Environmental photographers often find that certain books can serve as blueprints and roadmaps for their photographic explorations. Herein we share a few of our favorites.


The Great Acceleration

by J.R. McNeill and Peter Engelecke,  Harvard University Press 2014

If you seek a single source to begin a query into environmental issues confronting humanity, this short 2014 book by J.R. McNeil and Peter Engelke is a good starting place. A pungent survey of the emerging Anthropocene epoch, a recent time when humans have become the dominant force on global ecology, this book probes causes and effects of “the great acceleration,” when human environmental impact has become what the authors call “a large uncontrolled experiment.” This is an era after World War II when energy use expanded rapidly. The authors explore the impact of this rampant energy use and rising population, resulting urbanization, deforestation and agricultural expansion, climate change, and widespread ecological disruption.  With comprehensive notes and bibliography, this book opens a door to fertile opportunities for visually documenting our intensifying environmental dilemma.

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Cadillac Desert

by Marc Reisner,  Viking Press 1993

More than 20 years ago I inherited the Colorado River story for National Geographic from another photographer. Casting about for guidance I found Mark Reisner’s deeply researched Cadillac Desert. Here in one volume was the whole tale of the wonders and woes of the Colorado, from its beginnings in a mountain meadow to it’s sad demise in the sands of Mexico. Reisner’s work guided me through the maze of Western water law and thorny resource issues. Mostly his book told me what issues were truly important and where to go looking for them, where they might be made visible. That story launched my career as a resources photographer for National Geographic. I'll always be gratful to Marc Reisner.

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harvesting the biosphere

by Vaclav Smil,  MIT Press 2015

In Harvesting the Biosphere, Vaclav Smil offers an interdisciplinary and quantitative account of human claims on the biosphere's stores of living matter, from prehistory to the present day. Smil examines all harvests -- from prehistoric man's hunting of megafauna to modern crop production -- and all uses of harvested biomass, including energy, food, and raw materials. Without harvesting of the biomass, Smil points out, there would be no story of human evolution and advancing civilization; but at the same time, the increasing extent and intensity of present-day biomass harvests are changing the very foundations of civilization's well-being.

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The Hidden LIfe of Trees

by Peter Wohlleben,  Greystone Books, Canada 2016

Without doubt, this a wonderful read, and I enjoyed it immensely. I’ll echo what I read from one reviewer, "The Hidden Life of Trees” is an amazing book presenting trees as sentient, purposeful beings living in dynamic relationship with each other.” That pretty much says it all. Some have carped that Wholleben anthropomorphizes trees too much, that his revelations about trees are not all that new, at least not to tree experts. No matter. They were wondrous to me, unlocking a hidden world where trees “talk” to each other, “care” for each other, and have lives that stretch over centuries and generations.





Web Sites

The wealth of information (and disinformation) about the environment is daunting. But a handful of sites will reward any photographer searching for stories to tell, and unlock further explorations.

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Ensia is an independent, nonprofit magazine presenting new perspectives on environmental challenges and solutions to a global audience. They cover a broad spectrum of issues and ideas at the crossroads of different sectors, disciplines, ideologies and geographies. Their mission is to share stories and ignite conversations that motivate and empower people to create a more sustainable future in a world in which people and the planet thrive. Ensia is published with support from the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota.

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Big Picture Agriculture

This site covers U.S. and global trends and developments in agriculture, food, and farming. Since Kay McDonald began writing Big Picture Agriculture in 2009 the site has become a staple for everyone who covers the monument scale and impact of agriculture on our planet. Her writing has appeared in the NYT's,, Yale E360, Business Insider, Naked Capitalism, and Seeking Alpha. She grew up on a farm in the Midwest which practiced rotational grazing and is a trained health professional, an artist, and an avid gardener. For a one woman band this site is amazing.

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Extreme Ice Survey

Founded in 2007 by James Balog, the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) is an innovative, long-term photography program that integrates art and science to give a “visual voice” to the planet’s changing ecosystems. We believe that the creative integration of art and science can shape public perception and inspire action more effectively than either art or science can do alone.