Article

Krista Schlyer is a conservation photographer.

Photograph by Chris Linder

By Sean O'Connor

Monday, November 19, 2012

Krista is an independent photographer with a passion for using her work to spread the message of wildlife conservation. She is part of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP), an organization that aims to use awe-inspiring, ethically captured photography to promote environmental and cultural conservation.

Krista has dedicated her recent work to exploring how the physical border between the United States and Mexico can be a blockade for migrating wildlife, including endangered species such as the pronghorn and jaguar.

EARLY WORK

Krista spent her childhood on the Kansas prairie, where she developed an interest in animals, if not science.

“I wish I had been more into science as a kid. I didn’t think about science and it wasn’t emphasized in my schools growing up,” she says.

In college, Krista focused her career on being a photojournalist.

“At first, I was doing writing and photography for the engineering department at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Then I shifted to political journalism and did community journalism,” covering local politics in and around Flagstaff, Arizona. Krista then set her sights on the national scene and set out for Washington, D.C. to focus on Congress.

“Then I took a trip around the country for a year, visiting national parks and national forests along the way,” Krista says. That’s when she knew it was time to take her skills and passions in a new direction and turn her focus to conservation photography.

Talking to an exhibitor at a career fair about conservation photography, Krista remembers being told to “give it up.”

“I’m glad I didn’t listen to him!”

MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

“There’s a lot about my work that is not exciting at all,” Krista says, “but it’s leading up to [the wildlife sighting] that is the most exciting part. Being in that place and waiting and anticipating and wondering what they are going to do—just being able to observe wildlife in its natural setting. I just want to sit as long as possible.”

Krista remembers photographing prairie dogs in the Chihuahua Desert of northern Mexico in 2009. “My guide found a nice family with pups. I went out at 5 a.m. into a nest [the guide] constructed for me. While I was waiting, I had my head down on the ground and I could hear this little chatter coming from the prairie dogs underground. They were probably talking about me! They have pretty amazing language skills.”

MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

“Physically, it’s demanding—carrying heavy equipment. Mentally it’s not an easy way to make a living but you have to really want it and be willing to go out there and do it. For me it’s worth it. I can’t think of a better way to spend my life.”

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

“Having a sense of place—your place in the context of the Earth. To have a really good understanding of place, spend time in a place and research its history and understand all of its inhabitants. In Borderlands, I’ve met so many different members of the community. This is important to understanding the richness of a place.”

GEO-CONNECTION

For Krista, borders help define her work in the deserts of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.

“The border [between the U.S. and Mexico] is a geopolitical border but it’s also a really important natural border,” says Krista.

The region around the U.S.-Mexico international border is ecologically unique and includes, “migration corridors for some of both nations' most imperiled species—including the jaguar, Sonoran pronghorn, ocelot, bighorn sheep, and Mexican gray wolves,” according to The Borderlands Project, the website promoting Krista’s conservation photography in this region.

SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . CONSERVATION PHOTOGRAPHER

“I think a terrific idea is to go into science, particularly in whatever field it is you think you want to photograph. But also art—people with a good sense of composition and lighting, or literature—being able to tell stories. Scientists have not been as successful at telling stories as we need them to be. Or advertising—using symbols to get people to care about things.”

GET INVOLVED

Krista recommends spending time in wild places:

“I don’t think people do enough of this. Start spending time in those places and taking people to those places. And when you can’t take people to wild places, take the wild places to them! Photography takes people to places that they’ve never been before.”

And in conservation photography, photos can be used as tools for advocating for protection of wild lands and their inhabitants, which can influence many stakeholders, including politicians.

“Often politicians have never been [to a place], so we try to take it to them.”

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

border

Noun

natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.

Encyclopedic Entry: border

Congress

Noun

legislative branch of the government, responsible for making laws. The U.S. Congress has two bodies, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

conservation

Noun

management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

Encyclopedic Entry: conservation

desert

Noun

area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

Encyclopedic Entry: desert

endangered species

Noun

organism threatened with extinction.

Encyclopedic Entry: endangered species

equipment

Noun

tools and materials to perform a task or function.

forest

Verb

to cover with trees and other vegetation.

imperil

Verb

to put in danger or at risk.

inhabitant

Noun

resident.

journalist

Noun

person who reports and distributes news.

migration corridor

Noun

area connecting wildlife habitats disturbed and interrupted by human activity. Also called a green corridor.

national park

Noun

geographic area protected by the national government of a country.

politics

Noun

art and science of public policy.

prairie

Noun

large grassland; usually associated with the Mississippi River Valley in the United States.

Encyclopedic Entry: prairie

stakeholder

Noun

person or organization that has an interest or investment in a place, situation or company.

wildlife

Noun

organisms living in a natural environment.

Credits

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Writer

Sean P. O'Connor, National Geographic Society

Editors

Kara West
Jeannie Evers

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

User Permissions

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service.

If you have questions about licensing content on this page, please contact natgeocreative@ngs.org for more information and to obtain a license.

If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please visit our FAQ page.

Media

Some media assets (videos, photos, audio recordings and PDFs) can be downloaded and used outside the National Geographic website according to the Terms of Service. If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the lower right hand corner (download) of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.

Text

Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.

Interactives

Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.