Brian Skerry on the power of photography to advocate for conservation

Illustration of Brian Skerry

WWF National Council member Brian Skerry is a photojournalist and film producer specializing in marine wildlife and underwater environments. He has covered stories on every continent and in nearly every ocean habitat, and his work has been exhibited worldwide. The author of 12 books, he frequently lectures on ocean exploration, storytelling, and conservation. Here, Skerry reflects on the power of photography.


It’s a privilege to tell stories through photography. People’s lives are busy, and they only have so much bandwidth. So a photographer can bear witness and give context to a lot of faraway places. Human beings are visual creatures— we respond emotionally to powerful images. We may remember an image that affected us for the rest of our lives.


Photography rooted in science is an important conservation tool. You may have read that scientists estimate 50% of coral reefs have died. That’s upsetting, but probably abstract. Powerful pictures—of a dead reef that is bleached and choked with algae, for example—can speak to people in a visceral way. Photography can also inspire people to act.


I’ve specialized in the ocean. I might work with a great white shark scientist on one story and with a leatherback turtle specialist on another. While they are the authorities in their field, they’re somewhat siloed. The beauty of my 40-plus years of ocean exploration is that I can often connect the dots and see how everything works together, and then tell that story.


Taking a photo means you’re recording whatever comes your way. But making a photo means that you are actively working to create something. It’s like being a filmmaker; you’re thinking about what you want to communicate. If there’s a subject that you like, whether it’s your daughter or a bird on the feeder, work it! Shoot multiple frames, try it from different angles, break the rules, mix it up a little bit. Create happy accidents.

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