Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Conservation Photography


What is conservation photography? One might define it as "nature photography with a mission." Conservation photographers photograph the natural world, animals, and plants, and the people that threaten, protect, or study wildlife and ecosystems—all with the goal of advocating for specific conservation outcomes. 

“In broad terms, conservation photography is the use of imagery to achieve conservation goals. Blending nature photography with a social documentary approach, it is an issue-oriented and proactive storytelling platform that allows photographers to put their images to work.”   - Neil Ever Osborne

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to conservation photography and the strategic use of visual communication to support environmental issues and awareness. During the first third of the quarter, students will learn how to use a digital SLR camera; they will practice and refine their photographic skills and develop strategies for effective visual storytelling. In the middle of the quarter, we’ll focus on how photographs have been used, both historically and currently, to advocate for the environment. Toward the end of the quarter, we’ll examine conservation campaigns, discuss the ethics of photojournalism, and hear from prominent conservation photographers about how they have created images with the goal of supporting an appreciation and awareness of environmental issues. From climate change to wildlife trafficking, conservation photographers are working to make an impact on public policies and individual behavior. 

Throughout the quarter, students will create original photographs in weekly photographic assignments, and they will learn how to constructively critique their own images and those of others. The course culminates in the presentations of photo essays that explore specific conservation or environmental issues and of individual photographic portfolios.

To get a better sense of what conservation photography is, have a look at Witness: Defining Conservation Photography Feature from iLCP on Vimeo.  (Directed and produced by Neil Ever Osborne with editing and production by Chad A. Stevens and support from the iLCP.)

Meet the Instructor(s)

Susan K. McConnell

"I’ve been a Professor in the Department of Biology for over 30 years. In my laboratory, I've done research on the mechanisms that enable neural circuits to form during mammalian brain development. My research accomplishments led to my election to the National Academy of Sciences, and my teaching has been recognized by the Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching. While this seminar isn’t about the brain, my interest in the brain was an outgrowth of my lifelong fascination with animal behavior, which has also led me to delve deeply into wildlife photography. Although I’ve often worried that an obsession with 'getting the picture' causes one to lose sight of the rewards of direct experience, I've realized that when I'm behind the lens, I feel absolutely and fully engaged with observing and predicting animal behavior. I’ve learned that telling stories about wildlife is best accomplished through a series of images that explore a subject and its relationships to the people who study, protect, live with, or exploit that species. I'm particularly interested in conservation biology, scientific studies of animal behavior in the field, and in the depiction of animal emotions. My photographs have been published in National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Outdoor Photographer, and other magazines, and you can see my photos online at In addition to being an avid photographer, I’ve ridden horses all my life and currently own four horses: one is retired, one is growing up, and two are my current dressage horses."