Lana Tannir: On Conservation Stories and Arctic Wilderness

Lana Tannir

Lana Tannir is a National Geographic published nature photographer and science storyteller based in Germany. Her photographs encapsulate stories of conservation, biodiversity and the intersection of humans with nature.

As a World Animal Protection and Girls Who Click ambassador, she focuses on challenging environments and remote Arctic regions to unveil the last wild places on Earth.

A frequent contributor to Nature TTL, we caught up with Lana to talk about the power of conservation photography, photographing in the remote Arctic, and more!

We love your body of work and it’s been great to watch you grow as an up-and-coming woman in photography. Was there a major moment that encouraged you to keep pursuing photography as a profession?

Since childhood, my affinity for wildlife and nature has been a driving force in my life. Whether learning about diverse species, observing them in their habitats, or rescuing injured animals, my connection to the natural world has always been profound.

Reflecting on my journey thus far, I pinpoint two pivotal moments that ignited my passion for photography and compelled me to persevere in the face of diverse challenges.

The first transformative experience occurred during my teenage years when I immersed myself in Philipp Pullman’s book “His Dark Materials.” This captivating tale ignited a desire within me to explore remote Arctic destinations and witness the enchanting Northern Lights firsthand.

Inspired by the book’s imagery, at age 24, I embarked on my inaugural trip to Lapland, braving the frigid temperatures of -30 degrees Celsius to capture the ethereal beauty of the Aurora borealis with my camera.

The second defining moment crystallized when I realized the power of storytelling through photography. My journey to Finland resulted in one of my earliest publications—a feature in the Telegraph.

Though seemingly a modest achievement, it underscored the profound impact that stories I am passionate about can have.

This revelation has become my guiding principle, propelling me forward in my photographic endeavors with an unwavering commitment to capturing narratives that resonate deeply with me

As an internationally published conservation photographer, how do you find stories to photograph, and what element in a story inspires you to photograph it?

My journey in uncovering conservation stories has been anything but linear. Often, these narratives reveal themselves to me unexpectedly during my travels, sparked by a singular moment, an unusual observation, or a simple question.

lana tannir interview

Remaining curious, forging connections with locals, asking questions, collaborating with scientists, and cultivating a keen sensitivity to my surroundings have all played pivotal roles in unearthing unique perspectives on conservation issues.

My photography primarily focuses on shedding light on lesser-known species and local concerns. As someone inclined toward solutions, I am driven by the potential to address these challenges, instill hope, and ignite action through my storytelling.

Even when tackling particularly daunting subjects, this aspiration to effect positive change continues to fuel my passion behind the lens.

You are known for your captivating images of remote Arctic regions – what is it that keeps you drawn to these areas?

Since my first visit in 2012, I have been entranced by the Arctic’s stark contrasts. To me, it embodies both grace and fragility, resilience and ruthlessness. Here, amidst the harshest conditions, emerges the most captivating beauty.

Survival in this unforgiving landscape is a formidable challenge, yet breathtaking species not only endure but flourish, employing remarkable survival techniques on the ice.

lana tanner arctic fox

Another magnetic aspect of the Arctic is its remote allure. In an era where untouched wilderness is increasingly scarce, discovering places devoid of human presence is a rarity.

The Arctic and Antarctic remain relatively pristine with scarce human habitation. Moreover, within its sparsely populated expanse, a deep sense of community, togetherness, and reverence for nature still thrives, making it a sanctuary where such connections are truly cherished.

How do you come up with new ideas and compositions for your wildlife photography?

The rapid evolution of photography technology has opened up a world of endless learning and creative exploration.

In addition to embracing tools like camera traps, underwater housing, photo hides, and a remote studio to push the boundaries of my work, I continue working with mentors to hone my craft and improve my storytelling abilities.

Drawing inspiration from diverse sources, including studying classical paintings in galleries and immersing myself in the work of fellow photographers, fuels my creative process.

Ultimately, every element incorporated into my conservation photography serves the overarching goal of storytelling.

Sometimes, the simplest ideas prove to be the most effective in conveying powerful narratives.

You work alongside biologists and conservation organisations to capture some of your photo stories. Why, in your opinion, is photography so powerful in story-telling and conservation as a whole?

Visual imagery possesses a unique ability to surpass boundaries imposed by other mediums. An image speaks for itself, transcending language barriers and resonating across cultures, locations, and ages.

This innate power of photography to evoke the senses and communicate universally underscores its essential role in storytelling and conservation efforts.

Lana Tannir seal

In the realm of science, bridging the gap between complex research and public understanding presents a significant challenge.

Conservation photography serves as a vital intermediary, translating and visualizing issues for individuals outside the scientific community.

A single image has the potential to ignite curiosity, evoke compassion, and spur action on behalf of species and environmental concerns that may have previously gone unnoticed.

As a judge for Nature TTL’s Photographer of the Year award, what elements do you look for that really help an image stand out?

Foremost, I ensure that the photograph meets the submission criteria. For instance, if the photographer enters a wildlife portrait category, a distant depiction of the species within its environment may not align with the criteria.

Upon confirming the technical aspects such as image quality and composition, I then assess the image’s creative components.

In my view, exceptional images are distinguished by elements such as emotion, atmosphere, uniqueness, and surprise.

Regarding emotion and atmosphere, I seek photographs that engage my senses through evocative lighting, color, composition, and action, drawing me into the moment.

As for uniqueness and surprise, I examine how the photographer presents a particular species. If the image offers new insights into the animal or showcases it from a fresh perspective, it effectively communicates the species’ narrative and piques my curiosity.

If you had to choose one image from your nature photography, which do you feel has had the most impact and why?

In 2020, I embarked on a photography series shedding light on the alarming issue of marine plastic pollution in gannet nests on a remote island in northern Germany. Having previously been unaware of the problem, I was startled to discover its prevalence in my homeland.

The gravity of the situation became apparent when I learned that approximately 14 gannets perished per day due to entanglement and strangulation in marine waste. Determined to take action, I set out to document the issue firsthand.

lana tannir nesting gannet plastic

The narrative of northern gannets and marine plastic swiftly garnered attention. Notably, my series was featured in the German National Geographic magazine in 2021, while one of the images was commended at the International Photography Awards, amplifying global awareness of the issue.

Looking back, I believe the image capturing a gannet chick and its parent amidst a nest filled with marine plastic speaks volumes about our responsibility to protect other species that share our planet.

Beyond highlighting the anthropogenic impacts on gannet family structures, this photograph serves as a poignant reminder that global concerns can swiftly also become local crises.

How important is post-production in your image workflow?

As a photographer dedicated to sharing stories of natural history for conservation purposes, I approach editing with the goal of preserving the authenticity of the image, while accentuating the essence of the moment.

lana tanner arctic photography

In post-production, my focus is on highlighting the key elements of the story while retaining the atmosphere captured in the original image.

I prefer to keep editing to a minimum, primarily utilizing adjustments for contrast, saturation, highlights, shadows, color balance, and vignetting. My primary editing tools include Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom.

As an advocate for women in photography, what advice would you give to young women who want to break into photography?

Photography is one of the most challenging, but also one of the most rewarding, careers that you can pursue. It allows you to discover new topics, learn about different cultures, tell unique stories, and make an impact.

The most important aspect of breaking into photography is to remain engaged and follow your curiosity. Photographing a topic that you are passionate about will allow you to capture it more intimately than anyone else. 

Educating yourself further is equally important. Keep learning new skills from mentors and workshops. Join communities that will support you in growing your network and developing your know-how. Listen to critiques and lean into failure.

Lastly, do not let anyone dissuade you from pursuing a calling that allows you to inspire others.

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