I spent my childhood growing up and adventuring in the great outdoors. It’s in my soul. When I first picked up a camera I found myself drawn to make images of nature’s beauty. As I got started as a photographer, I thought of myself as a nature photographer. More specifically, I considered myself to be a landscape photographer. With time, I began to explore the more complex aspects of composition and found myself seeking out faraway, off the beaten path, remote nature adventures.
After moving to California in 1998 and discovering that the natural world was far more amazing than I had ever imagined, I doubled down on my efforts to bring the natural world into my life in every capacity possible. I decided that it was time to attend a post baccalaureate educational program to learn everything I could about how the natural world worked. From there, I volunteered for the National Park Service before being hired into a dream job at Point Reyes National Seashore where I got paid to go hiking… and tend to my duties as an assistant to the park’s head wildlife biologist. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to share the wonder of it all with the public and took a position at the California Academy of Science where I had the opportunity to help scientists present their research to the public.
It was while working at the Academy that I first had the opportunity to deploy photography as an engagement tool to help people reconnect with and explore the natural world. It started with the meetup group where I discovered that there were many photographers who were looking for an easy way to contribute their images to conservation. My path toward the field of conservation photography was underway. My students inspired me to do some research, and I discovered a wonderful tool called iNaturalist that met their needs perfectly. After piloting some programs through the meetup, I designed a program where my students could use iNaturalist to learn about the natural world while also contributing to conservation. This program became the seed of the Academy’s citizen science program and led to the Academy acquiring iNaturlaist aimed at helping anyone with a camera join educators and scientists in their effort to understand and protect the natural world.
In 2010, I decided to use the EcoSee platform to design what became the EcoSee International Nature Photography Competition. In 2011, I was able to convince the leadership at the Academy that the institution could use a photo competition like this to engage people all over the world in conversations about protecting at-risk wildlife and ecosystems. In 2012, I was granted the opportunity to put together an internal team to design the competition, and in 2013 we launched what is now recognized as one of the top photography competitions in the world.