Wildlife Photography to Raise Awareness
An Interview With Laura Crawford Williams, award-winning professional wildlife photographer
Laura Crawford Williams has served as an advocate for wildlife and conservation for 18 years. She won national and international awards as she has established a reputation for beautiful to impactful photography. You can see her collection of photographs in “Wildlife in Wild Lands Photography for Conservation in Southern South America
By Laura Crawford Williams in cooperation with Fundación Parques Nacionales de Argentina
How did your affinity for wildlife progress?
I always had a love of nature and enjoyed my childhood as a true-to-heart tomboy growing up in southern Louisiana. Fortunately, my father and brother were true outdoorsmen and brought me along whenever they could. My father would care for injured or abandoned animals such as alligator, opossum, and raccoon at home as well. As a result, my love of nature spurred my interest in protecting it at a very young age.
I believe we are all connected to the natural world from birth. It is our heritage. I have yet to meet a child who does not experience a deep sense of wonder, adventure, and inspiration when exploring in nature. This is especially true when that child is led by an enthusiastic guide who teaches the secrets, connections, and behaviors of that world.
What is the correlation between wildlife photography and conservation and how does photography raise awareness? How does photography encourage conservation?
Humans are visual creatures. We respond to what is seen with judgment as well as emotion, using both the logical and emotional side of the brain. A successful image is one that stimulates both. The aesthetic appeal of an image is important, but not nearly enough. The successful photographer is able to take an image from interesting or beautiful to impactful. Emotional reaction is crucial, especially in wildlife conservation photography where you are trying to impress and persuade the viewer to care.
If I am a successful photographer, I will bring attention to things you miss in your everyday life, introduce you to the things you never knew existed, and nudge you toward appreciating each a little more. I will tell a story in a fraction of a second, that you may not have known, but will intuitively understand in the same amount of time. Once the brain is engaged in this way, we usually want to learn more about what we are seeing (and feeling). The successful image engages and invites the viewer to care, be curious, and remember.
How did you make the plunge from photographer to photographer/activist and how has that role been received by your colleagues?
Before my life as a wildlife photographer, I worked for a newly established software company. The hours were long, the work was intense, and by the time the company was sold in 1999, I was thoroughly burned-out. To recharge my depleted battery, I would walk with my dogs in the forests and prairies surrounding my home. A creative spark was ignited and I began carrying a camera as I walked. In 2001, my first published images appeared in National Wildlife magazine and by 2007, I had been published in National Geographic magazine. It felt like the pinnacle of success. But, the truth is, I never intended to become a professional wildlife photographer. I was simply doing what I love to do. My friends, family, and co-workers were very envious of the transition. Who wouldn’t want to give up a stressful corporate existence for the allure of the wild? I have been very fortunate in life so far.
How has photography changed the way you view some of the world’s most beautiful destinations and its indigenous animals?
When you spend time with a subject researching, tracking, observing and engaging you can’t help but develop a special appreciation. I do everything I can to be a respectful, quiet observer. Not to interfere or change behavior with my presence. The gift I am given is a unique insight into the life of another creature. More often than not, I feel empathy, inspiration, wonder, and/or awe. My world seems bigger as a result and I am reminded that we are not alone, we are a part of something larger, and just as miraculous, as ourselves.
When did you begin your relationships with magazines such as National Geographic, The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, and Nature’s Best and how have those relationships changed your life and career?
The very first of my images to be published appeared in National Wildlife magazine in 2001. The senior editor at the time, John Nuhn, said he had never seen another photographer come so far from “out of nowhere” and have such a grand entrance into the world of wildlife photography. By 2007, I was published in National Geographic magazine. I thought it was the pinnacle of success at the time. It was certainly a milestone that changed how I was perceived as a professional. But, the truth is, I never intended to become a professional wildlife photographer. I was simply doing what I love to do.
What does the invitation to the BBC’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibit at the Museum of Texas Tech University represent to you?
I moved with my mother from New Orleans to Texas when I was 14 years old. I attended Texas Tech University at age 16, after graduating a year early from a local high school. Going back was an amazing experience and I loved seeing familiar faces I hadn’t seen on over 20 years. The fact that the event was tied to the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year simply made it that much more important and special to me. Many of the winning images being exhibited were created by friends and acquaintances I’ve made in the last 18 years. I suppose it was a bit like watching your past and your present collide in one big celebration!
What’s next for you? Are you currently working on projects?
With so much content, I’d love to produce another book. I have two projects in mind:
Audiences have thoroughly enjoyed hearing stories about being on the road in some of the most remote areas of the world, as well as about working with exotic species in the wild. They can’t believe some of the uncomfortable challenges we had to overcome. After eight years of traveling all over southern South America, there are incredible stories to tell.
I also have a large collection of images taken while living and working in the prairies of Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota for 12 years. I’d like to showcase the best of this collection and inspire people to appreciate the subtle and fragile beauty found in our prairie ecosystems. This less dramatic landscape is easily overlooked and often under-appreciated.
What are some of your answers to questions audiences ask during gallery talks and lectures?
Audiences always like hearing about the adventure of wildlife photography, especially when working in wild and exotic locations. The moments that happen “between frames” contain some of the best stories — these are the things I am asked about most. People have a very romanticized view of wildlife photography. They focus on the excitement of travel or working with exotic species and discount the reality of difficulty and discomfort. Most are amazed at the amount of time, effort, and planning it takes to pull these trips together.
Every audience asks about “close calls” or “scary moments” in the field. While I have had a few of these, I prefer not to put emphasis here. They are almost always a result of someone making a mistake or miscalculation. I don’t want people to focus on the “fear factor”. Too many people are afraid of nature as it is. We should admire and respect nature first. I consider it a terrible failure should I find myself in a difficult or dangerous situation.
Where do you call home?
I have called Delray Beach, Florida my home since 2013. Before that, I spent eight years living half of the year in Argentina and the other half in South Dakota.
A Partial List of Awards
Images for Conservation Pro Tournament: 3rd place out of 20 professional photographers; $21,500 cash prize; month long, invitation-only event for professionals. (2011)
Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice Awards: Honorable Mention in ‘Birds’, professional division
(Exhibited at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum) (2009)
Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice Awards: Two images received ‘Highly Honored’ in ‘Birds’ (Exhibited at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum) (2007)
Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice Awards: Winner of ‘Animal Antics’ (Exhibited at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum) also received a ‘Highly Honored’ image in ‘Birds’ category (2006)
Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice Awards: Honorable Mention in ‘Birds’ category (2013)
Nature’s Best Windland Smith Rice Awards: Honorable Mention in ‘Small World’ category (2011)
International Wild Bird Photographer: Winner of the ‘Best Artistic Image’ (2006)
National Wildlife Magazine: Honorable Mention in ‘Birds’ category (2010)
National Wildlife Magazine: Second place in ‘Birds’, professional division (2008)
North American Nature Photographers Association Member Competition: ‘Top 10’ from 4,120 images, as judged by professional photographers of the North American Nature Photographers Association (2009)
Visit lcdphoto.com to read more about Laura Crawford Williams and her photography.
You can purchase a copy of her book on Amazon.com when you click on this link.
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