Sciencetelling Bootcamp: Communicating Science Through Photography

Natural history photographer Anand Varma led today’s photography workshop at the National Geographic Sciencetelling Bootcamp in the Galapagos.

“My goal is to empower scientists and conservationists to tell their own stories using photography, because photography is one of the most powerful ways to communicate science,” Varma, a National Geographic Young Explorer, explained in an interview. “It should be the practitioners, the people on the ground doing the work, that should have the ability to do that, rather than always relying on people like me to translate their work for them.”

Varma pursued his boyhood dream to become a biologist, but switched gears to pursue his interest in natural history via photography after working as an assistant to National Geographic photographer David Liittschwager. His photography has been featured in National Geographic, including on the cover of the magazine. Several more features are in the works.

“I came from a biology background, from training designed to help me see the world carefully, and be meticulous in how I report my observations, and how I analyze those observations,” he said during the lunch break at the Charles Darwin Research Station today. “It’s always been learning about natural history that’s been a driver for me. It happens to be that I found a path through photography, so that I could do that in a way that gives me more flexibility and allows me to ask further questions. Photography for me is a more exciting and dynamic way of exploring the natural world than a traditional academic career.”


What Varma sees, that perhaps scientists don’t see, is a better idea of how science is perceived by the general public, and also how science stories can become a little distorted or exaggerated or manipulated in public media. “I feel like I’m in a position to perhaps compensate for that by having more of a scientific training, but also having an idea of what it takes to get somebody’s attention,” he explained. “And perhaps I also see the possible risks of trying to make something compelling by potentially emphasizing the wrong part in the hope of getting eyeballs on a story.”

Varma is sharing these insights and his expertise in communicating science through photography with some two dozen conservationists and scientists participating in the National Geographic Sciencetelling™ Bootcamp in the Galapagos this week. With financial support from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Bootcamp is an intense, hands-on, workshop that focuses on a core curriculum of photography, videography, public speaking, social media, and writing. It is created for scientists and conservationists to elevate their work for greater impact.


In the day-long session on photography, Varma offered participants three locations to explore in or around the Charles Darwin Research Station, including a giant tortoise breeding center and adjacent beaches teeming with iguanas and other marine wildlife. The assignment was to go out for two hours and report back with 3-5 images that illutrated different aspects of a single story.

The following images illustrate some of the options available to Bootcamp participants. All photos in or around the Charles Darwin Research Center by David Braun.







Changing Planet


Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn