Local Hero: How One Photographer Protects Endangered Species Through Photography

© Carol Freeman

Carol Freeman began the Endangered Species Photography Project 15 years ago. Her aim was to photograph all the endangered species in her home state of Illinois, in the hope that awareness would foster protection for the threatened species and their habitats.

 “You can’t just have the monarch butterfly,” Freeman says. “You need the habitat that supports it. For people to care, they first have to know what’s going on.”

So far Freeman has documented 168 species; the fact that there are 315 to go is both daunting and inspiring.

The project is an “act local, think global” enterprise, with social media carrying the message and promoting the results. “People from all over are getting the story and the information,” she says. And the pictures, as well: “Canadian Geographic magazine asked to use one of my project photos.”

Freeman has also founded the Team Green Environmental Network, a not-for-profit dedicated to getting the word out about her project as well as other nature education opportunities and activities.

Word and picture postings on Facebook, Flickr, and on her website kept followers apprised of the progress. Then came a local gallery exhibit.

“That’s where I really called on my social media network—to raise the funds to produce it, to build momentum and enthusiasm, and to get people to come.” Freeman posted pictures and made some videos of the show going up, and the gallery used Facebook and Twitter to promote the show.

The exhibit, which will travel to various locations in Illinois, includes informational panels along with the photos. “Everybody I talked to said they learned something from the exhibit; they didn’t just see something pretty. That’s the greatest success I can have, and I can hope it will lead them to volunteer, or think about what they buy, or who they elect.”

The egret in the photo here is not endangered, but the image, taken at Air Station Prairie, a 32-acre preserve just five minutes from Freeman’s home, is indicative of how she works. “I can go to the same place two or three times a week, week after week, and still be surprised,” she says. “I’d never gotten a picture quite like this one at Air Station Prairie.”

The reserve is not their preferred habitat, and normally she’d see one egret. “But when the water level is just right, they’re able to pick off crayfish one by one, and on this morning there were four or five birds, and as they flew in, the sunlight lit up their wings, which I didn’t expect, and here I got this angelic-looking bird and some beautifully lit-up plants. It was a magical moment on one of those mornings when I think, This is why I get up at o-dark-thirty—to get pictures like this.”

You can follow Carol Freeman’s activities and the endangered species exhibit on Facebook. Her website, carolfreemanphotography.com, has information about her photography and a link to her Flickr photos. Team Green is at teamgreenweb.org.

Tech Talk: Carol Freeman took the photo with her Nikon D810 and an AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens at settings of 1/800 second, f/9, ISO 800, aperture priority, and Matrix metering.