World leader Cristina Mittermeier will give an unmissable talk at the Photography Show

Inspirational, modern wildlife photography is a wonderful way to celebrate the natural world, but also to share the tangible threats to it from climate change, pollution, illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss.

Conservation photography today covers a vast field of landscape, wildlife and documentary images and Christina Mittermeier is one of the world’s leading conservation photographers, as well as being a marine biologist and activist.

In 2014, Cristina co-founded SeaLegacy with her life partner, Paul Nicklen, a groundbreaking nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the ocean. SeaLegacy harnesses the power of storytelling to raise awareness of critical marine issues and drive advocacy, but the revolutionary twist is how it bypasses the traditional story pipeline by bypassing the middleman: media channels.

Cristina’s images invite new audiences into curation (opens in a new tab)and now she’ll share the hard-earned wisdom (opens in a new tab) she’s gleaned from documenting the far reaches of our planet and its people for decades at the Photography Show 2022. We spoke to Cristina about her photography, her drive, and the inevitable challenges she faces in what she does.

Tickets are still available to see Christina Mittermeier at the photography fair (opens in a new tab) in Birmingham, UK, on ​​Sunday, September 18, from 1:15 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

With her partner Paul Nicklen, Cristina Mittermeier uses visual storytelling to campaign for whales, sharks and other sea creatures and their habitats to be protected, showing spectacular wildlife, ocean-sized problems and solutions. She appears at The Photography Show 2022 (opens in a new tab) with a speech Enough.

Cristina Mittermeier

(Image credit: Cristina Mittermeier)

Which of your projects do you think will put you in the picture?

I think my work with the Kayapó people in the 1990s gave me the opportunity to share work that very few photographers have had the opportunity to do. Access was what made the difference for me and the focus on people’s relationship with the ecosystem. I will always be grateful for the opportunity given to me to spend time, to give voice to the stories of others, and to be allowed to fail and learn on the job.

What is your photography 101?

Choose the right equipment for the job and do your research before you start. Photography is a discipline as well as an art form. To unleash your creativity, you must first know your gear inside out. I read manuals, memorize functions and dials, and familiarize myself with what the camera and lenses I have chosen can do.

Then you can forget about the equipment and focus on the task of “seeing”. Light is your best and most important ingredient. Learn to look for it, even if you don’t have a camera. See what it does when it passes through objects like leaves or kelp. Play around with the aperture to see what happens to reflections, refractions, and shadows. In my practice, I start with simple compositions, looking for a well-composed and well-lit image. I want to get something in the bag that is properly targeted and usable.

Then you can move on to more creative approaches. I change angle and perspective; I change my f-stop and my shutter speed. If the situation allows, I bring my strobes or flashes to create more dramatic lighting. For me, a successful image is an image that I like and that moves away from the formulas that I have studied with other photographers. It’s one that tells a story that I’m interested in sharing.

Cristina Mittermeier

(Image credit: Cristina Mittermeier)

What is the biggest challenge of photographing people?

The biggest challenge in people photography is capturing candid moments without intruding on people’s space. Getting buy-in from your subjects requires a mix of attributes unique to every successful people photographer. I learned a lot watching photographers like Steve McCurry work. He doesn’t draw attention to himself with flashy gear or weird clothes.

He blends in, smiles a lot, works with a simple shoulder bag, and uses his charisma to broach topics while he works. However, time is perhaps the best and most valuable ingredient. Having time to make people feel comfortable with your presence, spending time in communities, and working with leaders so people understand why you’re there. The worst mistake you can make is being disrespectful or coming across as having shady intentions. Nothing will relax a subject more than knowing you’re there to tell an honest story.

Cristina Mittermeier

(Image credit: Cristina Mittermeier)

What’s the most interesting filming you’ve been on?

For many reasons, working for National Geographic in Hawaii was the most interesting shoot I’ve ever worked on. I spent six months working with my partner, Paul Nicklen, on a story about the Hawaiian people’s relationship to the ocean. Juggling the complexities of photographing people who live in marginalized communities who have a real mistrust of outsiders. This, combined with the uncertainty of shooting in the raging ocean wave, made for a very interesting shoot.

Cristina Mittermeier

(Image credit: Cristina Mittermeier)

What is your dream project come true?

I’m living one of my dreams traveling on SeaLegacy 1, our sailing catamaran, to photograph the intersection of ocean wilderness and coastal communities. We have now been sailing for almost two years. The journey took me to amazing places and communities in the Bahamas, where I was able to help create real change in marine protection, to the Galapagos Islands, where we spent three months diving in some of the places the most remote, and all the way back to my native Mexico, where we work with colleagues and friends I have known for many decades to create vast marine national parks to support coastal fishermen and protect wildlife. A dream come true.

Cristina Mittermeier

(Image credit: Cristina Mittermeier)

Where will professional photography be in 10 years?

The advent of more and more technological advancements means that photography today is already very different from what it was when I climbed the ladder. Hopefully, photographers won’t rely entirely on the computers inside their cameras to make all the decisions and will strive to learn the techniques and principles that have guided photography thus far. Good old fashioned composition, lighting, creative use of shutter speeds and perspective continue to be the bread and butter of good photography. Technology can simplify, improve, augment and extend our photographic abilities, but it cannot replace knowledge and good technique.

If you love experimenting with different films and cameras, which is your favorite and why?

I’ve never been a camera geek. I’ve used everything from single-lens reflex film cameras to medium format cameras to the latest in digital technology, and for me the thrill is in the art, not the gear. I am lucky to be able to work with equipment that I can simply forget about. Knowing my cameras so well allows me to make the gear an extension of my creative mind and not the center of my attention. I am honored to be a Sony Artisan of Imagery and to work exclusively with Sony equipment.

You might also like the best waterproof camera (opens in a new tab) and the best camera for wildlife photography (opens in a new tab). Learn more about The photography fair (opens in a new tab).

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