For nearly two centuries, photography has played a role in educating the public about both the familiar and the unknown elements of our ever-changing environment — including the many species that live among us, the constant changes to our climate, and the incredible sights to be seen and explored around the world.
Photography can truly make an impact on conservation efforts and environmental advocacy. It’s one reason why every year for Earth Day, we ask our community of passionate PhotoShelter members to share their wildlife, nature and conservation photos. If not to inspire change, these photos can at least shine a light on the vast, breathtaking world around us.
Take a look through some of this year’s photo submissions below and tag us in your photos on Twitter and Instagram (@photoshelter) so we can continue to share these stories. After all, it’s Earth Day every day!
Cover image by Isabel Jauss
A drone look over the entrance to Three Sisters Springs near Crystal River, FL on a chilly morning. Because of low tide, a large number of manatees gathered before they could swim into the warmth of the springs once the tide allowed them to. Manatee deaths hit an all-time high in 2021, and more attention needs to be given to what is happening to our waters and how it is affecting the food source for the manatees.
I believe it is important that people see the impact of humanity on the environment. We’re a visual society these days, and numbers/statistics only go so far in having an impact. Photos – especially the uncomfortable ones – do have more impact.
This mother polar bear with triplets is leaving the forested area where she has denned for the past several months and given birth to these three cubs. She is headed to the sea ice on Hudson Bay where she will be able to start hunting for her new family. At this time of year, mid-March, she has most likely not eaten for almost nine months.
In this area of the sub-arctic polar bears are forced off the ice around mid July in normal years. If the bear is a female and pregnant, instead of getting back on the ice in November like most males and non pregnant females, she heads to the denning area in Wapusk National Park. There she will either find a prior den or dig a new one in the soil and wait for the snow to cover the entrance up. Four months later she will emerge with her new family and make her way back to the frozen waters of the bay where the season of hunting begins.
Photography has always been a powerful tool in making the viewer aware of certain issues. Not all of us are able to go to the Arctic and even fewer are able to visit a place so special as this denning area. So as a photographer it’s my job to bring the images back to the general public. Unfortunately it’s the cute and the beautiful that grab most of the attention. Baby polar bears in a family unit fit that description to a tee and thus evoke the most emotion. Emotion can lead to action. And action is what we need to save these animals and in turn ourselves from a warming climate. If people don’t know, they don’t care. My job is to make them care.
Click here to learn more about Polar Bears International, a non-profit polar bear conservation organization whose research, education and action programs address the issues that are endangering these beautiful animals.
“An Auspicious Dawn” – The last week of February 2022, to me, was one of the darkest weeks in our collective world history.
On top of all the existing problems, critical issues, and pressing challenges the world is already facing, a completely unnecessary and avoidable war in Eastern Europe erupted. This event and the resulting humanitarian toll on our civilization are complete anathema to me.
I am angry about the absurdity. I am concerned for my friends and contacts in Europe. I am stressed about the uncertainty of what might or might not occur in the short-term and long-term of this war on our struggling yet precious planet, of which we have no alternative for our existence.
On Saturday morning, after all the terrible news that very few of us could ignore, I woke up to this scene from the balcony of my home in Seattle — an auspicious dawn featuring Mount Rainier on the horizon. I can only hope to take the occurrence as something positive.
I believe it is critical to document Earth’s nature, wildlife, and conservation initiatives via photography because images provide a visual narrative that can immediately call the viewer to attention and learn more about actions and steps that he or she can take to protect our planet. Photography is such a beneficial and informative tool to communicate the importance of our environment as well as our collective imprint upon it.
“Frozen ponds from the sky” – In southern New England the seasons can be unpredictable and volatile, covering 20-30 degree temperature changes in a matter of days. And this trend is only increasing in frequency and severity, so when the salt ponds froze over for the first time in quite a while, I made sure to take time for a flight to capture their fragile majesty. The lines were reminiscent of the tallest mountain peaks, standing proudly against weather and time, yet recreated in ice, one of our most fragile natural resources melting at unprecedented rates.
The world is changing at such incredible rates. As photographers we have a duty to document and preserve what we can before it is lost, and capture with as much emotional impact as possible, those things that have a chance to be protected and preserved. There is so much beauty on this planet, we must share it with as many people as possible.
This was taken in August of 2020 in my backyard. The honeybees came and drank from the bird bath all spring summer and into the fall. Along with myself and just about everyone I showed or talked to about them no one really knew that honeybees drink water. Never saw this before and really never thought about it. After a Google search I discovered that they drink their weight in water every day. Pretty neat info on an insect we really need.
Ancient Cypress Tree in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin, the largest River Swamp System in North America. Only a few of these old growth Cypress trees, often over 500 years old, remain. All of their older trees have been struck by lightning many times, but remain living. This photograph was taken on a foggy morning at Lake Dauterieve.
Every year we lose more natural habitat and wild places. Here in Louisiana we lose about a football field of wetlands every hour. Documenting what we’re losing can only help save what’s left.
Each summer the sunflower fields near my home are filled with birds. While Goldfinches are photographed most often, images of Indigo Buntings win the blue ribbon for me.
This Indigo Bunting is perched on top of a sunflower viewing the world as a honeybee framed by a spike of grass buzzing by. Scenes like this one are fleeting. I personally love the composition.
Little did I know, in the months ahead, the significance these colors would have to the world.
Slowing down, it is amazing what we can witness in nature. All life is a miracle. We don’t have to go far to observe the beautiful and incredible. Documenting nature through photographs heightens my awareness and appreciation of the unseen world parallel to ours. Sharing these images carries this forward to others.
Llamas walk in the Sajama National Park in the Bolivian Andes. I saw these llamas and the water on my way to the shelter and decided to stop the car and take a picture with the reflection. The summer clouds with a storm approaching made it more dramatic.
Nature and the environment are super important today and in the future, as photographers we have a responsibility to share our work on these topics in order to encourage the public to protect our only planet, Earth!!
Purple martins occupy the trees around the Schermerhorn Center in downtown Nashville as a roost. Purple martins from all over the country gather together in great flocks to make the fall migration to South America, and this year about 150,000 of the birds have chosen downtown Nashville as their staging ground for the migration. No one knows why.
As global warming continues to change our planet I feel it is my obligation to document this change and hope that we can learn from it and better ourselves and our planet.
The photo I have chosen was taken on the Big Sur Coast of California, along Highway 1, at McWay Cove. McWay Cove is most well known for the waterfall that plunges about 80 feet onto the beach at the Cove. This photo is of the stunning waves and huge splashes, from a few years ago. It was a rare sight to see the huge waves explode on the rocky cliffs that semi-protect the small beach. While large waves and roiling surf is fairly common, waves of this proportion are rare, and splashes this large are really unusual. It was one of those once in a great while times, to see the power of the ocean meet the headland. The waves of this magnitude and splashes this explosive are really rare. It was really enjoyable to capture this image.
I have lived near the Central California coast all my life and taken literally hundreds of trips down Highway 1, along the Big Sur Coast. It is one of the most scenic and beautiful areas. It is a national and international destination ‘scenic drive.’ Capturing the many moods and nuances of the coast helps inform of the natural beauty that exists along this rugged coastal region. In the last 10-12 years I have taken hundreds of drives down the coast, and I am always amazed at the beauty and uniqueness of Highway 1, on the Big Sur Coast. Each day, each sort of weather brings a new or interesting beauty to share about the area. Not every day is a photo opportunity, but most every day has some section of the diverse coastline that is worthy of capture and sharing.
This photo shows a pelican in flight off the coast of Mexico in the Yucatan peninsula. I captured this moment just as the pelican circled the bay before diving into the sea like a harpoon to catch fish.
Photography plays a significant role in showcasing the environment/ wildlife and helps to protect and conserve through education and publicity – To help spread awareness of animals and their importance in our society and ultimately preserve, respect and save the species of the natural world.
California and the West are in the midst of human induced mega drought due to climate change and global warming. Reservoirs are no longer filling and the land is drying, compounded by groundwater pumping. This photo of California’s San Luis reservoir shows 19% capacity in October 2021.
We need to see nature to understand it. Photos can bring the reality home.
I was near the South Shetland Islands, close to the Antarctic Peninsula to be precise, when we encountered this iceberg with a big waddle of chinstrap penguins resting and playing on and around the iceberg.
This one wanted to get higher up than all the others, and when the little guy finally got close to the beautifully shaped peak, after conquering all the obstacles and crevasses in the ice, I finally got to take this photograph of the lonely penguin on top of an iceberg.
To me, this image shows the beauty and fragility of Antarctica’s environment.
Not many people are lucky enough to travel to faraway places, like the arctic regions. Yet, seeing the wilderness and its inhabitants of those habitats can help create or even deepen people’s connection to the environment and the problems this earth faces due to climate change. Moreover, it may increase the desire to take action and help.
Based in the Midwest, we’ve seen an increase in severe storms over the last decade. Tornadoes, straight line winds, and large damaging storms are not the usual garden variety weather patterns of past decades. Add drought, and the danger has become real.
Photography is a powerful voice spread globally within minutes. It is a tool to both record history and provide visual evidence of global change. Its ability to document history as it evolves can facilitate solutions to serious problems affecting the planet.
This is a 1/6th second hand-held long exposure shot of waves at sunrise at Hvalnes in south-east Iceland. It’s one of my favourite places in the country, where the sea is always crashing against the rocks there; the long exposure gives it a surreal, serene feel. I was out to take photos of the area from above with my drone, but the light on the waves caught my eye and I’m glad I took a few shots with the camera at ground level!
It’s important to take photographs of the beauty of the natural world, to encourage people to appreciate that beauty and want to protect it for future generations to enjoy. It also helps to document the changes seen in areas under threat from the changes in climate.
Mt Rinjani, Indonesia’s second-highest volcano, is located in the island of Lombok. It has a baby crater within the volcano’s caldera, now filled with a lake. It’s a tough hike to the top, but the views are magnificent. I think Mt Rinjani is one of the most beautiful volcanoes in the world.
Conservation efforts depend mostly on people’s perception of the dangers that affect our planet. Photographers capturing wildlife and landscapes contribute tremendously in raising public awareness of the dramatic threats to nature in general.
While walking along the beach to enjoy the sunrise I had a wonderful surprise: meeting with this gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua). At that moment I had the feeling that, like me, he also woke up very early to contemplate that dawn on the frozen continent. King George Island, Antarctica.
Photography is a tool, a powerful voice for the protection of our planet. Through images we can sensitize people through the natural and cultural beauties of a place for example. Or shed light on the many threats and immediate effects of climate change on our lives.
What impact do you think photography plays in the global advocacy of environmental / wildlife protection and conservation? Do you have your own Earth Day photo story to share? Let us know in the comments below or tag us on Twitter or Instagram (@photoshelter) to share your work!