The photos behind 500 Women Scientists

Over the last 2 weeks 500 Women Scientists has grown from a small email chain to an international group of more than 10,000 women from 90 countries (and still growing). When we set up the website to share the pledge, we selected striking photos that symbolized our pledge and the scientific community. Since the letter and website were posted we have received many comments and questions about the photos (especially the purple flower). 

I did a short interview with the photographer behind the photos, Dr. Sarah K Wagner, to learn how she captures nature in a wonderful and unique way. 

Tell us about your photography, how long have you been taking photos? I've been taking photos for as long as my parents would let me use their cameras, but I started getting my own old, used cameras in high school. 

Many of your photos are taken on walks and hikes, why is that?  I am most at home and happy outside. Now that I am not doing field work, I find other ways to get out for hikes, trail runs, and birding. I enjoy the shift in my focus when I am actively seeking out beautiful or interesting things to share with the world. The process makes me more mindful and aware of natural history and little changes in the landscape. 

Many of your photos appear to be taken at weird and interesting angles. When you take photos, how do you approach the nature - wildlife, objects, the light? I try to think of ways to give people a different perspective on things and often that means I am crouched down with the camera nearly on the ground or in the water. I pretty much always rely on natural light, but I don't follow many traditional rules. 

You have traveled all over the world (Australia, South America, Souther Africa to name a few), what has been your favorite location to photograph? Sometimes I really like to take photos on trail runs because, perhaps most importantly, I get to take a break, but also I think my exercise induced happiness and gratitude shines through. Funny enough, my favorite place might be my parent's home in south east Kentucky because it is almost like another family member. I think there's something pretty special about getting to visit a place/habitat/bubble that shaped me. I find different things to capture on every visit. 

Finally, tell us about the now famous purple flower, what is it, where was this? I think this is a Smooth Blue Aster, (Symphyotrichum laeve) that I spotted in Banff National Park. It was quite a scene with the dramatic Canadian Rockies in the background and the blue water unique to areas with actual glaciers, but I wanted to capture the detail of this little flower on the shore. I like the layers of information. 

For more amazing photos, follow Sarah on Instagram @sarahkatherinewagner 

About Dr. Sarah WagnerSarah went to undergrad at Earlham College where she majored in Environmental Education and first became interested in studying ornithology. Before she went to graduate school, she spent a few years working on avian research projects all over the world. At the University of Colorado, Boulder, Sarah earned a master's and a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. During her PhD, she studied the foraging behavior of Australian Honeyeaters to explore how a species' natural history can be used to understand how to conserve them. Sarah is currently at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where she works on curriculum development and outreach for Bird Academy.

Woman Scientist and nature photographer, Dr. Sarah Wagner

Woman Scientist and nature photographer, Dr. Sarah Wagner