Sophomore Seminars

Photographing Nature

MI 70Q

Photography is playing an ever-expanding role in our lives. This is the first time in history when virtually every person carries a photographic imaging device with them almost 100% of the time, usually in the form of a phone, but also in the form of convenient point and shoot cameras, and even versatile DSLRs. We might think of this as “the democratization of photography”.

This course will use the idiom of photography to learn about nature, to enhance observation, and to serve as a nucleation point for exploring scientific concepts. The course builds on Eadweard J. Muybridge's pioneering photographic work on human and animal locomotion—work funded by Leland Stanford. A second goal will be to explore aspects of the grammar, syntax, composition, and style of nature photography and how these features can be used to enhance scientific communication. Course themes to be explored include habitat preservation; species diversity; survival and reproductive strategies; ecological niches and co-evolution; predator-prey relationships; open-space management; weather and climate; photo manipulation; and the physics of photography.

Be prepared to spend a portion of each week "getting outside and engaging with nature".

Motivated by a series of weekly photographic field assignments, students will pursue in-depth investigations of specific aspects of the natural world. These investigations will have a photographic, an oral, and a written component. Virtual class sessions will be devoted to student presentations, topic discussions, and photo critique. We will also have didactic presentations by Professor Siegel and other experts on principles of nature photography. At the end of the quarter, students will assemble all course assignments into a final dossier/portfolio.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Robert Siegel

Robert Siegel is a professor at Stanford in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.  He has secondary appointments in the Center for African Studies, the Master of Liberal Arts Program, the Program in Human Biology, and the Woods Institute for the Environment. Bob’s courses focus on virology and infectious disease, genetics and molecular biology, biogeography and ecology, Darwin and evolution, and photography. He is a docent at Jasper Ridge and Año Nuevo State Park. Professor Siegel is the recipient of numerous teaching and advising awards including the Northern California Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award, the ASSU Teaching Award, the Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching.