Close up of a leopard on the prowl in South Africa.
South Africa A leopard in South Africa © Craig McFarlane/TNC Photo Contest 2018

Photo Contest 2021

How Your Photography Can Help Save the World

Tell the story of something worth protecting, even if it's in your backyard.

A photograph may make you cry. It may give you the chills. And The Nature Conservancy believes it may just help save the world.

There’s a story to tell in anything and everything we want to protect. Through photography, we all have the power to tell that story from infinite angles.

A plastic bag floating just under the surface of the ocean in Australia.
Plastic Bag More than 2 million single-use plastic bags are used around the world every minute. A photo like this one off of Shellharbour, Australia can raise awareness of plastic's threat to our oceans. © Aristo Risi/TNC Photo Contest 2018

See the Top Photos from Our 2021 Contest

Vote for your favorite to win the People's Choice Award!

Vote Now

For over 50 years, TNC's magazine has showcased the highest quality of ethical nature photography. And for several years now, we’ve run an annual photo contest to inspire others to experience nature and the outdoors. By connecting people with the many shades of nature around them, we hope to generate awareness and passion for conservation.

An upward view of tree canopies demonstrating 'crown shyness', where trees don't touch each other, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Park in Buenos Aires This photo capturing 'crown shyness,' the effect of tree canopies not touching each other, was taken in the heart of a major city, not a remote locale. © Santiago Gonzalez Chipont/2018 Contest

Great photos can come from anywhere

Photography is powerful and requires a great deal of care to ensure that it’s authentic and respectful. Almost 4 billion of us use smartphones to take increasingly high-quality photos, sometimes with little or no planning. Action cameras and drones allow us to take photos in conditions and from angles and locations that were literally impossible before.

Great photos can be made anywhere, even without the best equipment.

Dozens of alligators in Brazil's Pantanal wetland area.
Pantanal Alligators Countless alligators soak up in the northern waters of Brazil's Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland. Wildlife photography can require a great deal of patience. © Jorge Diehl/TNC Photo Contest 2018
Woman squeezes through a narrow slot canyon in Escalante National Monument in Utah.
Slender slots: Squeezing through a narrow slot canyon in Escalante National Monument, Utah. © Tanner Latham/TNC Photo Contest 2018

Taking ethical nature photos

Our best tip for taking ethical nature photos? Slow down.

It may seem counter-intuitive but by slowing down, you’re actually valuing your own time and giving yourself a chance to really understand the subject you're photographing.

If you're photographing people, getting to know them on a personal level will allow you to be more respectful to their story. The same goes for photographing wildlife. 

By slowing down you may just get the experience of a lifetime.

Lush blooming of Texas Bluebonnets at dusk near Austin, TX
Texas bluebonnets At dusk on an April evening near Marble Falls, TX, Texas Bluebonnets, the state flower, bloom. Said the photographer, "Immersed in nature, time flies by and allows you to forget your worries for a while." © Linda Nickell/TNC Photo Contest 2018

Respect nature and be authentic

Nature photographers must also carefully consider their footprint. This means following all park guidelines and local laws for staying on trails, not trespassing, and not baiting animals. If using a drone, learn how to maneuver it in a way that will not stress out, spook or endanger wildlife or humans.

Authenticity and ethics go beyon the picture-taking itself. There are also a lot of powerful photo editing tools available, and we must not overdo it. A good rule of thumb is that if you ever start to feel that you’ve manipulated a situation, step away and don’t take that photo or make that edit.

Aerial view of Dugout Ranch in the Indian Creek area around Canyonlands National Park and Bears Ears National Monument.
Indian Creek Landscapes from Utah's Dugout Ranch captured for Nature Conservancy Magazine. TNC acquired the ranch to save it from development. The surrounding area is threatened due to a 2017 decision to cut Bears Ears National Monument by 85%. Photos like this one can raise awareness of what we stand to lose. © Drew Rush

The movement starts with you

Photography jumpstarts movements. The natural world, faced with unprecedented biodiversity loss and the climate crisis, urgently needs more people to join its movement. How are thoughtful visuals raising awareness about environmental issues?

Joel Sartore is photographing as many species as he can to maintain a visual record of them before they go extinct. It’s telling that he already has hundreds of thousands of images of individual animals in his Photo Arc. James Balog was one of the first to use time-lapse photography to show the effects of climate change by documenting the world’s melting glaciers.

A polar bear jumps from one piece of ice to another over crystal clear waters.
A polar bear on sea ice There may be no animal more associated with climate change than the polar bear. This image portrays the challenging reality of an animal that relies on vanishing ice to hunt. © Florian Ledoux/TNC Photo Contest 2018
A young girl cups a frog in her hands and kisses its head.
Girl kissing a frog Terra Fondriest's images of her daughter experiencing nature in the Ozarks of Arkansas capture the essence of what's worth protecting. The series was featured in our magazine. © Terra Fondriest/TNC Photo Contest 2018
A polar bear on sea ice There may be no animal more associated with climate change than the polar bear. This image portrays the challenging reality of an animal that relies on vanishing ice to hunt. © Florian Ledoux/TNC Photo Contest 2018
Girl kissing a frog Terra Fondriest's images of her daughter experiencing nature in the Ozarks of Arkansas capture the essence of what's worth protecting. The series was featured in our magazine. © Terra Fondriest/TNC Photo Contest 2018

But you don’t need to go to the Arctic to take a picture of something you want to protect. It could be as simple as documenting your children, your dog or your home. That has value. You’re saying, “it’s here, and I care about it.”

If you care about something, then at every level as a producer or as an advocate, there is a place for you in our growing photo community.