Discover Joel Sartore’s one-man quest to document the world’s animals through photographs before they disappear
Joel Sartore is documenting every species in captivity for the National Geographic Photo Ark Project
The National Geographic Photo
Ark project has been over a decade in the making. I started photographing in my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska in an effort to raise awareness of and find solutions to some of the most pressing issues affecting wildlife and their habitats today. I aim to document every species in the world’s zoos and wildlife sanctuaries, which would inspire the public but also help save wildlife by supporting on-the-ground conservation efforts.
So far, I’ve visited 40 countries in my quest to create a photo archive of global biodiversity. The final book is 400 pages and includes 600 images. However, in the whole project I aim to feature around 12,000 species of birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. My hope is that once completed,
The Photo Ark will serve as an important record of each animal’s existence and a powerful testament to the importance of saving them.
So far, I’ve completed portraits of more than 7000 species. The final book showcases my favourite animal portraits: from tiny to mammoth, from the Florida grasshopper sparrow to the greater one-horned rhinoceros. Paired with the eloquent prose of wildlife writer Douglas Chadwick, this book presents a thought-provoking argument for saving all of earth’s species. It’s the eye contact that moves people. It engages their feelings of compassion and a desire to help. I led the photography for The Photo
Ark. It’s been a major, lifelong project of mine to make portraits of the world’s animals – especially those that are endangered. I wanted to convey a powerful message with humour, compassion and art: to know these animals is to save them. I don’t think you have to be published in national magazines to make a difference. Local photographers can have a tremendous impact in getting their viewers to think about what’s going on environmentally.
I started out in photography with a Nikon FM2 and was welcomed into the Nikon Ambassador Program in 2016. A typical field setup includes Nikon D4 and D3 bodies, and an array of Nikon lenses covering focal lengths from 14mm to 600mm. I also use teleconverters, Nikon SB-800/900 AF Speedlights, reflectors, a Gitzo tripod and a Wimberley head for larger lenses. In studio settings I ensure I’m equipped with a variety of background materials, stands, clamps and other accessories. In most cases, I use Photoshop only for basic ‘traditional darkroom’ functions like cropping, colour correcting and spotting out dust.
The Photo Ark started back in 2005, when my wife, Kathy, was diagnosed with breast cancer. My career as a National Geographic photographer came to an abrupt halt, as I stayed home to tend to her and our three children. It’s been more than 10 years since then, and Kathy is fine now, but that year at home gave me a new perspective on the shortness and fragility of life. I was 42 at the time and, as Kathy recovered, one question continued to haunt me: how can I get people to care that we could lose half of all species by the turn of the next century?
The Photo Ark is designed to teach everyone about our planet’s amazing biodiversity and foster a real connection to its wildlife. As well as the hardcover book, an interactive digital experience allows you to engage with
Photo Ark content on our website, explore animals in the collection and share information about endangered species with their social networks. You can also take part in our #SaveTogether campaign.
The Photo Ark is designed to teach people of all ages about our planet’s amazing biodiversity and foster a real connection to its wildlife