Gabby Salazar, a nature photographer born and raised in North Carolina but now living in Florida, will receive NANPA’s Emerging Photographer Award during the Nature Photography Virtual Summit April 29-30. Gabby is no stranger to NANPA, having joined at age 14. She was later a recipient of a NANPA High School Scholarship and participated in that week-long immersive nature photography experience. Still later, she served as NANPA president from July 2014 to July 2015, has served on the board of directors and in various other capacities.
Gabby’s photography accomplishments began at age 11, when she received her first camera. Since then, she’s won Nature’s Best Photography Youth Category (2002), been named BBC Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year (2004), and was named an Associate Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers. She’s traveled the world working in photography projects, including a months-long project in Peru funded by a Fulbright Grant and a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant. Her photographs have been displayed in many prestigious venues and she is a frequent speaker In between, she somehow found the time to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Science and Society from Brown University, a Master’s Degree in Conservation Science from Imperial College London and is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation.
“My research looks at people’s perceptions of environmental images, including images of nature, and how those perceptions link to actions.” Gabby told us. “For example, are people more likely to donate to conservation after seeing a picture of a turtle caught in a fishing net or a turtle swimming free in the ocean?”
She told us that one of the most challenging aspects of her career to date has been “being a witness to some of the environmental problems that our world is facing has been the most challenging part of my career. I have been fortunate to witness incredibly beautiful moments in nature, but I have also seen deforestation, coral bleaching, and wildlife trafficking firsthand. Having directly observed these problems, I feel a sense of responsibility and want to help.”
The awards committee noted that a central theme in Gabby Salazar’s life and work has been connecting people to the natural world. “I am excited about the potential for nature photography to be a bridge between people, technology, and the natural world. As we become more connected to technology, we often become more disconnected from nature. However, cameras (including smartphones) have the potential to build connections between people and nature. They can also build environmental literacy by helping us identify the species we are seeing and photographing. Apps like iNaturalist can also help with this!”
“I think nature photography is going to become even more popular” she continued. “The pandemic has forced many people to slow down and to explore natural areas near their homes. I see more and more people outside with binoculars and cameras. If people make a habit of going outside more regularly, I expect that trend will continue.”
While known as a nature and conservation photographer, Gabby is also a serious cook. “I love to cook and bake” she said. “I spend a lot of my spare time reading cookbooks and trying out challenging recipes. I also collect cookbooks from around the world when I travel.”
In many ways, nature photography is a tough but rewarding career. “In addition to being a solitary profession, nature photography is also an increasingly difficult profession to make a living at,” she observed. “It’s so important to have a community of peers and mentors that can provide support, engage in collaborations, and share business leads. I often recommend my friends for speaking events and for jobs and I know they often do the same for me. We also encourage each other to apply for grants and to enter contests. Sometimes you need that little extra push to make sure you put yourself and your work out there.”
Building that community of peers began almost as soon as Gabby joined NANPA as a teenager. “I was hooked right away and have been involved ever since. NANPA has introduced me to so many lifelong friends. It has also provided lots of artistic and professional inspiration over the years. Some of the presentations I have seen at summits shaped my interest in conservation photography and influenced my career path, including presentations by Tim Laman, Christian Ziegler, and Michael “Nick” Nichols.”
What’s next for Gabby?
“While I’m in the middle of this degree, I have less time to make my own images, but I am planning some projects for the future,” she said. “As I have time, I’m working on a long-term project on cloud forest conservation. Tropical montane forests and the species that inhabit them are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they exist in a narrow elevational range on mountains. I’m interested in documenting the unique species that call these forests home, as well as the scientific studies that are documenting how they are changing. I also just love the beauty of these mist-laden ecosystems – they are overflowing with orchids, lichens, and many colorful birds.”
More about Gabby Salazar
Gabby was a guest on a terrific episode of The Nature Photographer podcast on Wild and Exposed.
About the award
The Emerging Photographer Award (formerly NANPA Vision Award) is given to an emerging photographer in recognition of excellence and serves to encourage continuation of vision and inspiration to others in nature photography, conservation, and education. In addition to outstanding work, within the past five years, the photographer must have achieved growth in his/her “significant presence” within the nature photography industry, regionally or nationally.