What Is Photography For Change?

A Look Inside Conservation Photography


As a photographer and world traveler I discovered with my own eyes this planet is in trouble. No scientist or politician had to convince me of this fact. Seeing it with my own eyes was enough for me to become a believer. From Iceland to Antarctica, Borneo to California our natural world is threatened by climate change, deforestation, wildfires, poaching, overfishing and the list goes on and on. When was the last time you took a trip somewhere and didn’t notice a single piece of plastic waste the entire trip? Many of us fighting this fight cannot do it alone. This is exactly why I have strategically chosen to support the following foundations who are fighting endlessly to save this beautiful planet we call home. 


Sea Shepherd



full moon rising over mountain with whale jumping in Antarctica


Sea Shepherd is a conservation organization founded in 1977 by Pul Watson. Paul was ousted by Greenpeace for his direct action measure that contradicted Greanpeace’s pacifist reputation and methods. From their mission statement, “Our mission is to protect defenseless marine wildlife and end the destruction of habitat in the world’s oceans. Since 1977, Sea Shepherd has used innovative direct-action tactics to defend, conserve, and protect the delicately balanced biodiversity of our seas and enforce international conservation laws.” 


Because of Sea Shepherd’s constant pursuit of Japanese whaling vessels in the Southern Ocean, an international court ruled Japan’s whaling fleet was not conducting research for science. A tactic used to allow the illegal hunt of hundreds of whales. Unfortunately, in 2020, Japan deemed Sea Shepherd a threat once again and signed into law, any eco-activist near a whaling vessel a terrorist offence. This allowed Japan to integrate military technology into its whaling program. 


I don’t condone any violence toward another organization or government. I don’t view them as an organization looking for a fight. I view them as an organization fighting for what is right and just for all our sake. To find out more about their mission, please visit their website


The Conservation Alliance


photograph of Bryce Canyon at sunrise


Formed in 1989 by outdoor industry leaders REI, Patagonia, The North Face, and Kelty, The Conservation Alliance has given more than $25 million to grassroots conservation organizations throughout North America. “Alliance funding has helped save 73 million acres of wildlands; protect 3,576 miles of rivers; stop or remove 37 dams; designate five marine reserves; and purchase 18 climbing areas”. Their vision is a planet where wild places, wildlife and people can thrive together. This is not just a pipedream it can be a reality and I truly believe this. They understand the reach our outdoor industry has and understands the impact this industry has on the planet. I admire them acknowledging this impact, doing something about it, and actually making a change in the world for the better. All of my landscape and photography work in the Western United States will be sold to help support The Conservation Alliance. To find out more about their mission checkout the Who We Are portion of their website. 


The Gabby Wild Foundation


Black and white photo of large bull elephant in Tanzania climbing over a fallen branch


Dr. Gabby Wild is one of the few people I have had the pleasure of speaking with who has an equally strong love for wildlife. Through her foundation she travels the world performing high quality, gratis veterinary medicine, surgery, anaesthesia, tranquillisation/immobilisation, and imaging to wildlife animal rescues, NGO’s, and National Parks in need. Using a 4 pronged approach her team focuses on: 1. Rebuilding the Sumatran Rainforest 2. Monitoring poachers using camera traps in the wild 3. Administering a variety of veterinary practices based on the situation and animal 4. Being an advocate for sustainable fashion


Check out this video as Dr. Gabby Wild explains her foundation’s core pillars 



The main reason I chose to support her foundation with my wildlife and landscape photography in Africa is because she genuinely understands the connection with wildlife, conservation and people. To find out more about Dr. Gabby Wild check out this article I wrote about her or visit her about section on her foundation’s website. 


The Borneo Project


Baby orangutan Borneo


Founded in 1991 by Joe Lamb, The Borneo Project has “trained dozens of indigenous activists in community mapping, enabling communities to map areas of ancestral land claims and win legal cases and negotiations. We have supported paralegal education and mobile legal aid clinics that have helped over 200 longhouse communities hold off destructive logging and industrial plantations. The Project has coordinated over $500,000 in grants from international sources for community reforestation, organic gardening, territory demarcation, indigenous education, and other village projects.” 


Borneo is one of the most unique places I have ever visited on earth. Driving through much of the Malaysian portion I saw for myself the desperate need for conservation efforts. There is so much of this beautiful island left to save but there is also a lot of deforestation and destruction happening. Once you see the beauty of such animals living there like the endangered orangutan or pygmy elephant, you can’t help but want to protect their ecosystem. All of my wildlife photography in Borneo goes to support this great foundation. Check out my conversation with their Executive Director, Jettie Word


For Love Of Water



Every living organism on earth requires water. It is flat out the one resource we can’t take for granted. FLOW is an organization dedicated to protecting the Great Lakes waterways. 20% of the world’s freshwater is found within this ecosystem. As a native Chicagoian, the Great Lakes are near and dear to my heart. I understand the significance of these lakes on all the surrounding communities in the region. During an in depth interview with Executive Director, Liz Kirkwood, I learned about the environmental pressure these Great Lakes face. All of my photography work in the Great Lakes region is sold to support FLOW to aid in their fight to protect our freshwater resources. 


FLOW’s Mission: Our mission at FLOW is to protect the common waters of the Great Lakes Basin through public trust solutions. As the Great Lakes Basin’s only public trust policy and education center, we demonstrate how policies like the public trust and commons can provide an overarching policy framework that empowers decision-makers to safeguard 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. FLOW’s groundbreaking policy work demonstrates how the public trust empowers decision-makers to protect these majestic waters by equitably balancing competing users, buttressing the federal government’s billion-dollar Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) investment, and heralding the lakes as a living dynamic ecosystem. FLOW develops policy programs and educates high-level decision-makers, city and community leaders, and citizens to adopt and incorporate public trust ideas into decisions affecting water, energy, food, and climate change in the Great Lakes.


Global Philanthropy Alliance


portrait of a tribal chief in Africa


With 100% of all donations going to grants in Africa, the GPA is helping grassroots organizations tackling issues in their communities. Focusing in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, The GPA uses small grants to support social entrepreneurial organizations or individuals using business practices to help their communities. So far, the GPA has given 89 grants totaling over $500,000 providing opportunity to create sustainable poverty reduction. 


Most of my photography work deals with subjects surrounding nature. However, I understand that without the opportunity to provide a living for a family, oftentimes people resort to illegal poaching of wildlife or forest to provide that living. It is important we not only support our natural resources globally but also help the people living in proximity to these resources. All of my photography, where people are the subjects, are sold to help the GPA to support poverty reduction in Africa. To find out more about the GPA’s approach visit the What We Do portion of their website. 


Live Ocean


New Zealand sound


At Least once in a lifetime everyone should try to visit New Zealand. Once there, you will instantly fall in love with this marvel of the natural world. Live Ocean is an organization fighting to protect the marine ecosystems of Aotearoa New Zealand. 


Live Ocean’s Purpose

“To have a healthy future, we must have a healthy ocean. We need to foster an ocean with clear, clean water, abundant fish populations and thriving marine ecosystems. Where we prioritise the importance of the ocean in a healthy future and invest in knowledge that supports this ambition. Where we understand that by restoring and protecting our ocean, we all benefit.”


Live Ocean founders Peter Burling and Blair Tuke are members of New Zealand’s SailGP Team. They are using their racing platform as public figures to promote the importance of ocean restoration. All of my photography throughout New Zealand will be sold to support Live Ocean. It is more important than ever to support our ocean communities against climate change and pollution. 




Icy ocean in Island


Landvernd is one of Iceland’s most important environmental organizations supporting its oceans, land and air. It was formed in 1969 focusing on conserving Iceland’s natural resources focusing on soil and vegetation. Its self description reads “Landvernd is an NGO working on environmental issues in order to protect and improve the quality of life in the country. Landvernd’s role is to safeguard Icelandic nature and be an active participant in strategic planning, education and informed decision-making in matters relating to land use, resources and the environment.” 


My trip to Iceland was the first spark of urgency to become a conservation photographer trying to protect and save this planet. I stood at the banks of this beautiful lake (shown above) watching the sunset over the icefield. Realizing that what I was looking at was not only incredibly beautiful but was an indication of a warming planet. The lake is formed by a retreating glacier dumping thousands of gallons of freshwater into the ocean every minute, 24 hours a day. I proudly support Landvernd with all my photography taken in Iceland to support their conservation efforts. Check out their Mission page to find out all they are about. 


Reef Guardian


sea turtle in borneo


Reef Guardian is the second smallest conservation organization I support through my photography work but by no means are they any less impactful than any of the others. In 2003, the organization was appointed by the Sabah State Government of Malaysia to manage, restrict and control human activities within its conservation areas. This small region off the coast of Borneo was by far the most beautiful, fully intact, coral reef system I have ever seen. The SIMCA reserve is under constant pressure from illegal fishing. Through its use of eco-tourism they have funded multiple campaigns including its sea turtle conservation program. This program is designed to educate tourists, while simultaneously safely releasing thousands of turtle hatchlings a year back into our oceans. All of my ocean photography work in South East Asia will be sold to support Reef Guardian. 




gibbon in cambodia jungle


This is the smallest but arguably the bravest most resourceful organization I support. Betreed is actually an ecotourism company but has its conservation roots driven deep into the Cambodian forest. Ben and Sharyn Davis have been living with their two daughters inside one of Cambodia’s last remaining patches of forest in Preah Vihera. When I met Ben he struck me as a kind man willing to risk his life to save this beautiful ecosystem. It is because of people like Ben and Sharyn, fighting day and night, we still have a chance to visit these precious invaluable forests in Cambodia and around the world. “Local communities are divided: ardent environmentalists who want the forest to survive for future generations are up against the very loggers and poachers exploiting its valuable wood and wildlife.” writes Alice Cuddy. 

We are all in this together


I have found a creative way to give back. To use my passion for conservation to help preserve what most of us cherish, nature. My career holds a direct connection to nature but that doesn’t mean your business isn’t directly or indirectly impacted by our changing planet. Our rate of consumption, deforestation and pollution is not sustainable for this planet. My life has become centered around creating a business driven to provide luxury fine art photography while educating my audience about conservation and financially supporting organizations leading the way. Derek Nielsen Photography is “Photography For Change”. Join the movement. Create your own “Logistics For Change” or “Lawyers For Change” before it’s too late. We are all in this together. 


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