Happy World Photography Day 2020!

To celebrate World Photography Day, Capturing Ecology 2019 winner and ecology PhD student Sanne Govaert tells us about her experiences of ecology and photography.

Ecologists, start photographing now!

The most important goal in my life is to inspire and be inspired. Photography is a great way to achieve this, especially in ecology. We all know the saying  ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ and, more importantly, a powerful picture attracts attention. It is a great starting point for communicating your science. In other words: it is worth spending extra time creating an image that will really help convey your message.

Germinating seed of Anemone nemorosa, an early-spring flowering understorey plant of temperate forests. Germination of A. nemorosa is influenced by climate warming. Photo: Sanne Govaert

My passions for nature and photography have intermingled since I was a teenager. I loved spending time in the garden and observing the wild plants and animals. With one push of a button, I could immortalise that exact moment and share it with family and friends. I quickly learned that other people see the world differently from me. Thus my pictures became a way to show people the details and the beauty of nature. I hope it inspires them to protect nature and to change their lifestyles. After so many years, I still enjoy being emerged in such kinds of moments: just me, my camera, and all my focus on my photography subject.

Alpine marmot (Marmota marmota) passing a glacier in the Hohe Tauern, Austria. These big rodents are adapted to cold environments. As genetic variability is very low, this species likely will struggle to adapt to a warmer climate. Photo: Sanne Govaert

To be honest, I mainly take pictures during my free time, especially on holidays. Even while knowing the value of good pictures for science, I tend to end up with only few usable images. For example, my first published paper is all about forest edges. While I have taken a large amount of pictures of plants and even more of colleagues helping me out with field work, I apparently had no pictures of a forest edge at all! It sounds very silly and, indeed, it is. During fieldwork I was so busy working that I only allowed myself to take some fast snapshots. Even when working behind my desk, it is not easy to make time to photograph my study species or the experiment I am working on. While working, photography is never a priority, there is always more important work to do. So even for me there is still a lesson to learn: taking the time to take a photograph is worth your time!

Impression of Urtica dioca, an understorey plant very common when soil fertility is high, especially in nitrogen. Photo: Sanne Govaert

If you do not like photography, there is always a second option for using images to promote your science. That is, you can ask a hobby photographer for permission to use their image for your paper or science blog. If you do this, always mention the name of the photographer in the caption!  Most people would love to help out an ecologist. As a hobby photographer, I find it flattering when my image is displayed and used for a good cause.

It is difficult to portray raccoons (Procyon lotor) as the invasive, ecological threat that they are. They look too cute! Photo: Sanne Govaert

Sanne Govaert Forest & Nature Lab, Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University

You can find more of Sanne’s incredible photos on her Instagram page.

If you have been inspired, this year’s British Ecological Society Capturing Ecology competition is open for entries until 28 September 2020.

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