by Lex van den Berghe
In the midst of the sixth mass global extinction, the need for wildlife conservation advocacy is greater than ever, but the fight is also growing stronger than ever before. From documentary filmmakers to government officials to private citizens, everyone can do their part to effect change. This Wildlife Conservation Day, we sat down with Bee Elle, a wildlife photographer and conservation advocate who’s fighting to protect the natural world and the creatures in it, all while empowering others to do the same.
An affinity to animals
From a young age, Bee knew she wanted to advocate for animals. She used to ditch school and hop on a train all the way into the city to join in on protests against the fur trade. She would write up materials on the problems of factory farming and roam around her community, dropping flyers in her neighbor’s mailboxes. Over the years, her passion for advocacy grew into a career that she harnesses through her lens.
Bee got to know her camera when she was a child by taking pictures of her cat in the backyard. These homemade portraits filled rolls upon rolls of film. After taking a class in photography, Bee learned how to use a digital camera and since then, she’s never put it down. She carried it with her far and wide, on her jobs in international development, on visits to faraway lands, and on her adventure living and working in East Africa. It was there, in East Africa, that she became certain of her calling: wildlife photography. She explains, “I felt an affinity with the landscapes, the light, and the beautiful animals – but even more than the photography itself, I fell in love with the feeling of connection and the ability to be close to these wondrous beings and share in their space.”
Seeing these animals in the wild where they are free to live almost entirely untouched in their habitats, Bee was moved. “I always wondered if we could ever ‘untouch’ what humankind has already damaged on this planet,” she tells us, and that is what she strives to accomplish.
A life of advocacy
Beyond morality, what drives Bee is the fact that people can make an impact. She tells us, “It’s completely possible for mankind to stop the kinds of atrocities that we witness today, from massive habitat destruction through deforestation to poaching elephants for their ivory.”
For Bee, advocacy and photography go hand-in-hand. Today, a photograph and the message behind it can spread farther than ever. Bee’s hope is that her images will prompt viewers to stop and appreciate how wonderful our natural world is. “Hopefully, they’ll see what I see, and they’ll learn how much is at stake so that we can all do more to protect the planet and all of its inhabitants,” she says. “There are clear solutions that are not only accessible but possible to implement,” and raising awareness is the first step.
Behind the lens
Despite the motion in some of Bee’s action shots, a majority of Bee’s time doing nature photography is spent waiting. She walks around for hours, patiently looking for an animal to appear, slinking out of bushes or peeking over a hill. Her advice for those new to wildlife photography is, “Love the process, love the subjects, and be patient!” Often an animal reveals itself in the place you’d least expect, and when they finally do come out it makes the wait well worth it for Bee.
After years spent observing animals from the other side of the camera, Bee has learned a few tricks of the trade. She lets us in on a little secret, “It can be quite amazing what you can see and feel when you keep still, stay mindful and present, and put the camera down! You start noticing all the things around you, from the buzzing of insects to the warmth of the sun on your skin to the distant call of a hyena in the night. Being able to immerse yourself in nature, rather than simply observing it, helps you to capture the essence and story of your surroundings in your photography. The process in itself is an art.”
Bee’s tips for editing
On sharing photographs on the go: “Lightroom Mobile has been great for when I want to share things on the go. For example, if I take a picture in the field, I normally don’t have my laptop with me. I like to share my photographs on social media as soon as possible, and the app enables me to use the key Lightroom tools I need.”
Bee’s Top Three Tips for using Lightroom Mobile:
“Organise photos into albums. I promise this will make your workflow faster and smoother.”
“Practice. Know your tools well so that you can quickly apply them when you’re on the run.”
“If you’re editing on an iPhone, make sure you switch off ‘night mode’ on your iOS so that your photos aren’t being edited while looking at them through a yellow tinge.”
Parting words of advice
Before we let Bee get back to advocating for wildlife conservation (and saving the world), we asked her to share a few pieces of advice for photographers, advocates, and everyone in between.
On finding your path: “Let what you love lead you and never stop exploring. This life is yours. Know yourself and learn what drives you, where you are at your best, and what you love.”
On effecting change: “It’s through continual dialogue that change can come about. Keep talking about issues that matter to you, share articles on social media that are important to you, and participate in campaigns that contribute towards larger change. Donating to conservation organizations can also help.”
Taking a leaf out of Bee’s book, you can make an impact, and Wildlife Conservation Day is the perfect time to start. Speak up about the issues that endanger and destroy animals and their habitats, share this post to spread the word, and comment to let us know what else you’re doing to protect the world’s wildlife.