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In The Country

Becoming the Conservation Photographer - Begin with Your Smartphone!

Mick Group
Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve

(6/2014) Perhaps one of the fastest, if not THE fastest growing segment in the field of photo journalism is that of conservation photography. The current concerns with our disappearing wild lands, and the relatives, flora and fauna, coupled with the near exponential growth in technologies has provided a broad opportunity for those with a sincere interest regarding this subject matter.

Prior to the advent of digital technologies, field journalism of any sort was at best a demanding endeavor. The conservation photographer was pretty much a lone wolf. Often spending an enormous amount of time working either alone or, if lucky, in the company of a like-minded partner. His or her equipment was heavy and somewhat cumbersome. The lenses alone used for distant or small subjects often weighed in excess of 10 pounds. Then there were the tripods; sturdy, but often made of steel or heavy gauge alloys. If close up photos or small subjects such as insects or flowers in detail were required, this would necessitate an additional macro lens. For one to owe reproduction an extension tube would be required to be used with the macro lens.

The camera body itself was usually of brass construction with chrome plating. A black finish was used on professional models. Remember, film was the medium of capturing the desired image. Of course, we didnít know if we got the image or not until we had the film processed. In the field, the choice of film to be used depended largely on subject matter. However, the likelihood one might shoot insects, birds, and /or landscape on the same foray necessitated two or more camera bodies. Each would be loaded with a different film type. Extra lenses and perhaps an auxiliary light source for fill in flash might be called for as well. A whole host of other accessories might be found in the conservation photographerís bags and luggage during those days of yore.

Within the last six years, digital camera revolution has either become equal to or surpassed the image making capabilities of film equipment. ISO ranges unheard of as recently as ten years ago have made low light shooting a whole different kettle of fish. Five or six years ago a 2GB memory card might be considered special; currently, 64GB, or even double that, are available. The more common 8 or 16GB memory cards make it possible to capture more than 2,000 images before the card is full. Plus, all this makes quality video capture a reality. The cameras now available in conjunction with the newer memory cards have opened the doors to entirely new dimensions in all fields of photography. Nowadays, weather sealed camera bodies with WI-FI capabilities; GPS, HDR, and the ability to shoot in color, black and white, sepia tone or cyan have changed the whole game. Hybrid photography is the direction many aspiring photographers have gravitated to where still photos and video are combined to create the story.

Smart phones are the most recent incarnation of a picture taking machine. Their widespread use has literally changed the world of photo journalism. Their big advantages are size, WI-FI, and a built in modem for uploading to the Internet capability. Recently, more and more accessories have become available. More importantly is now the ability to use them with a DSLR or other professional level camera. This simply translates into better image quality!

All these huge advances in technology can help you be or become a better conservation photographer; however, not on its own. It will not substitute for basic compositional skills, marketing ability, or superior image quality. Youíll still have to work with people; know where to go; and how to create your story as well. The dynamics of how you present your material is at least as important as the content itself. Timing can also play a key role in your success.

Beginning June 7th we will host a 3-part series on this subject of how to become a 21st century conservation photographer. The first session will focus on applying professional compositional techniques in conjunction with using your smartphone as your primary means of image capture. Learn some simple tricks that can make photos literally POP! This will give you an edge in actually getting those photos where you want them to be Ö published either locally or nationally.

We will also discuss some of the new apps and accessories available for your smartphone and what advantages the phone cameras, in general, offer while taking an objective look at their disadvantages as well. During this 4-hour workshop, youíll be able to learn by doing at Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve. With over 600 acres on site, Strawberry Hill provides a wide range of habitat and potential subject matter. Youíll find this fun as well as informative. There will be time later for review and discussion with a look at what is in the future for this means of image capture, either still or video.

In the second part of our conservation photography series we will move into how to best utilize those photos that you have captured. We will take a critical look at editing your files; how to make decisions on whatís saved and whatís trashed; what media do you really want to target and why; putting together a story thatís in line with your theme in mind. Perhaps a topic to look at which is just as important is what persons, organizations or business might you need to collaborate with in order to achieve the goals that you have set for your work and efforts. I will share some of the formulas that I found to work and combine your story, media goals, as well as what and who you will need to partner with to bring this all to fruition. Also, during the 4-hour workshop; to be on June 14th from 1:00 to 5:00 pm, we will again spend time in the field fine-tuning our methods while keeping our goals in mind. You will also learn how to tell more than one story with your material.

On June 21st we will conclude with how you make that leap into the world of professional conservation photography; what new tools should you consider; streamlining your workflow; what media to pursue; and find what equipment the professionals are using and why. We will take a look at what the future might hold based on current trends. We will also discuss post processing and HDR, the pros and cons.

Since this will be a transition time between spring and summer, we will want to spend as much time as possible in the field. During the last workshop, it will be a good time for reflective consideration of what direction we should go from here to have the most positive influence.

If you are indeed hungry to pursue conservation photography as part of a bigger endeavor or on its own, go for it! This field could quite possibly be your next career!

No matter how many workshops you attend, youíll find that Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve is perfect for the aspiring photographer. With access to wetlands, forest, and a variety of other habitat, one can easily spend an entire day there and not see its entirety. Bordered on one side by Michaux State Forest, youíll find a mixture of wildlife and plant life. This occurred during a recent reptile and amphibian study.

It is my sincere wish that you join us in June for what could possibly be the beginning of a new career path for you!

For information about some exciting programs and events coming up at Strawberry Hill, contact us at 717-642-5840 or Be sure to visit our website,