This week's post was written by my friend Leonardo Ramos! Leo is a pro wildlife photographer turned science communicator, but he wasn't always interested in science or nature. Read on to see how nature photography changed Leo's life.
Science has a way of making heads turn away. The more complex it gets, the more abstract it becomes. And if you’re not constantly putting effort into working out the fine intricacies of it all, you might just get too overwhelmed to commit any interest to it.
When I was very young, I didn’t like science. To me, it was all boring stuff from school. Meaningless words to be memorized and written on homeworks and tests. My school kept throwing environmentalism-related assignments at me, but that only made me hate it even more. I didn’t really grasp the meaning of it, I just knew that it was getting in the way of me playing with my friends and watching TV.
I did, however, like to say I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. An astronaut being a person who puts on a cool suit and looks at cool stuff outside Earth – nothing remotely science-related. I had lots of books with breathtaking pictures from space, and I would stare at them endlessly. Those images, for me, didn’t have science written all over them, they didn’t put up that barrier – without me knowing, they were teaching me the most valuable concept of science: the awe and drive to seek understanding of it all.
A few years later, my parents would be constantly trying to take me on hiking trips, but all I saw around me was boring bush and cold water. I would much rather stay home playing my GameBoy. It wasn’t until my father gave me a camera that I actually saw what I was looking at. It began as a way for us to spend our weekends together; he is a photographer, and was teaching me to take photos. I remember the first time I travelled with him being actually into photography: it was a hike in the bush like many others, but this time it was like nature was speaking to me. That experience, and the ones that followed it, cultivated my interest in science from a not-so-conventional angle. I developed a deep admiration and respect for nature... to the point of me ending up as a science communicator and a professional nature and wildlife photographer.
That said, I believe there are two aspects to photography that arguably put it one step ahead of any other means of communicating science.
The first is that it conveys a message much more instantly to whoever sees it. While such messages may not be as verbally complete and elaborate as, say, one from a documentary, one needs not sit through its first seconds or minutes to figure out what it is about and whether its attractive and worthy of attention. That is still true even when we confront photography with posters, visual graphics and other still images. That is because, in most of these, the very display of science-related signs can become a barrier to those predisposed to not care, ultimately making it fall on deaf ears.
Photography may, through a kid’s book or an Instagram post, find its way to someone who never cared about science (or what it really stands for) at all. It could very well be the starting point of a journey of discoveries. It might just bring about that same feeling of awe and interest that the space pictures brought in me when I was a kid. The care for nature is a prerequisite for any action towards preserving it – and, as the proverbial saying goes, “what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t feel.” The picture of a majestic jaguar or a breathtaking landscape on your news feed may tell you what no book ever could: look at how amazingly beautiful this is! It exists, it’s out there! A good photo will not only say that to your brain, but also to your heart.
Which brings us to the second advantage of photography: anyone can be a photographer. A smartphone is all it takes to bring out the interest of making images in anyone… and, as the latest advertisements for Apple’s iPhone show, one is not at all limited by it when it comes to creating beautiful pictures. The popularity of nature photography throughout social media networks encourages novices to go out and give photography a go – I’ve had so many people telling me “I just bought a camera and I want to learn how to use it for my next trip!”.
We live in an an era of images: we have never communicated so much through them as we do today. If there was ever a time to rely on photography to communicate science and inspire environmental preservation, that time starts now.
At the end of the day, as a photographer and science communicator, I consider it a job well done if my images serve the purpose of ever so slightly changing one’s perception of science, or what it stands for. After all, science is not the numbers. It is the awe and the curiosity behind them, that ultimately give them reason.