Environmental Documentary Captures the Gamut of Our Climate-Conscious Times

Our first motion trend of the year doesn’t shy away from the changes around us, and neither do these artists.

Image source: Maridav / Adobe Stock.

2019 might mark the year history remembers as a turning point in how we collectively think about climate change.

The Youth Climate Strike, where close to 4 million teenagers skipped school to demand immediate action, is by some measures the largest mass protest about global warming in history. Institutions from the University of California to BlackRock started divesting from fossil fuels. In the penultimate month of the year, the Oxford Dictionary marked “climate emergency” as its word of the year. And in a world increasingly lived online, engagements on social media on climate topics doubled in 2019.

This organic, people-centric swell of interest is making its mark on visual culture, which is one reason why Adobe Stock has named Environmental Documentary the first motion trend of 2020. Scientists, documentarians, cinematographers, activists, and artists are all finding ways to use moving image to capture how we’re dealing with climate change. On social media and in traditional publications, Gen Z and millennials have repeatedly discussed the impact climate change has — and will continue to have — on their lives and their future.

“It really comes down to this: as a social and cultural issue the environment is particularly strong with younger audiences,” says Dennis Radeke, content development manager at Adobe Stock. “This issue is speaking to us across generations, across the political landscape, and across countries.”

Image source: Martinharvey17 / Adobe Stock.

Unsurprisingly, this boundary-crossing trend comes from across the globe — with cinematographers like Martin Harvey documenting African farmers using digital technology to tackle irrigation and Rick Ray capturing the devastation of the California Wildfires.

Image source: Rick Ray / Adobe Stock.

The wave of Environmental Documentary also crosses the divide between more polished work and DIY image-making: at Adobe Stock, our collection includes work not only from professionals equipped with 4K video capturing drones, but artists with the latest GoPro or even journalists or activists equipped with whatever they have at hand (like their phones).

Image source: Gabriel / Adobe Stock.

People across the world don’t only want to know about what’s going on around them — they actively want to be involved and make a difference.

“With the current election coming up in the United States in 2020, it’s a very important topic,” says Tom Spota, head of motion and audio at Adobe Stock. “It means a lot to millions of people, and people want to see change.”

While it’s always been popular to document our planet, there’s a hunger for images and content that actively captures people involved with making a difference. Tom points out that this trend “shows people volunteering to help the environment and make the world a better place: people recycling, using electric vehicles, solar panels, wind energy, and so on. It can also show ‘green’ buildings and communities — sustainable lifestyles in general and people trying to reduce their carbon footprint.”

It’s this wide-ranging, deeply engaged, and human-focused approach that defines Environmental Documentary. While a traditional nature video might convey the impression that the coral reefs are a vibrant, colorful ecosystem, Environmental Documentary reckons with the fact that they’re also polluted with plastic. But while Environmental Documentary shows us catastrophic change around us, it also highlights the visionaries who are leading the way to meet this threat, such as passionate eco-volunteers cleaning up trash. Artists who create these kinds of videos combine the naturalist’s love of our planet with an environmentalist’s zeal for protecting it. They create work that grapples with our impact as a species and challenges us to consider our place in an unstable harmony.

Image source: Redbred / Adobe Stock.

One particularly popular element of this trend are people documenting anything related to clean or renewable energy, from graceful wind turbines to vast fields of solar panels,.

“A lot of our aerial cinematographers really concentrate very strongly on things that pertain to energy,” says Dennis. “[Drone imagery] lends itself directly to this subject matter. Things like solar farms or wind turbines are commonly shot from a number of perspectives.”

Within its first month, 2020 is already off to record-breaking heat,. During summer, the Olympics will bring countries, some of which are tackling climate change and others stubbornly ignoring it, together in dialogue. Before the end of the year, the U.S. election will decide what direction the world’s largest economy takes over the next four years, one-third of the 12 years the U.N. estimates we have to avert severe repercussions from global warming.

Our need to examine our changing environment visually will only grow. It will be artists and creatives who help us see beyond headlines and studies and connect us with people and their environments. They will be there to capture fleeting ecosystems before they’re gone and highlight the visionaries who might lead the way toward a greener future.

Check out our curated Environmental Documentary gallery on Adobe Stock.