The Influence and Role of Photography in Wildlife Conservation


Over the years, we have photographed most species of wild animals listed in the ICUN’s Red Data Book of Endangered Species such as Rhinos, Elephants, Giraffes, Mountain Gorillas, Cheetahs, Leopards and Lions. The Red List is the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. It uses a set of criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species and subspecies.

Jonathan and Angela Scott The Influence and Role of Photography in Wildlife Conservation 01

Elephants drinking, Luangwa River, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia. [ Canon EF500mm f/4 lens ]

Humanity is quite literally sweeping the last wild places and their inhabitants off the planet. The long-term survival of polar bears, tigers, gorillas and elephants’ is threatened due to loss of habitat, the bushmeat trade, human/wildlife conflict, and the illegal horn and bone trade.

In particular, Africa’s elephant population has dramatically declined from 1.2 million in the 1970s to around 400,000 today. If we can preserve habitat, the living space required by wild animals to thrive, then all the species that live there have a chance of surviving. Without a home, there is no hope.

There is a need for photographs that speak to people on the wonder and beauty of the natural world – such as Angie’s serene image of a family of elephants drinking, which won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 2002.


The environment is hitting the headlines hard - as witnessed by Netflix’s new series, Our Planet narrated by Sir David Attenborough. It’s predicted to reach 1 billion people worldwide, and in the age of social media, programs like this provide a huge opportunity for environmentalists to spread their message. It is no longer so easy for industry or governments to put their fingers in their ears. Photography is helping to generate and propagate a flood of information about the state of our planet into the world’s living room.

With primetime television shows such as Blue Planet II, Big Cat Tales and Our Planet attracting huge audiences around the world, there is clearly an insatiable demand for factual learning relating to the health of the animal kingdom and the world we live.

Young people are demanding change, we are seeing school student strikes as a form of protest. Blogs and podcasts by young people now have audiences of hundreds of thousands, if not millions. As Dr Jane Goodall said "We haven't inherited this planet from our parents, we've borrowed it from our children. We have not borrowed our children's future -- we have stolen it and we're still stealing it now, and it's time we got together, whatever our religion, whatever our culture and start changing our attitude -- so that we leave a better world for our children, whom we love.”

A keen interest in wild places and wildlife can be found across the generations. There is a campaign running in the UK to offer kids a GCSE in Natural History, making it part of every school’s curriculum, something we strongly advocate. A degree in Natural History and Media is also soon to be available at the University of South Wales.


We want young people to engage with wildlife and nature through the power of photography and learn about the issues and challenges the natural world faces daily. We are contributing authors and illustrators to an award-winning children’s education series of books titled Collins Big Cats. To date, we have published 36 books for adults and children.

Jonathan and Angela Scott The Influence and Role of Photography in Wildlife Conservation 02

Honey the cheetah with her sole surviving cub Toto, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.
[ Canon EOS 1D Mark II, EF 500mm lens, ISO400, 1/400 sec @f/6.3 ]

Today, some children barely leave their bedroom, playing computer games, anxious about where they can plug in their devices to stay connected. Children need to experience the animals and organisms all around them. It does not have to be big cats in Africa - nature is universal; it is everywhere. For instance, every child should experience the wonder of looking down a microscope at a drop of pond water to glimpse a hidden world filled with life.

Children should be encouraged to carry a sketchbook and a pocket camera, to record the world in all its glory and detail. The sketchbook will enable children to log their thoughts and illustrate them with the photographs they capture.

We need children walking in the woods, roaming the fields and riverbanks, camping under the moonlight, their senses fully engaged at the wonder of the universe. The extraordinary gift of being alive is staring you in the face - you just have to stop, look and listen.

This intimate image captures the bond of a female cheetah and her only surviving cub. Cheetahs give birth to large litters of up to six cubs, but often lose cubs to larger and stronger competitors such as lions and hyenas. We want to remind people of how vulnerable cheetah cubs are, and of the tragedy of the illegal trade in cubs smuggled out of East Africa to the Middle East where they are prized as exotic pets with a price tag of US$ 10,000 per cub. Up to 70% of cubs do not survive the trauma of the journey out of Africa.



Canon is a world leader in the field of wildlife photography and its lenses are second to none. The company has a long list of technical achievements and innovation, such as producing the then superfast FD 300mm F/2-8 telephoto with a Fluorite element. At the time, this lens became the benchmark for wildlife and sports photographers who shoot in low- light conditions and capture high-speed action sequences.

Jonathan and Angela Scott The Influence and Role of Photography in Wildlife Conservation

Lesser Flamingos, Lake Bogoria, Kenya
[ Canon T90, FD 500mm f/4.5 ]

In this image, huge congregations of lesser and greater flamingos gather at soda lakes in Africa's Great Rift Valley to breed and feed on the blue-green algae that is their primary food. Up to 2 million flamingos move from lake to lake in response to the seasonal bloom of algae. The harsh inhospitable conditions around the soda lakes favour successful breeding, with Lake Natron in Tanzania a primary breeding site. These spectacular congregations of brightly coloured flamingos have earned them the accolade of the greatest bird spectacle in the world.

Angie and I have been shooting with Canon equipment for four decades and being part of its prestigious Canon ambassador program has ensured we have been able to stay up to date with the latest developments in camera and lens technology.

We have also been able to leverage our conservation message by speaking at numerous events arranged by Canon at venues across Europe, South Africa, Australia and Sri Lanka. Canon produces strong, reliable, weather resistant equipment that gives us the freedom to work in rugged and unforgiving environments and still come back with quality images when it matters.


We have been extremely fortunate to spend many years photographing the behaviour of wild animals and mammals in some of the world’s most beautiful, hostile and extraordinary wildlands. From the great plains of Africa to the extremes of the Antarctic, hosting photographic workshops to capturing detailed images of the world’s most endangered and protected species.

Jonathan and Angela Scott The Influence and Role of Photography in Wildlife Conservation

Mother humpback whale & calf & Angela Scott, Tonga Archipelago, South Pacific.
[ Canon EOS 1DX Mark 11, Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L II USM lens, ISO320, 1/250 sec @f/8 ]
Photo credit: Griet van Malderen

Photography plays an essential role in wildlife conservation, as it acts as a protector to our most endangered and treasured animals and mammals, by informing the world of the dangers they face through direct human impact or environmental damage.

The power of photography and the visual image can inspire a generation or ignite a movement, initiating positive change that helps protects wildlife and natural habitats for years and years to come.

It is important to have something to say, to create your own identity and projects - and to never give up on your mission. You need to be totally committed and passionate about photography and conservation. Without passion and commitment, dedication and self-sacrifice, all the fancy equipment in the world will not enable you to get the job done, you must have both. This image of Angela’s first meeting with a humpback whale and her two-week-old calf in the crystal-clear waters of Tonga was taken by our great friend and student of photography, Griet van Malderen, on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. It evokes the wonder of the natural world and the blue planet’s otherworldly inhabitants - a glimpse of Eden and our place in it, dwarfed by the size and presence of these great leviathans.

If one has the chance to study photography at college, university or night school, that is an ideal starting point - but it is not essential. Many people become photographers by sheer perseverance - neither Angie nor I studied photography. Try to find ways of creating something different. Study the work of photographers of all genres, and then adapt the best technique and vision to your own way of working. Rather than simply trying to copy the work of artists you admire, be inspired to come up with your own view of the world and its remarkable inhabitants.



We have been photographing wild animals and birds with Canon’s reliable and robust equipment for over 40 years and it’s their build, versatility and image quality that has maintained their excellence throughout.

Jonathan and Angela Scott The Influence and Role of Photography in Wildlife Conservation

Emperor penguin with chick, Snow Hill Island, Weddell Sea, Antarctic Peninsula.
[ Canon EOS 1Ds, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L II USM lens, ISO320, 1/160 sec @f/20 ]

In addition to using the FD 300mm F/2-8 telephoto lens, we rely on several of Canon's camera features to help capture photographs of wild animals. The full frame sensor delivers maximum image quality with minimum noise, while a high-speed processor increases the number of photographs we can take in the moment, this is highly beneficial for intense scenes when predators are roaming the wilderness, hunting their prey.

The sound of the shutter firing can also be an issue with timid or shy creatures - so being able to select “quiet mode” for the shutter-release is very important. But as we always say - it is the glass, (the lens) that is the most important item to invest in. Your lenses are the eyes of your camera. Don’t short change yourself when purchasing them.

The image of an adult emperor penguin with its chick speaks to us of the challenges these extraordinary birds face, due to the climate crisis. Antarctica's second-largest breeding colony of emperor penguins, located in the Weddell Sea, has experienced “catastrophic breeding failure” for the past three years, with nearly all its chicks failing to survive due to the breakup of sea ice, according to a new study published in the journal Antarctic Science.


Understanding the animal is vital to obtaining memorable images and reducing one’s physical impact on the environment. The more we learn about an animal’s behaviour, the more aware people will become of things likely to disturb them, such as when they are accompanied by young or when hunting.

Jonathan and Angela Scott The Influence and Role of Photography in Wildlife Conservation

Young female tiger wading across a shallow lake while attempting to hunt spotted deer, Bandhavgarh National Park, India. [ Canon EOS 1Ds, Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM lens ISO640 1/200 sec @f/5.6. ]

Being able to predict what your subject is going to do next is an essential part of the photography experience. Reducing our environmental footprint increases the chance of capturing the photographs that were intended.

We have customised vehicles that act as mobile hides when working in Africa. Our vehicles are designed to minimise our physical impact on the animals we are studying and photographing. These cars help to mask our presence, allowing us to get closer to the wild animals than we possibly could do on foot. Using one of Canon’s long telephoto lenses also minimises the need to get too close to our subjects while still allowing us an intimate window into their lives.

We were the first people to initiate a Driver/Guides Training Program in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya where we are based for much of the year. The aim was to improve the quality of game viewing experience for guests and the accuracy of information about the animals and birds and plants that guides provide their clients. Our books, Jonathan and Angela Scott’s Safari Guide to East African Animals and a companion volume on East African Birds are the most popular learning material with official guides in Kenya.

Wildlife tourism is at the heart of Kenya’s conservation model - the revenue from tourism helps to pay the costs of protecting wildlife. Through sustained educational programs, charitable endeavours and with a duty of care, we must all play our part in protecting endangered wildlife for generations to come and photography will continue to have a pivotal role to play.



People often get caught up in the ‘equipment’ dilemma. Our advice to anyone who wants to develop and improve their photography talent is to start small, as you can always upsize later. Master the basics before investing in expensive professional equipment. To become a true photographer, you always need a camera with you, so you can constantly respond to the visual opportunities that are all around, ‘Look, recognise the moment, capture’.

Jonathan and Angela Scott The Influence and Role of Photography in Wildlife Conservation

Sunrise over Musiara Marsh, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.
[ Canon
EF 70-200mm f/2.8 ] 

In this image, Topi antelope and impalas peer out of the mist at sunrise as a flock of sacred ibis fly overhead. The rainy season in the Mara creates stunning sunrises and sunsets and Musiara Marsh is the dry season heart of Marsh Pride territory, the lions that we have been following since 1977. It is a year-round hot spot for elephants, buffalo, waterbuck and hundreds of species of birds.

The Maasai Mara is a photographer's paradise. Early morning and late afternoon are the best time for photography with soft light and rich warm colours - and the best time to look for big cats. This image captures the essence of why an African safari is considered the ultimate adventure.

We have always admired Canon’s formidable PowerShot range of compact cameras, due to their reliability, portability and consistent image quality. Anyone planning a safari holiday should consider Canon’s PowerShot SX70 HS for its powerful 65x optical zoom, enabling users to experience the majestic wildlife from a safe distance, whilst capturing that elusive wild animal picture in rich detail.

However, when you are ready to step-up, a versatile multi-purpose zoom lens for those with a passion for wildlife and travel photography is the Canon EF 100-400m f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM. The lens focuses down to just one metre, in effect giving an incredible close-up ability. Add to this, the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM wide angle zoom for the perfect lightweight travel combination. Combine it with an EOS 5D MK IV or Canon’s latest full-frame mirrorless camera, the EOS RP and you are ready to go.

The Influence and Role of Photography in Wildlife Conservation