Conservation Photography

Inspired by Awe and Wonder

Awe and Wonder

The Art of Mindfulness is grounded in the practice of nature-based mindfulness meditation. Through this contemplative practice of being with nature, one gains a deep and profound sense of connection to the natural world. At Nature Meditations, we emphasize combining this form of mindfulness practice with the concept of Conservation Photography. This approach to photography is grounded in storytellling as a way to connect with and advocate on behalf of the natural world. Together, these two practices deepen our connection to life on Earth and our sense of awe and wonder for the inner workings of the mind in relationship to the outter landscape of the natural world. Research shows that the number one driver for environmental stewardship is a sense of wonder and appreciation for the complex and amazing ways that living beings and their habitats interact with one another. What’s your story?


In this section, you will find some of the projects I have worked on over the past few years. My work is currently focused on reconnecting people with the natural world and helping nature photographers learn how to give a voice to the natural world. I’m also focused on the social psychology research that looks at the effectiveness of communicating with the public about pressing environmental issues. With over 50% of the world’s population now living in urban environments, we find ourselves in an ever more challenging position of getting people to understand their relationship to the natural world. Every minute of every day, we are dependent on the natural world and having an impact upon it. By helping people reconnect with nature, it is less likely that they will think of it as a “place out there”. Through connection, understanding and a sense of awe and wonder, we can foster the seeds for responsible stewardship of our planet and hope for bringing human activity back into balance. Earth is a tiny blue spec in the universe and the only planet we’ve got. I hope you will want to learn more about how I employ an “inform, inspire, empower model of engagement” to my efforts to reconnect people to the natural world through some of the example projects listed below.


It was while working at the Academy that I first had the opportunity to deploy photography as an engagement tool to help people reconnect with and explore the natural world. It started with the meetup group where I discovered that there were many photographers who were looking for an easy way to contribute their images to conservation. My students inspired me to do some research, and I discovered a wonderful tool called iNaturalist that met their needs perfectly. iNaturalist gives you the ability to learn about the natural world through photography. You can take a picture of a snake, for example, and then load it into the system and ask for help identifying the species. A scientist on the other end will write you back and identify it along with a link to all kinds of information about the animal. And, the sighting serves as research data for scientists. After piloting some programs through the meetup, I designed a program where my students could use iNaturalist to learn about the natural world while also contributing to conservation.

It was nice to get the camera out and shoot a few of the common local species. In just a couple weeks, Gary Sharlow and I will be taking a group of photographers to Crissy Field to teach and practice some tricks for photographing birds in the field. This will be a part of the adult programming that Gary has been developing, and a potential source of data and images for citizen science projects. ~ Jack Dunbacher (Feb 5, 2012)

In 2012, this program became the seed of the Academy’s citizen science program and led to the Academy acquiring iNaturalist in 2014 aimed at helping anyone with a camera join educators and scientists in their effort to understand and protect the natural world.

“We are thrilled to embark on this new chapter with iNaturalist, a platform we believe perfectly complements the Academy’s mission to explore, explain, and sustain life,” says Meg Lowman, PhD, Chief of Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences. “Together, we are uniquely positioned to engage the public in citizen science through accessible research with real sustainability outcomes, whether out in the field or in K-12 classrooms around the world.” ~ Meg Lowman (April 25, 2014)

In 2009, I invited the founders of iNaturalist to run a pilot citizen science project in partnership with the museum. Together, we invited National Geographic to co-host a Bioblitz which is a well-organized day when 100s of photographers gather to take pictures of every living thing in a designated zone. By having so many eyes documenting all forms of life in a location, we are able to document way more biodiversity in one day than one could normally document in months. The day was such a hit that National Geographic became a long-term partner with the science museum and the eventual torch bearer for the Bioblitz model as a way to gather families and inspire children to explore the natural world in a fair-like atmosphere of celebration of nature and photography. This partnership has not only inspired the next generation to connect with and protect nature it has also yielded 100s of thousands of research-level data points that the scientific community can use for conservation planning. 

About iNaturalist


In 2010, I designed a full service photo competition management system. The platform included the front end website seen by the contestants, the entry and payment platform and an online judging system. That same year, I launched my first international photo competition. In 2012, I rebranded this platform and competition at the Academy and relaunched it as the highly acclaimed BigPicture International Nature Photography Competition presented by the California Academy of Sciences. With the application of social media marketing and the EcoSee Photo Competition CMS, BigPicture was quickly recognized as one of the top 10 photo competitions of any genre anywhere in the world. When I first proposed this project to the Academy I also pitched the idea that they run an online magazine that featured the photographers we would be meeting from around the world and all of the great work they were doing for conservation. While the secondary proposal was not accepted at that time, the Academy launched an online magazine site called Biographic in 2016 that did just what I had proposed. Some of the competition judges are editors and contributing photographers for the magazine while some of the photographers who enter the competition each year have also been prominently featured.

Full Project Details


While working as the lectures manager at the California Academy of Sciences, I had the opportunity to observe how the public responds to learning about the natural world. One thing that is clear is that we are experiencing a worldwide environmental crisis. Scientists and educators are eager to stop the destruction. The public, however, is generally not responding to this crisis messaging being delivered by these well meaning advocates for the natural world. In fact, people often told me that they felt they were being shamed and expressed that the talk resulted in a feeling of helplessness as well as intellectual exhaustion from the constant doom and gloom messages in these lectures. Many of the regular lecture attendees would tell me that they didn’t even want to attend the “environmental crisis” talks anymore and would only come to the “fascinating research” talks in the future. This is when I began to explore the social psychology research about environmental communication and seek alternate storytelling frameworks that would engage, rather than shut down, the general public with regards to these important issues. I began to explore how to use tools at my disposal such as a full dome planetrium with the talented National Geographic photographers who were producing some of the most amazing nature images I had ever seen. I coached these photographers on how to tell an uplifting, engaging and amazing story about their conservation work so they could dazzle their audience into action, and it worked to perfection. Check out the following examples of how we used an immersive full-dome experience to inspire our audiences to action.

Full Project Details