Documenting the Plastic Pollution Crisis

Plastic bag floating over reef in the ocean, Costa Rica
RooM the Agency / Alamy Stock Photo

The plastic pollution crisis has reached an all-time high and our oceans are bearing the brunt with up to 18 billion pounds of plastic ending up there every year. We’re lucky enough to be involved in an industry that can inspire change, images can be powerful when it comes to making an impact and we should grab the opportunity to create thought provoking imagery that could prompt a positive change in the world.

Blue Planet II was the most-watched TV programme of 2017, reaching 37.6 million viewers in the UK and it seems to have had a massive impact on the way people view the world. From corporate companies to individuals, people have searched for ways to reduce their single-use plastic footprint. Sir David himself said the he was “absolutely astonished at the result that that programme has had”. If the words of David Attenborough aren’t enough to inspire you to go out and take some impactful photography then I don’t know what is.

Greater adjutant storks (Leptoptilos dubius) at a landfill dite near the city of Guwahati, Assam, India, Critically Endangered
Nature Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Sometimes just taking pictures of nature or beautiful animals isn’t enough, if you want your images to have an impact and provoke action you should find a cause that will benefit from your talent. This doesn’t have to be the plastic pollution crisis but this is what we’re going to focus on here.

Wildlife/Conservation Photography

It goes without saying that wildlife photography is an obvious area to focus on when it comes to plastic pollution. We’ve recently posted an interview with conservation photographer Tim Plowden who believes photography can help shape our attitudes and create a better world. Tim shares some tips and insights into the world of conservation photography so make sure you check it out.

Sadly plastic is fast becoming just part of our landscape so documenting the effect it has on wildlife isn’t actually that difficult as photographer Justin Hofman demonstrated when snorkelling in Indonesia. The image of  a seahorse gripping onto a cotton bud is in the photographer’s words “a photo that I wish didn’t exist but now that it does I want everyone to see it.”

Alamy photographer John Cancalosi is another photographer who captured distressing images. A stork trapped in a plastic bag is a photographic sequence that has gained an enormous amount of attention. Studies show that 90% of seabirds now consume plastic and this is having a devastating effect.

European White Stork Ciconia ciconia Trapped in plastic bag in garbage dump in Spain
John Cancalosi / Alamy Stock Photo

Conceptual Photography

Concept photography done well is a great way to get a reaction, you’re not restricted to what you see in the environment around you, you’re free to be as creative as you like and you can tailor it to your own unique style.

Guy Farrow took on the challenge and created these amazing thought provoking portraits to help raise awareness of the plastic pollution problem. Sometimes issues are overlooked if they’re not seen to directly affect us but by anthropomorphising the effect we’re having, Guy has really made the plastic pollution crisis hit home.

A completely different take on this is from photographer Benjamin Von Wong. His idea was to take something ugly and boring (plastic bottles) and turn them into something beautiful and exciting that will leave a lasting impression on the viewer.

Dying sea turtle choked with a plastic bag. Eating plastic bag. It?s blind and shows several wounds.
Paulo Oliveira / Alamy Stock Photo

Stock Photography

Whether its wildlife photography, concept photography, press photography or photojournalism we need more images that cover the plastic pollution crisis. There has been a surge in the number of people getting involved in this environmental change meaning more and more customers need these kinds of images to publish.

You don’t necessarily need to travel far to capture images that cover this issue, research events in your local area like beach and river clean ups, collect discarded plastics and create conceptual art, whatever your niche is you can help make a difference.

A lizard that has died after becoming stuck in a plastic bottle left as trash.
National Geographic Creative / Alamy Stock Photo

If you’ve uploaded images that cover this issue we’d love to see them so let us know in the comments.

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