Since its inception in 1970, Earth Day has been celebrated around the world on the 22nd April to increase ecological awareness and provide unity to the grassroots environmental movement. Many environmental events will be taking place around the world to promote climate action and encourage others to protect our precious planet. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the beauty and majesty of the world, to share our passion, and to encourage others to care.
I’ve spoken many times in the past about some of the positive actions we can take as photographers, such as following the Nature First principles and planting trees (see Meg’s Grove). As important as these principles are, I’d like to instead discuss positive behaviour that may inspire others to change, to care, or remain motivated in their endeavours.
A few days ago, I was walking Meg around the footpaths and streets close to home when I spotted one of the litter angels that frequents our area. A ‘litter angel’ is the name I give to the fantastic folk who use their spare time to tidy our pathways and clean up after the less considerate walkers. I made a point of stopping to thank her for her invaluable work. The pathway she’s just cleared could well have another empty bottle on its verge tomorrow, but the litter angel seems undeterred. You might not be inclined to spend your evenings picking litter, and nor would it be expected, but it is important to thank those that do. Express how much they are valued and keep their spirits high, or pick up that empty bottle as you pass.
I’ve no doubt you’ll be following photographers who are trying to encourage behaviour which is aligned with nature’s needs. I ask that you don’t scroll on by but take a moment to leave some words of encouragement in a comment, start a discussion, or simply say ‘thank you’. These folk will carry on regardless because they genuinely care, but let’s reward the thoughtful and important posts, not the shouty, glossy ones.
Just as important as open discussion and sharing ideas, is our observed behaviour as photographers. I’m a big believer in inspiring change implicitly through how we behave, interact with and the language we use as we talk about the things we love. For more than 5 years I’ve talked passionately about woodland photography on YouTube and after 7 years I’m still photographing and getting excited by the same woodlands and trees close to home. It’s quite rare for me to discuss environmental concerns on YouTube because I like to keep it as a place to escape, relax and feel good about the world. That in itself can inspire viewers to observe nature around them differently, perhaps start their own woodland photography journey, which will inevitably lead to a deep and long-lasting respect for nature. Awareness of key issues is crucial but inspiring others through celebration of your own passion is a powerful way to positively encourage others to discover, engage and learn about nature in a way that matters to them. In fact, I think that a sense of ownership and finding your own way is essential to long-term sustainable change.
All round nature nerd and friend, Lucy Lapwing, is a great example of someone who cares very deeply about the conservation of our beloved planet to the point where its biodiversity loss causes her terrible anxiety. However, her online presence is dominated not by doom and gloom but by the sheer joy she feels from the smallest critter to the funkiest fungi, or the sound of the first Willow Warbler in spring. Much of this passion is born from knowledge – learning through curiosity. Immerse yourself within the places you photograph and not only is there endless fascination and rich experiences, but the empathy for nature that comes from learning will undoubtedly have a positive impact upon both the enjoyment and results of your photography. Once you truly discover the magic of nature beyond the frame you’ve captured, you’ll be primed and eager to share that passion at every opportunity and inadvertently positively influence the next person.
On this 52nd Earth Day, the climate crisis is pressing and depressing, but I’m not sufficiently qualified to offer solutions or suggest personal changes. However, I know I love this planet more than I ever have. Two mornings ago I spent 2.5 hours in a local woodland that was filled with the relaxing sound of birdsong, the smell of undisturbed wild flowers, a gently babbling stream, and sightings of woodpecker and roe deer. My soul was nourished and, despite only 4 hours of sleep, I spent the rest of the day feeling energised, fulfilled and thankful. Share your own experiences with joy, passion, kindness, and humour. Offer words of encouragement and gratitude to those who are inspiring your own journey. Let’s shift the emphasis of popularity in photography to work that is thoughtful, meaningful, informed and driven by a genuine love and respect for the very thing we devote our lives to photographing.