Sophomore Seminars

Photographing Nature

MI 70Q
Prerequisites: 
Willingness to participate in the Saturday morning field trips.

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.

Motivated by a series of weekly photographic assignments, students will pursue in-depth investigations of specific aspects of the natural world. Assignments will have a photographic, an oral, and a written component. There will be ample opportunity for in-class critique and discussion. 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.

Field trips will make use of the abundance of local areas that preserve and/or showcase nature, such as Jasper Ridge, Año Nuevo, the Stanford Dish, Felt Lake, the Palo Alto Baylands, San Bruno Mountain, the regional park system, and several world-class botanical gardens.

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

Meet the Instructor(s)

Robert Siegel

Robert Siegel is a professor at Stanford with appointments in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, the Program in Human Biology, the Center for African Studies, and the Woods Institute for the Environment. His 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 ASSU Teaching Award and the Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching.