About » Frequently Asked Questions
How did you become a science and conservation photographer?
When I started working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) as a research associate, I was also an avid amateur photographer. My first oceanography cruise for WHOI, in the summer of 2001, was a month aboard the research vessel Oceanus studying the waters east of Greenland. As a science watchstander, my job was to wrangle instruments over the side of the ship and plot the resulting data. When I wasn’t on watch, I indulged my passion for photography. But it wasn’t the photographs of pilot whales and icebergs that caught the Chief Scientist’s eye—it was the photographs of people working aboard the ship. I captured candid moments of people working on deck, analyzing water samples, and playing cards. When I returned home from the expedition, the photographs were used in calendars, annual reports, and presentations. In the following years, my career gradually transitioned from doing science to documenting it. To date, I have photographed over 40 scientific expeditions, with more than half of them to the polar regions.
Why do you focus on science stories?
Scientists are expected to communicate their findings to fellow scientists through peer-reviewed journal articles and conferences. As they progress in their careers, they develop a technical language that allows them to communicate among themselves quickly. The unavoidable drawback to this approach is that the lay public loses touch with both science and scientists. That’s where I come in. As a former scientist, I understand the jargon. But I have also developed the skills to translate science into visual stories. Every time I go on a science expedition, I think: everybody should have a chance to experience this! That is why I have dedicated my life to telling science stories. Scientists are my heroes, and I want them to be yours too.
Where is your favorite place to photograph?
I have ice in my veins, and I’m happiest in the polar regions. There is something sublime and magical about the light, particularly in the springtime. The air is so pure, almost crystalline. I’ve watched the sun set, only to see it rise a few minutes later. I’ve watched green and pink waves of Aurora rippling through the sky for hours. It never gets old—the Arctic and Antarctic will always be my favorite places to photograph.
How do I take better photographs?
Photograph what you feel passionate about. For me, that's environmental science. It drives me, and keeps me focused, excited, and hopeful in this competitive market. After you find your muse, develop a body of work that is truly unique. This can take years of honing your craft--both your technique and your eye. Study the works of photographers, painters, poets, musicians, and filmmakers you admire. What is it about a particular work of art that inspires you? Lastly, never give up. The photography business requires a tough skin--be prepared for a lot of rejection. Try not to take it personally--instead, learn from each rejection and use that knowledge to improve yourself and your art.
Can I assist you on an assignment?
Regrettably, due to the nature of my (mainly) polar work, the limitation of travel cost and space mean that I usually work solo. However, I do partner frequently with professional science writers and educators on projects with a daily blog component.
What kind of camera do you use?
To see what I carry in my camera bag, click here.
I have more questions!
Read some of my recent interviews, listed below, or contact me.
- February 11, 2014 - my work photographing polar science is featured in an interview with Jaymi Heimbuch on Mother Nature Network: Can photos of ice help translate the science of climate change?
- December 1, 2013 - Featured Photographer of the Month, International League of Conservation Photographers
- February 20, 2013 - Photographer shoots research in progress interview article by Peter Dunn in MIT Technology Review magazine
- April 01, 2012 - interview about my work documenting polar science featured in the April issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine
- January 27, 2012 - Peter Rejcek from the Antarctic Sun writes about my work in his article Embedded with Scientists