Peter Stangel, Ph.D.
If you have the right equipment, you can take some stunning bird photos, as this video shows.
When you look at a newspaper, magazine or website, what catches your eye first? It’s probably a photograph, and photos — particularly those that carry a simple conservation message — might be one of the most underused and exciting tools for mobilizing action to benefit birds and their habitats.
Photos become particularly effective at drawing in bird novices or those with a casual interest. These folks might not read an article — but a cute photo? We’ve got them!
Photographs can present an easy-to-implement conservation message. Action shots of children and adults cleaning birdfeeders, planting shrubs to create habitat or peering through binoculars all make great images. With simple captions, they become an easy way to promote conservation.
The simplicity of today’s digital cameras, their relatively low cost and the opportunity to edit images on home computers means that even casual photographers can produce great shots. The digital format also makes it much easier to submit photos to newspapers and websites.
Today, many local newspapers revel in reader-submitted photos. These amateur shots might not have the stunning clarity or artful composition as those produced by more advanced photographers, but the "homegrown” aspect can add more appeal.
Websites greatly increase our opportunities to share bird photos. Whereas newspapers can be very space-limited, their affiliated websites typically have plenty of space, perhaps making it easier to see your photos published online.
Start your conservation photo adventure by composing some shots with great emotional appeal. Scan your favorite newspapers and magazines to get a feel for what they like to publish.
Think about the kinds of images that make your family and friends say "Ohhhh” or "Ahhhhh!” Then, add a birding theme. Remember: You don’t necessarily have to have a great bird photo — just people doing bird-related activities.
Consider the ideas mentioned earlier plus these themes: cleaning birdbaths to keep the water clean and prevent mosquito breeding; hanging a hummingbird feeder, a before-and-after shot of parts of your lawn that you let grow wild for habitat, a recently protected woodland or field with a brief note of its value to birds. Always popular, images of birders on field trips offer a great way to promote the activities of local bird clubs. Unexpected themes and messages, such as leaving hummingbird feeders up all winter, can be catchy.
You might not have the right equipment to get the cool bird shots you see in magazines. But simple photos, like a bird at a birdhouse, are just as powerful.
After creating good photographs, compose captions that will stick in the readers’ minds and share the key message that you want to convey. For a field-trip photo, the gist might be the fellowship and fun of birding with new friends. For the feeder image, the message could be the health benefits of frequent cleaning. For the photo of an adult and child checking a nestbox, the caption can emphasize the opportunity to bring generations together in outdoor activities.
Brevity becomes important in this endeavor. If you get too wordy, you run the risk of someone shortening the caption and missing the conservation message. Test the photo and caption by asking a couple friends — maybe a birder and a nonbirder — for constructive feedback.
When you submit your photo and caption to a newspaper, include a short note with descriptive details, including the time and date. Make sure that you have written permission from people who appear in photos, and include their names to give the message an even more personal appeal.
After your photo gets published, print or clip a copy, and post it on the bulletin board at your office or place of worship. Add your name and contact information, and ask people to get in touch for more information. In no time at all, you might launch a local conservation movement.
Want to learn more on how to take care of bird photos and bird conservation?
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25 Tips For Bird Conservations