Montana-based nature and conservation photographer Daniel Cox will receive a NANPA Fellow Award during the 2021 Nature Photography Virtual Summit, April 29-30. Through a long career, he and his images have reached a wide audience through publications (including two National Geographic covers), exhibits, workshops, and presentations. He’s published more than 20 books is a member of the Explorers Club, and serves as an advisory board member of Polar Bears International and as director of their Arctic Documentary Project. He’s received awards in competitions such as BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Nature’s Best and NANPA’s 2013 Outstanding Nature Photographer of the Year Award. He and his wife, Tanya, lead photo tours at Natural Exposures.
Cox didn’t start out as a nature photographer. “Most who know me today would have no idea that I paid for my initial interest in photography through the income earned performing in a rock band in high school,” he said. “I was very fortunate to not have your normal high school job. I performed most weekends and made a good living doing something fun and exciting. However, my love for the outdoors and clean air pushed me ever further into the world of nature. I left the rock world behind in 1978.”
Over the course of his career, he’s seen a lot of changes in the business of nature photography. When he was starting out, one of the biggest surprises was the amount of time it took to become ‘established’ as a professional nature photographer. “And once that happened,” he said, all too quickly followed by “the disappointment and frustration of seeing the market completely implode.” Anyone who has been in the business for while has seen the sands shift under their feet, with traditional revenue streams drying up and new ones springing forth. “Thankfully there are enough related avenues to continue producing the work I love. But my dream of doing just natural history photography into my retirement years has been something I didn’t predict.”
With all of its challenges, he’s still excited about the future of nature photography. “Though the ability to make a living in the world of nature by producing still photography has evaporated, I honestly believe that taking the money out of natural history photography is a good thing. I’m hopeful that without a financial reward, the people producing the work will be doing it for the right reasons.”
The enhanced capabilities of new cameras, postprocessing applications, and other technologies continue to keep Cox interested and enthusiastic. “I’m also excited about technology and how we’re starting to see cameras and lenses that offer more magnification, are smaller and lighter, and less expensive to buy into. These newest lenses, specifically in the world of Micro Four Thirds, allow us to be further back from our subjects and still accomplish professional results. That’s good for the animals.”
“My future goal,” he says “is to continue the work I’ve been doing with two particular nonprofits I believe in. One is Polar Bear’s International and the other is the Owl Research Institute. All of my work for these two groups is on a pro bono basis. I believe in their missions enough to dedicate my time. It’s also an opportunity for me to do what I call my “serious work” which now involves not just my style of photography but video as well.”
Cox will be giving one of the keynote presentations at NANPA’s 2021 Virtual Nature Photography Summit. While the venue will be a bit different, the things that make Summit what it is will still be there. “One of the most enjoyable parts of the NANPA conference is seeing old friends,” he said. “The other benefit is getting a chance to see new camera gear and have a hands on experience with equipment most of us don’t get the chance to see or feel” (check out this year’s virtual exhibit hall). “It’s also exciting to experience the creativity to that goes into the many different keynotes and field programs. Meeting up with likeminded people is always inspiring.”
Almost as inspiring as Daniel Cox’s photos and career.