Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World

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Does photography still play a role in global conservation efforts? Discover the world’s vanishing landscapes as these five photographers share their stories of discovery and loss.

Only 20% of our planet’s landscapes can still be classified as “wilderness.” The rest has been irrevocably altered by unsustainable human activity, development, and industry. Agriculture, for example, is responsible for overtaking about 33% of the land on Earth. According to research, we’ve lost a whopping 10% of that land in the past two decades alone.

In the past, photography has helped protect wild places. In the 19th century, photographers like Carleton Watkins and William Henry Jackson convinced members of the United States government to establish and maintain national parks. In 2018, we need conservation photography more than ever. Through images, we can connect to endangered places around the world, and ultimately, photographs can show us how deeply our fates are intertwined with the future of the natural world.

We reached out to five outstanding photographers of different backgrounds and asked them to tell us about some of the precious and at-risk places they’ve visited. These locations are threatened for various reasons, mostly related to human activity. Two of these areas are at risk because of deforestation, while others will continue to suffer serious damage as the result of climate change. In one, poachers have driven wild species to the brink of extinction. Read on for stories from around the world.

1. “It’s a good idea to book ahead of time to make sure you have accommodation.’”
Rich Carey
Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World — Book Ahead of Time

Image by Rich Carey. Gear: Canon EOS 60D camera, Canon 10-18mm lens. Settings: Focal length 10mm; exposure 1/125 sec; f13; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This photo was taken in Borneo, Malaysia, south of Kota Kinabalu. The destruction of tropical rainforests is a serious environmental issue on its own, as huge areas of forest are being destroyed, and these habitats are home to large numbers of wildlife. One of the factors driving this deforestation is the demand for palm oil in foods. The rainforest is being cleared to make way for oil palm plantations. As rainforests are breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen, it should be quite self-explanatory that cutting these areas down is not a good idea!

Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World — Follow Local Guidelines

Image by Rich Carey.

Pro Tip

Malaysia has some good national parks in Borneo, which are great to visit. Unfortunately, a lot of the rainforest outside of national parks has been destroyed and replaced by oil palm plantations. It’s a good idea to book ahead of time to make sure you have accommodation. For example, to book national parks accommodation in Sarawak province, you can visit this page.

Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World — Protect Your Gear

Image by Rich Carey.

These parks all have paths which visitors are required to stick to in order to minimize environmental impact. Be prepared that it will rain in the rainforest! Make sure you have raincoats and waterproof covers for camera gear. Another tip is to have silica gel sachets to go in your camera bag, as humidity is extremely high.

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2. “Be ready for anything, and make the most of the time you have there.’”
Jamen Percy
Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World — Be Ready for Anything

Image by Jamen Percy. Gear: Canon 5D Mark IV camera, Canon 14mm lens. Settings: Exposure 20 sec; ISO 2500.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Iceland is a small volcanic island mass protruding from the North Atlantic Ocean. It has a high latitude climate of long, dark winters with the phenomenal Aurora Borealis and short but surreal summers with the midnight sun shining all day and night. This freezing environment, along with colossal volcanic mountains piercing through the Earth, has given rise to glaciers, the most famous being Jökulsárlón.

Jökulsárlón glacier is an incredible destination, nurturing multiple out-of-this-world landscapes within it, from a mirror-like lagoon with floating icebergs to dreamlike crystallized ice caves like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. There are families of seals sleeping and playing on the ice sheets and giant white icebergs washing ashore on the contrasting black sand beach in front of the glacier.

This glacier is part of Icelandic Viking history and referenced in their folk tales, but sadly, it is disappearing forever. Climate change is melting the glacier at an unprecedented rate. Every year, the ice caves recede back a few hundred meters. In 200 years, all of this will completely cease to exist.

This is a picture of me inside the glacier lagoon. I was lucky enough to have the Aurora Borealis dancing across the skies as I waded into the arctic temperature water for a closer shot of the icebergs. Little did I know, the better picture was actually me in the lagoon. In addition to my gear, I had fisherman’s waders and a lot of thermals to keep me above zero.

Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World — Make the Most of Your Time

Image by Jamen Percy.

Pro Tip

First and foremost, Iceland has a unique and beautiful landscape, but it can also be dangerous to the naïve visitor. The glacier ice caves are strictly accessible only with a licensed guide. These guides have studied the caves for many years, and you should never venture there without one. The icebergs in the lagoon should never be climbed; my shot of myself wading in the lagoon was done with someone supervising me. There are also new restrictions regarding drones because it’s a national park. You are required to get a permit before flying.

Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World — Take Safety Measures

Image by Jamen Percy.

For photographing the glacier, the biggest issue is usually having hordes of tourists in your pictures, so my recommendation would be to go at early sunrise, when fewer people have made it past their hotel buffets. Of course, sunrise times change dramatically in Iceland over the seasons, so stay close to a basic weather app on your phone for the local rising times.

Another thing to factor in is Iceland’s weather. It can change from a heavy blizzard of snow to pouring rain and gale force wind to perfectly still and sunny… in the same hour. This means the shots you planned might not be possible, but other shots will be. Be ready for anything, and make the most of the time you have there. You will surprise yourself.

In terms of helping save this incredible place, the enemy is carbon pollution, and that’s something we are all guilty of. Regardless of whether other people are on board or not, we as individuals should focus and invest in reducing our carbon footprints and planning for a clean, green energy future, not only for the glaciers of Iceland but for the entire natural world. We crucially depend on these places. We have grown up in a throw-away-replace-it culture, and there is no alternative place for us to live.

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3. “For wildfires, the most important thing is obviously safety, not just your own safety but also the safety of everyone in proximity to you.’”
Elijah Solomon Hurwitz
Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World — Human Safety is Paramount

Image by Elijah Solomon Hurwitz. Gear: Sony a7rii camera, Zeiss 55mm 1.8 prime lens. Settings: Exposure 1/20 sec; f1.8; ISO 1600.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Since moving to California three years ago, I have regularly photographed the frequent wildfires across the state. Even in just the short time I’ve lived here, it feels like the wildfire season has grown longer and more intense with every passing year. That is my limited anecdotal take, but meteorologists and fire chiefs seem to be in agreement that climate change will force us to reckon with a new normal for wildfire behavior in California. I made this image of LAFD firefighters clearing a Burbank neighborhood threatened by the La Tuna Canyon fire last September. The fire was declared the largest fire in Los Angeles County history in terms of acreage.

Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World — Stay Out of the Way

Image by Elijah Solomon Hurwitz.

Pro Tip

For wildfires, the most important thing is obviously safety, not just your own safety but also the safety of everyone in proximity to you. In other words, don’t get in the way of firefighters or police doing their jobs. Be mindful of where you park your vehicle so it doesn’t block residents who are evacuating or emergency personnel. Make sure you can easily flee if the situation worsens, and bring protection against the elements, including an ND-95 mask and fire-resistant clothing. Follow the local fire departments on Twitter to keep abreast of rapidly-shifting conditions and the current fire radius maps. Use common sense.

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4. “‘If you want wild animals in your pictures, make sure you go very early in the morning or late in the afternoon.”
Magdalena Paluchowska
Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World — Understand Local Wildlife

Image by Magdalena Paluchowska. Gear: Olympus OMD EM-5 camera, M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/400 sec; f5.6; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a World Heritage Site located 180 kilometers west of Arusha in northern Tanzania. It covers over 8000 square kilometers of savanna, highland plains, savanna woodlands, and forests. It is the only conservation area in Tanzania that protects wildlife while allowing human habitation.

It is home to tribal Maasai communities, who preserve their traditional, pastoral way of life while co-existing with the native wildlife, including Africa’s Big Five: the rhinoceros, the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, the African lion, and the African leopard.

The protected area also supports one of the largest animal migrations on Earth and contains numerous paleontological and archaeological sites, where Hominid fossils dating back three million years were discovered. The area was named after its most renowned landmark, the Ngorongoro Crater, which is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera. Approximately 25,000 large animals, mostly ungulates, live in the crater alone.

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area faces the challenge of protecting its biodiversity and globally threatened species– among others, the diminishing populations of the black rhinoceros, leopard, and elephant, all severely affected by poaching. The area must also consider the preservation of the local culture and heritage, while minimizing at the same time the damage caused to the ecosystem by widespread overgrazing by the livestock of the local tribes.

The northern part of Tanzania was one of the places my fiancé and I visited during the two years that we lived in the country. I took this particular photo when we were driving on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater at the end of the day. I saw a herd of giraffes on the rim with the crater in the background, and I liked the soft pastel colors and the calmness of the scene—two elements I strongly associate with Africa. I asked our guide to stop one last time before reaching our campsite.

Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World — Go with a Local Guide

Image by Magdalena Paluchowska.

Pro Tip

Go with a local guide—this way, your money supports local communities—but research before you go. Local guides can take you to the best, often hidden, sites, but they are more used to clients who just want to snap a photo or two in one place and then rush to another location. Ask for your guide’s advice ahead of time, but decide for yourself and communicate where would you like to go and what time would you like to go there.

Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World — Pack Light

Image by Magdalena Paluchowska.

If you want wild animals in your pictures, make sure you go very early in the morning or late in the afternoon. During the day, the animals tend to get lazy and hide from the heat. The light also gets very harsh during the day, and more popular spots like the crater itself may get a bit crowded with visitors. Generally, I like to pack light when traveling, and this is especially true for locations like East Africa. Big, heavy equipment is difficult to carry and adds to the cost of transportation, and it may also call a lot of unwanted attention. I find that small, mirrorless cameras are best for the job.

5. “…it is important to stick to boardwalks and paths and to tread gently to avoid harming any plants or animals.’”
Anna Morgan
Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World — Treat the Landscape with Respect

Image by Anna Morgan. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, EF 24-70 f2.8L II USM lens. Settings: Focal length 70mm; exposure 3.2 sec; f13; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Canada’s west coast is home to some of the world’s most spectacular ancient forests. These temperate old-growth rainforests are ecologically complex and contain large volumes of living and dead wood, which provide an essential habitat for a diverse range of terrestrial and marine species, including the endangered marbled murrelet and spotted owl.

Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World — Learn about the Places You Shoot

Image by Anna Morgan.

As well as storing huge amounts of carbon, protecting the watershed, and providing protection against fire, the forests form an important part of many First Nations’ cultures. Although the single biggest threat to old-growth forests is industrial clear-cut logging, other threats come from mining, oil and gas exploration, recreational activities, and human settlement. NGOs like Ancient Forest Alliance are calling for the protection of old-growth forests while protecting the forestry industry by logging second-growth forests sustainably.

Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World — Follow Established Trails in Fragile Ecosystems

Image by Anna Morgan.

Pro Tip

When photographing in forests like this one, it is important to stick to boardwalks and paths and to tread gently to avoid harming any plants or animals. If I’m visiting an area without proper trails, then I follow the “Leave No Trace” principle. If you are going to a managed park area, call ahead to familiarize yourself with local rules relating to wildlife in that area, including the minimum distances to maintain. I am also careful not to share specific location information about fragile areas to anyone I don’t trust to follow the same principles.

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Top Image by Magdalena Paluchowska.

The post Photos and Stories from Threatened Landscapes Around the World appeared first on The Shutterstock Blog.

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