Daniel Beltrá doesn't passively stand by with his cameras. Instead, he gets on airplanes with them. Little airplanes. He hikes through mosquito-infested jungles, too. Balances himself for a steady shot in dented aluminum canoes in the Amazon-in the rain. He's even braved Antarctica's icy waters in a pitching inflatable raft (more than once). And he does it all for the principle: that the resulting photographs might help transmit a message he hopes will reach the right ears, and maybe even make a difference-for all of us.
As one of Greenpeace's assignment photographers of choice, Beltrá has found his calling in life as well as in his career-and Greenpeace feels it has found someone it can trust to deliver gripping, telling images illustrating what's happening to our planet. Combining his passion for conservation with his photojournalistic skills, Beltrá's been able to create award-winning documentary photography that has appeared in untold numbers of magazines and newspapers worldwide (even in Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth)-and he says he's just getting started.
Working Toward Trust
While Beltrá, a native of Madrid now based in Seattle, made his bones as an accomplished photojournalist in Europe, it's his innate ability to understand and capture our ever-changing and endangered planet that convinced Greenpeace that he was the man for the job. About 90 percent of his working time is spent with Greenpeace, and he's thrilled to do it-and excited that it might help make a difference.
Though Beltrá's documentation of the environment began as volunteerism, his photographic accomplishments, offering stunning panoramics and eye-catching compositions, were quickly recognized. Greenpeace, which carefully chooses and hires professional freelancers for their skill as well as for their credibility and reputation, soon began requesting Beltrá regularly. "Before long, my employer wanted to know who precisely I was working for," Beltrá laughs. "I had to make a choice. I was spending so much vacation time on ships with Greenpeace, and it just felt right."
He describes his present life as one that's constantly on the move. "I spend a lot of time traveling, as you might imagine," Beltrá says. "It was a big change from my work with EFE in Spain and Gamma in Paris, but now I'm pursuing the stories I'm really interested in and passionate about-so I haven't looked back once."
What drives Beltrá to sidestep a career in mainstream photojournalistic shooting? "It's about doing something meaningful, with conservation in mind," Beltrá says. "Images of hunger, disasters, and war are extremely important but already covered by many photographers. Working on conservation issues is what's important for me. I'm grateful each and every day to be a part of a team of scientists, biologists, ship crews, pilots, guides, and other Greenpeace staff-we're a team, and it's great."
Beltrá was recently admitted as a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP; www.ilcp.com), a consortium of pro photographers with a commitment to conservation. The group's mission is to further environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography.
Have Camera, Will Travel
Beltrá describes an almost Zen-like approach to travel, and talks of the need for a serene mindset that prepares him for the journeys to come. He says he makes sure to relax before a trip, almost giving himself up to however things may work out. "I know I'm going to get to my destination eventually, but as the majority of my travels are to remote locations, there may be a few hiccups in the travel plans," he says. "From a good book to a loaded iPod, there's a lot of preparation."
Gearing up for a trip requires thoughtful planning and execution. "I have to rethink everything for specific trips, check everything twice, and be sure I've been thorough," he says. "Just the smallest mistake or oversight in packing can be a disaster."
The packing of his gear receives professional attention, and he's proud to say that his caution has proven rewarding. "Some photographers working in harsh environments go through lots of equipment," he explains. "I have to be careful with my gear and treat it well to make it last longer."
Beltrá may pack up to a dozen charged batteries for his digital SLRs, should he know there may be a lack of access to electricity at his destination. In the worst-case scenario, he and his team bring collapsible solar panels for power in the field-but usually there's at least a small generator in the remote village they're calling home base.