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Science and nature filmmaking: making a career of visual storytelling

Published on: Sep 26, 2019

After snatching a juvenile ocean sunfish from the waters of Monterey Bay, a hulky 200‐kg California sea lion swims straight up to our Zodiac, proudly shows off its catch, and pushes its whiskered snout into our camera lens. It's as if it actually wants us to document its superb hunting skills. From sea lions clambering aboard our boats to seabirds perching atop our cameras (Figure 1), science and nature filmmaking certainly has its quirks and perks. For any scientist interested in teaching the masses and sharing the wonders of the world, this line of work offers an immensely rewarding career.

Well‐told, visual stories are some of our most powerful teaching tools. Filmmakers can record disappearing species, chronicle rapid environmental changes, illustrate complex processes, and tap directly into our emotional centers to inspire learning and promote environmental stewardship. Stories provide us with shortcuts to test our “what‐ifs”, refine our behaviors, and, to paraphrase renowned philosopher Karl Popper, let our hypotheses die in our stead. As environmental challenges grow, the need for high‐quality science and nature films is more crucial than ever. Fortunately, with the bounty of new affordable filming equipment, online training, and available broadcast venues, we are entering a golden age for filmmaking.

To read the rest of this article in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, please click here.