By Matt Miller
People relate to stories and places, not jargon and reports—a fact that most conservation organizations recognize. Your photos can help convey those stories.
As an editor who purchases photos for conservation publications, brochures, Web sites and interpretive signs, I’m often asked how to break into this market.
In reality, following the basics will serve you well. Know something about the organization and its publications before submitting. Deliver quality photos that meet the request. Don’t try to sell photos that have little to do with the editor’s request or the organization’s mission.
Every organization is different and will have different needs for publications. That said, there are photos that I consistently need and many other conservation editors often need these as well. Provide these photos and you can develop a steady market.
1. People! Stunning vistas are nice. Many organizations, though, recognize that people are an integral part of the conservation equation. Most lands and waters are used by people who live, work or play there. I don’t just want wide-open landscapes. I want people in them. People responsibly recreating and enjoying the outdoors is always a photo need for conservation organizations. You’ll get extra attention if the photos are of kids or families.
2. Unusual or overlooked wildlife. Sure, I buy plenty of photos of elk, ducks and grizzly bears. But I also have excellent sources for those photos so I don’t need new ones. Songbirds, ground squirrels, mayflies and frogs—to name just a few—are difficult to find. If you have photos of unusual wildlife or plants, they are worth a submission. Many organizations use wildlife shots to fill in on the contents page and donations page, so the wildlife photos don’t have to coincide with a specific story.
3. Fish. A lot of organizations in the western United States focus on fish and river conservation. Good photos of salmon, native trout and other fish are always in demand. While I buy fishing images, I need more free-swimming fish.
4. Working Lands. The Nature Conservancy has a long history of working with ranchers, farmers and the forest products industry. Many other organizations are taking a similar approach. As such, I frequently need images of sustainable ranching, farming and forest harvest. Such photos often tell a compelling story, but many photographers mistakenly believe a conservation organization wouldn’t be interested in a photo of a cowboy or a logger. Check out organizational publications; you might be surprised.
5. Creative shots. We all know there are many free images on the Internet and many photographers who will sell their work cheaply. But as a professional, you’ll still sell photos because your work will help create a better publication and better connect members with the conservation work. But you may need to get creative. I see far too many snowy mountain peaks, but not enough spawned-out salmon. I have files of mule deer but almost never see a marten photo. Get creative and add conservation organizations to your marketing plan. It won’t make you rich, but you might just find some reliable new markets to supplement your business.
Matt Miller is director of communications for The Nature Conservancy in Idaho and a member of OWAA’s board of directors. Follow him on two blogs, Idaho Nature Notes (www.idahonaturenotes.blogspot.com) and Cool Green Science (blog.nature.org/author/mmiler). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.