7 Conservation Photographers Saving the Planet Through Amazing Pictures

A conservation photographer speaking about their work at an event.

Brian Ach / Stringer /Getty Images

Conservation photography may be a discipline you've never heard of. While the foundations have been around since the beginning of photography itself -- using images to make people aware of, and respond to, environmental issues -- the genre has only been given a name in the last few years. And yet, it is one area in which some of the best photographers in the world are spending their energies, using the power of photos to conserve natural spaces. Meet seven of the best in the business, and see their stunning shots.

1. Paul Nicklen

Paul Nicklen is an inspiration to anyone with an interest in Arctic wildlife -- and anyone who grew up close to nature and wants to save what is left of it. Nicklen grew up on Baffin Island in Canada's Arctic in an Inuit community. Immersed in the habitat from an early age, Nicklen went on to complete a degree in marine biology and began a career as a wildlife biologist. However, it was his skill with a camera that finally took over and changed the direction of his professional life.

With a focus on connecting the public to climate change and the impact on Arctic and Antarctic wildlife, Nicklen has been published ten times in National Geographic. His willingness to get up close and personal to wildlife, from swimming with leopard seals to doing a solo expedition in the Arctic among wolves and bears, is at the heart of his photography's success.


2. Neil Ever Osborne

Neil Ever Osborne is one of conservation photography's most vocal advocates. With a degree in biology from Trent University, Osborne blends his scientific background with his artistic skills as a photographer to bring attention to issues around marine animals, particularly with sea turtles and manatees. He is an Associate Member of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP).

Recently, Osborne participated in an iLCP-backed trip to the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, working to photograph the beauty and diversity of one of the last in-tact temperate rainforests left in the world which is under threat from an oil pipeline project.

The passion Osborne has for the potential of conservation photography to change the way humans interact with the world is apparent the moment he begins talking about the subject, and even more so when one views his portfolio. A rising star in conservation photography, there's little doubt that Osborne will be a major contributor for years to come.

3. Cristina Goettsch Mittermeier

If there is one person to thank for giving Conservation Photography a name and status within photography as an art and tool, it is Cristina Mittermeier. She is the founder of the International League of Conservation Photographers and has been president since 2005, stepping down recently to focus on her photography projects.

Mittermeier was a biochemical engineer, focusing specifically on marine sciences, but moved into photography as a way to have a more immediate impact on conservation. The skill with which she wields a camera and her dedication to conservation photography is apparent to many -- in 2010, she was named one of the 40 most influential Nature Photographers by Outdoor Photographer Magazine and was named Conservation Photographer of the Year by Nature's Best Photography.

One of the projects she is most dedicated to is documenting the ecosystems and communities that will be impacted by the construction of the Belo Monte dam in Brazil. The dam will disrupt the lives of 40,000 people as it floods over 500 kilometers of land. Despite protests by environmentalists and indigenous people, Brazil has decided to move forward with the dam, which some say undermines Brazil's efforts to be a leader in environmentalism.

Mittermeier has written a heart-wrenching farewell to the wild river, as part of her 20-year project with the Kayapo Indigenous nation in the Brazilian Amazon. The photo above captures four of the girls from the community, and more of Mittermeier's amazing images and the story can be found here.

4. Chris Linder

"Satellite images show a network of freshwater lakes forming--and rapidly disappearing--high on the Greenland ice sheet during the brief summer season. One afternoon, we came across this spectacular moulin (hole in the ice), where there had been a lake the day before. " — Chris Linder © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

When it comes to his photography, Chris Linder has three goals (besides getting phenomenal shots) -- "to educate the public about science; to inspire the next generation of researchers, and to communicate the need to protect wild spaces." When it comes to being conservation photography, having these goals at the top of your priority list is a must if you want your work to have an impact.

Linder has a background in oceanography and focuses on the Arctic Ocean -- and if you follow environmental news at all, you'll know that if there's a single place on earth that tells us the impact our actions have on the planet, it's the ocean and the waters and ice at the poles in particular. Linder has documented everything from Antarctic lava to penguins on Ross Island to reindeer herders in Siberia. But the Arctic isn't the only area Linder has photographed -- he has traveled all over the world and captured wildlife and habitats of all sorts.

Linder has a book called Science on Ice that documents four polar expeditions, covering how scientists do their work at the poles, from studying Adélie penguins to life under the pack ice in the Arctic.

5. Alison Jones

Every conservation photographer has a niche, and for Alison Jones, it's water. Jones has spent 25 years photographing natural spaces and has even received an Honorary Masters Degree in Photography from the prestigious Brooks Institute.

Jones founded non-profit No Water No Life in 2007 as part of a long-term documentary project. It came after years spent photographing ecosystems, protected areas, and wildlife throughout Kenya. The project uses photography and science to boost awareness about the global freshwater crisis. While many westerners think the water crisis is something happening only in overpopulated, mismanaged arid areas like Africa and India, there is in fact a freshwater crisis across the globe as too many people waste too much water and abuse watershed areas. Nothing tells this story more effectively than images, and Jones is a top-notch contributor of powerful photographs.

Jones lectures about photography as a tool for conservation and her work both as an educator and photographer are significant parts of the struggle for managing our freshwater supplies, ensuring fresh water for all, and using images to hammer home the importance. You can also check out a video on the effect of deforestation on water availability in the Mara River Basin that spans Kenya and Tanzania. The 10-minute video filmed during a 2009 expedition is truly enlightening.

6. Amy Gulick

In the Tongass National Forest of Alaska, more than fifty species have been documented feeding on salmon, including bald eagles, bears, wolves, mink, marten, sea lions, orcas, harbor seals, ravens, gulls, and people. The abundance of salmon helps explain why the Tongass region supports the world's highest nesting density of bald eagles, and why there are eighty bears for every one bear found inland far from salmon streams.

Amy Gulick is a big inspiration to conservation photographers, especially those focused on North American habitats and wildlife. Gulick covers a range of important issues, including endangered species, the illegal wildlife trade, whaling, plastic pollution in the oceans, how the aquarium trade impacts the health of coral reefs, and more. But the heart of her work at the moment is in the Tongass National Forest, located in Alaska.

Focusing on the importance of old-growth forests, and the cycles of life that revolve around the salmon runs, Gulick has won awards and recognition for her efforts in showing the world this unique and beautiful area. Her book Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska's Tongass Rain Forest details the rich wildlife and scenery of a place worth protecting.

7. Brian Skerry

Brian Skerry is arguably one of the most admired underwater photographers at work today. He has an incredible talent for capturing both the fact and the emotion and beauty of a scene. When it comes to ocean conservation, this talent is exactly what is needed to connect the masses to what is too often (and wrongly) considered both an endless basket of seafood and an inhospitable desert for living things.

The oceans are over-fished, over-polluted, over-estimated, and over-burdened. Everything we know about it is telling us that it has reached a breaking point. Skerry's images reveal this breaking point, both by showing what we're about to lose and how we are going about losing it.

Skerry is a Fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers, and a photojournalist with National Geographic, covering stories from the struggle of harp seals to the decline in the world's fisheries. Skerry works tirelessly to tell -- in a beautiful, compelling, and emotionally connective way -- the story of our ocean, and his images are able to connect viewers with their sense of responsibility to protect and conserve what we have left and restore what we have lost.

Skerry's book Ocean Soul will be released this fall, with 160 photos paired up with essays about trying to take portraits of the ocean.

A lemon shark pup only a few months old (about 12 inches in length), swims in the shallow water (about 12 inches deep) of a mangrove on the Bahamian island of Bimini. Mangroves serve as natural nurseries for sharks and many other species of marine wildlife, offering protection until they are large enough to live in the open ocean. After this photograph was made, much of the mangrove habitat in Bimini was destroyed by developers building a resort and golf course.