Nature through the lens: An interview with award-winning wildlife photographer Lara Jackson
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” – Anne-Marie Bonneau.
Conservationist, zoologist and award-winning wildlife photographer Lara Jackson is an inspirational female patron, who is passionate about using her unique skills in photography to tell stories about critically endangered species.
Throughout her global exploration of our one true home, she’s encountered many species on the brink of extinction. Lara has braved many ecosystems to collect data on wildlife and to film, photograph and present her findings to a global audience.
One species that’s very close to Lara’s heart, is Rhinos. She completed her master’s by studying the food preferences of black rhino’s. This passion and enthusiasm for the natural world caught the eye of the Save the Rhino International team.
This dedicated team of passionate conservationists, work together to help protect, save and preserve the five species of rhinos that inhabit the planet. Lara was asked to be their ambassador; Since then, she has become established in this role and is helping raise awareness for this incredible conservation organisation and its rhino protection campaigns.
Lara, like many conservationists, was unaware of a career with wildlife when she was in school. But through a natural passion for wildlife from a young age, she went on to study Zoology (BSc hons) at the University of Southampton.
When at university Lara, was able to travel to the Masai Mara in Africa, Belize and Madagascar. It was through travelling to these exotic places that Lara was able to develop her photography skills.
Her first camera was a bridge camera using only the automatic mode at the time. After more time in the field, Lara taught herself how to use the full range of settings using a DSLR camera and she also began to predict the right moment to take that magical image.
While interviewing Lara, I was captivated by her down-to-earth personality and her amazing outlook on how we as a species can come together to make a difference in protecting the planet and its inhabitants. I asked Lara a series of questions about her life and career; Let’s hear why she went into conservation.
Why do you work in conservation?
I’ve always loved wildlife and when I grew older and learned about all the atrocious impacts of human activities on the environment, I couldn’t understand why we would treat our planet and fellow Earth inhabitants so appallingly. I strongly believe that we should live in harmony with nature and be conscious, responsible custodians of the planet.
Unfortunately, we’ve done an awful job so far. I believe that conservation is a moral obligation. Giving a voice to those who cannot oppose the destruction of their home and the killing of their kind should be an absolute minimum.
Combining my love for photography and storytelling with my scientific background, I’m passionate about raising awareness for important conservation issues and sharing the tales of those working tirelessly to protect some of the most endangered species on the planet. I want my photography to help people re-forge their lost connection with nature. If they care for nature and wildlife, then they’ll be more inclined to fight for it.
What’s the best part of your job or role?
I love the variety – working on a different project every day keeps my role so exciting and fresh. I also feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with numerous endangered species all over the world. I also love how outdoors my job is. I like to be in nature as much as possible.
What do you enjoy least about your job?
I find it hard being away from family and friends for such a long time. In roles before, I’ve been stationed abroad for a year and haven’t been able to fly back home.
What’s interesting about Lara’s use of photography to tell stories of conservation, is it transcends any language, it does not matter where you are in the world, what language we speak or even if you have a biology background or not, the image taken portrays a vital message, and it’s a message we can all understand.
What advice would you give someone wishing to follow in your footsteps?
For conservation, be determined, persistent, passionate, and flexible. It’s a very competitive industry – you need to expect to receive a lot of no’s before you receive a yes.
Be determined and never let the “no” get you down. Use it as a motivation to get yourself more work experience, to better your CV, and to set yourself apart from people applying for the same role as you by writing blogs/making videos/sharing photos on social media.
Also, you need to be able to cope in harsh environments that are very different from the luxuries you get at home. For example, you may have no Wi-Fi or phone reception for weeks. You may be in environments of extreme heat/cold, or you may be showering using a bucket of cold water and a cup. Being resilient and able to cope in those challenging scenarios is key.
For photography/filmmaking, it sounds cliché, but get out there and practice. Also, don’t feel pressured into having the top gear. Before my amazing partnership with Nikon, all my images were taken on an entry-level DSLR with a sigma 150-600mm lens that I sacrificed a whole month’s pay check for.
We all have different ways of seeing the world and photography is the way we can show other people what our own eyes see. If we went to photograph the same rhino on the same day at the same time, our photos would be vastly different from each other.
Experiment, find your unique style, and find out what’s important to you. Are you trying to raise awareness for an issue through your photography or are you trying to show wonders of the natural world that aren’t appreciated?
Don’t forget to develop your story-telling skills, these are what bring your visual imagery to life.
What are your hopes for the future in terms of the climate and ecological crisis? What can we do?
Most of all, I hope that people wake up. I hope that governments, policymakers, giant companies, and all those who are shirking responsibilities so far WAKE UP and start instigating change before it’s too late.
For those of us who aren’t in a top-dog position, we can still be the catalyst for change. Let’s continue to use our voices and speak for those who can’t. Let’s choose to only work with organisations who are actively trying to alleviate the impact of their business on the environment. Let’s choose to make a sacrifice (like eating less meat or doing one plastic-free shop a week). Making those little changes to our everyday lives that will all add up.
We are all inhabitants of the Earth, and we all benefit from the services that the Earth provides us, and we are all responsible for raising awareness and doing our bit to lessen our impact.
If you want to learn more about Lara and what she is up to next, you can follow her on the following platforms.
Author Profile | Ryan Eddowes
Ryan Eddowes is a Qualified Zoologist, Herpetologist, Animal Carer, Climate Change educator and UK Ambassador for Steps Charity Worldwide, a charity that supports everyone with lower limb conditions. Ryan hopes to use his experience and passion for the natural world to promote inclusivity in conservation, as Ryan was born with bilateral clubfoot, a condition that causes mobility issues. He was told working animals would be difficult due to the condition, but yet he just recently celebrated a decade long career in the wildlife industry.
“I truly believe that even if you have a hidden or physical disability and have a passion for the natural world, you can still achieve your dreams and make a difference to our planet”. You can follow Ryan on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.