More than a pretty place: Power of photography saved Yosemite National Park

Whether paying homage to a natural wonder or bringing attention to various environmental causes, chances are, imagery plays a pivotal role.

Because of photography, we can see first-hand the melting glaciers in the Artic, the lush jungles of the Amazon, or the impact of an oil spill on wildlife. It’s these striking images that create awareness among the general population and have even helped changed policies.

“With beautiful shots, you get more appreciation and acceptance or excitement to go see a place.”

“The beauty of photography is that it evokes emotion—the desire to visit, or protect, or even give back. With devastating images like oil spills or vandalism, you get more passion and energy from people to do something. With beautiful shots, you get more appreciation and acceptance or excitement to go see a place. Both types of images are extremely powerful,” says Kari Cobb Public Affairs Specialist for Yosemite National Park.

Photography has actually had a significant influence on environmentalism and conservancy for years. One of the more noteworthy examples of this dates back to the 1860s when President Lincoln saw Carleton E. Watkins’ gorgeous photographs of Yosemite. The majestic beauty captured in these images made Lincoln realize it was a national treasure and needed to be protected. As a result he passed the Yosemite Grant, which prevented any commercial development in that area.

“Lincoln could tell just from photos that Yosemite was a place that should be protected and that it was special,” Cobb said. “I think that’s the first major milestone as far as photography goes for places like Yosemite.”

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Getty Images Vice President of the Hulton Archive Matthew Butson agrees.

“[This is]… probably one of the earliest examples of photography being used to change history,” he says. “The great thing about photography is that it has no borders, it’s an international language. In this case Carleton E. Watkins, I think, had a profound effect not only on a president but obviously on the environmental history of a nation. And that’s the power of photography.”

Thanks to Carleton E. Watkin’s photos, we still have the opportunity today to take pictures of Yosemite in its natural state. Some of the best examples are featured right here on iStock.

About author
An experienced writer, Alli studied journalism in college and has created content for several print and digital publications – including Getty Images and iStock by Getty Images, where she works on the content marketing team. When she’s not writing about photography, Alli loves to travel and is on a constant hunt for her next favorite restaurant.