In his talk during the National Geographic Seminar on January 14, Louis Psihoyos, the photographer, filmmaker and conservation advocate, urged photojournalists and nature photographers in the audience to reach beyond magazine readers and look for new, ambitious ways to get their message in front of a wider audience. Psihoyos’s film Racing Extinction has been shown in theaters, online and on the Discovery Network in more than 200 countries, and a light show he curated—featuring images of endangered species by several wildlife photographers—that has been projected onto the Empire State Building and the Vatican has been seen by billions in person and online, he said. By spreading a message through a variety of media, “you can continue the conversation,” he explained. Attitudes and behavior change, he said, when you persuade “10 to 15 percent” of the population: “To me, it’s about reaching a tipping point.”
Psihoyos echoed themes that were raised throughout the day-long National Geographic Seminar, about the need to find ways to reach new audiences as magazine readership shrinks. Speakers included emerging photographers who are building online audiences or are exploring new styles of documentary storytelling.
When he shot for National Geographic in the 1980s, Psihoyos said, “It had circulation of 11 million and we said four people saw each issues passed along.” National Geographic’s current rate base for 2016, according to its media kit, is based on a readership of 3.1 million.
He has long been an optimist about photography’s ability to stir action. The first newspaper that hired him required its photographers to shoot a weekly column that showcased an animal at the local shelter that would be euthanized if it was not adopted. “I loved doing pet of the week because all my cats and dogs got saved. I loved doing it because I could see the power of an image to save the life of another creature.”