Harness Your Passion to Help Others

Posted May. 20th, 2019 by Daniel J. Cox

I recently had to pull out all the stops to help some friends of mine with a big mission. This all falls under the heading of harnessing your passion to help others. The Owl Research Institute (ORI) was in need of a promotional video to help them raise money for their Snowy Owl Project. The great thing

do something you love to help others
Me and Denver Holt in a field working on his snowy owl project. Alaska

about protecting an apex predator is the idea that if you save the predator, many other creatures will also benefit. It’s a passion to help others that drives my photography today.

A gorgeous female snowy owl coming into nest site. Alaska

Last week I received an email from Liberty at ORI. She wanted to know if I had any video footage to help tell the story of ORI’s CEO and lead field biologist, Denver Holt, and his work with snowy owls.

I had been sitting on some great interview footage as well as exciting field work for about four years. With that, my work began. The video above is a short piece I did for ORI to help them raise money for the Snowy Owl Project. To donate, please visit https://www.owlresearchinstitute.org.

A bit of history

I’ve known Denver Holt since the early 90’s. I first contacted him to inquire about the best procedures to photograph a great gray owl nest near my home in Montana. I wanted to make sure I did things in a way that would not bother the female on the nest. As always with anything I photograph, the safety of the animal is my first priority. The old adage of obtaining a picture at any cost, is no longer acceptable.

harness your passion to help others
Me putting up a tree blind to photograph great gray owls. Montana

My passion for the great grays is what paved the way for a benificial working relationship with Denver. I followed his advice to the letter and captured some amazing footage of these beautiful birds.

A mother great gray owl with her four chicks in an old ferocious hawk nest. Montana

I sent Denver lots of great photos after my project was finished. He speaks to groups all over the country and pictures are immensely helpful. He’s a firm believer in not just getting quality, long-term field data, but also making sure that data gets out to the public to gain their support. He’s one of the very few biologists who runs a nonprofit and yet still spends time with his subjects collecting data.

harness your passion to help others
Denver Holt on stage at the Ellen Theatre in Bozeman, MT doing his owl gig.

There’s no longer any money in wildlife photography. That’s a good thing.

It’s no longer possible to make a living at wildlife and nature photography, and if you’re reading this hoping to find a way, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s no longer possible. And that’s a good thing. Back in the heyday of wildlife photography, there were photographers doing things that weren’t always in the best interest of the subjects they were photographing.

harness your passion to help others
Steve Amstrup and Geoff York, USGS biologists, taking field data from an immobilized large male polar bear (Ursus maritimus). Kaktovik, Alaska

With the money gone from the industry, those of us who still do it, do so for reasons other than cash. For me, it’s a desire to inspire others to understand and support the animals I photograph. Equally important is bringing attention to the people who’ve dedicated their lives to the science of nature. And finally, telling these stories is helpful for saving an animal’s habitat, which benefits all wildlife and people who enjoy the outdoors. It’s definitely a win-win for all involved in conservation.

harness your passion to help others
Dr. Steven Amstrup darts a female polar bear on the Beaufort Sea, Alaska.

How you can do the same

Finding your niche is not always easy. It starts with knowing what makes you want to get out of bed in the morning and for me, it was wildlife and the outdoors. Maybe for you, it would be a local nonprofit for dogs. Or maybe there’s a scientist or biologist in your area who is trying to save a local marsh. Finding something that revolves around a personal passion is good for you and good for the nonprofit.

Mute swan taking off from the waters of the St. Croix River in Wisconsin. This was an image I shot almost 40 years ago. I gave this and other images to a local researcher for his outreach work.

Therefore, over the years, I decided to focus on two nonprofits that were important to me and I to them. Those two are Polar Bears International and the Owl Research Institute. Neither of them has paid for any of my pictures. My loyalty and dedication to them have given me tremendous access to things and places I could never have done on my own.

Others may actually still pay for pictures, but I’m not sure anymore. Back when I was chasing them, their rates were so low it was almost impossible to make a living. One publication, Alaska Magazine, no longer pays for photographs. If you want them to publish your work, it’s now all gratis.

Concluding with that bit of disappointing news, you now know why finding your passion is so important. Wildlife and nature photography is a labor of love, but thankfully it’s one I still enjoy immensely. You too can find your niche if you search hard enough to do something you love to help others.

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There are 3 comments on this post…
  1. Louis BerkOn May. 22nd, 2019


    A trademark great article from you with fantastic photographs. Thanks for sharing and I take on board your philosophy of helping wildlife organisations. My wife and I support a fox rescue organisation here in London (England) which may seem a little odd to some but having foxes visit our garden and being close to a wild creature like that is in a way a privilege. With wildlife under the greatest threat ever in the living history of our planet (since the asteroids wiped out the dinosaurs!) we all need to make a contribution to protecting our local species where we can. Thanks again for reminding us of that.


    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 22nd, 2019

      Thanks for the kind words Louis. Red fox are one of my favorite critters.

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