty and the loss.
James Balog: Time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss
Art and science come together in a multi-year project by Balog which shows through images the profound changes happening at the poles as our planet heats up. Seeing the progression of melting is one of the only ways we can fully grasp the impact of climate change, and this photographer has dedicated years to collecting images from 25 time-lapse cameras and putting together the footage so that we may understand what is happening to Earth's ice.
Louie Schwartzberg: Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.
Sometimes, appreciating nature means looking at it through the context of gratitude. The footage put together by Schwartzberg is beautiful, inspiring, and fills one with a sense of joy and protectiveness for wilderness across the planet.
Garth Lenz: The true cost of coal
A conservation story is understood best when we can see the good, the bad, and the terrifying. What is at stake when industrial interests take over a slice of nature? How much are we really paying for something when we factor in not just the cost for the product itself, but the price we pay in air, water, soil, biodiversity, the loss of an ecosystem for decades? Conservation photographer Garth Lenz tells the full story of the Alberta Tar Sands mining through images.
Beverly and Dereck Joubert: Life lessons from big cats
This duo has used photography to make enormous strides in the understanding and protection of African lions. Here they talk about the challenges of gathering footage as well as the challenges still facing the continent's big cat species.
Rachel Sussman: The world's oldest living things
Sometimes the most trivial looking things are actually a fascinating piece of history dating back thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of years. Sussman has traveled the world documenting the oldest continuously living things still on the planet, from lichens to trees, from mosses to fungus. It is incredible to see these ancient beings through her photographs.
Brian Skerry: The ocean's glory - and horror
As one of the top ocean photographers for National Geographic, Skerry has seen a good deal of the seas and has had a unique opportunity to bring back stories about the deep that few people would ever know about if it weren't for his images. Skerry talks about what is behind his drive as a conservation photographer, and what he has witnessed of human kind's threats to the survival of marine life.
Camille Seaman: Haunting photos of ice
How do you capture the mood of ice? How do you make people feel emotionally connected to an iceberg? Seaman has a talent for photographing ice in such a way that viewers feel like the bergs are a living, breathing thing. Importantly, when viewers can feel this way about ice, we can be energized to do what is needed to slow the loss of sea ice.
Paul Nicklen: Tales of ice-bound wonderlands
Nicklen is known for his work with wildlife at the poles, from leopard seals in Antarctica to narwals in the Arctic. As this photographer travels the globe, he is driven to show how these rarely seen ecosystems are at risk. These animals, which most of us will never see in our lifetimes, are brought to the forefront of the conservation movement through his stunning photography.
Anand Varma: The first 21 days of a bee's life
Without bees, humans and many other species don't stand much chance of survival. Yet bees are disappearing at an alarming rate. Part of the struggle to save these pollinators comes with learning more about what challenges they face in the earliest days of life. See incredible footage of the first 21 day's of a bee's life, and get an extraordinary glimpse inside the buzz of the hive.
Frans Lanting: Photos that give voice to the animal kingdom
For animals that can't speak for themselves, photographers often act as the spokesperson. Lanting explains this role for photographers, and exactly how photographers need to challenge themselves to tell a species' story well, accurately, and in a way that captures the hearts of a human audience.
Camille Seaman: Photos from a storm chaser
Everything is connected, even the human body and the storm clouds in the sky. Seaman explains the connection through incredible photographs of a super cell.