People inevitably ask me a lot of the same questions. They are certainly good questions, too. People ask me these questions so frequently that I figured perhaps it was time that I answered some of them in a quick blog post to put everyone's minds at ease.
Why do you love the ocean so much? How long have you known that you wanted to work with the ocean?
This is probably the question that I am asked most frequently. People have asked me this question at my university when they find out my research interests. They have asked me in line at concerts. They have asked me on Instagram. Someone in Chile asked me in the car on the way to snorkeling. Everyone inevitably asks me this at some point.
I'm not quite sure how it happened. It probably had something to do with my frequent visits to the aquarium as a child. The National Aquarium in Baltimore was one of my favorite places in the world as a child (it still is, for the record). I was always so excited to visit and I have so many wonderful memories of that place. I remember vividly the beautiful seahorse exhibit with its calming music, the smell of the open-water exhibits, ascending into the rainforest, and the one time when a dolphin swam directly up to me and mimicked and followed me for several minutes. That was my introduction to the sea, and that place stuck with me.
Perhaps moving away from the sea had something to do with it. Perhaps all those times going to the aquarium stuck around a little more than I thought. Regardless, something in me knew very early on (since late middle school) that I would definitively be a marine biologist. My love of the sea has only grown, and my need and desire to be next to the sea has become increasingly more intense. I love the ocean. Nearly every aspect of it fascinates me. I love the animals, I love the tide pools, I love seeing what lies beneath the surface and that feeling you get when you are next to it. I can't quite put my finger exactly on why I love the ocean, I just know that I do. Nothing has ever invigorated me as much as the ocean has. As I told a friend in Chile, it is truly my life and I want nothing more than to work with it for the rest of my life.
How did you get started with your work in Chile?
It all started with a little email in my university inbox. "Want to study marine biology abroad?" Of course I did! The email mentioned that anyone wanting to complete their Honors thesis while studying marine biology could apply to be able to go to Chile for a free ten day trip were encouraged to apply. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for me. However, it was my first semester in college, I had never been abroad, and Chile was known for some nasty earthquakes, so I was a little nervous about applying. However, I decided that it was too good of an opportunity to pass up and so I decided to be brave and submitted my application.
The rest is history. I was one of two students selected to go, and what started as a little email in my inbox turned into something that has changed me so substantially as a person that I cannot imagine my life without it. What if I had been too scared to apply? What if I had not been selected? I'm so glad that I applied. I will always be so eternally grateful for this opportunity. I encourage everyone to seek out opportunities like what I had because it will absolutely change your life and make you a better person. I would not be where I am today if I had not taken that step and applied.
What photography gear do you use? How do you edit your photos?
The gear that I use will probably surprise you a little bit. As of writing this blog post, I use a Canon 60D (considered a "semi-professional" model) and the Canon 50mm 1.4 lens. That is pretty much it at the moment. I also post phone photographs on my Instagram, and I use a Samsung Galaxy S7. My favorite editing app at the moment is the A Color Story app by A Beautiful Mess.
To edit my photographs from my "real camera," I use Lightroom 6 and currently the VSCO 01 presets (although I tweak them quite a bit). I shoot in RAW so that I can maintain the integrity of the original image and have more freedom during the editing process. Images are more malleable when they are RAW files, and thus I recommend every photographer with access to Lightroom and/or Photoshop shoot in RAW. One of the most important things to remember when shooting is that your composition makes up a photograph and therefore you should never rely on the idea of "Oh, I'll just fix it in Lightroom later." Lightroom is an incredibly powerful tool, but you should never rely on it too heavily. With that being said, in Lightroom I tend to bring up the contrast a bit, tone down highlights that are too strong and either increase the shadows or decrease them, depending upon the photograph. I use either no grain or very little grain again depending on the photograph. The ability to change the exposure is also wonderful as well.
For my short films, I use Adobe Premiere Pro to edit my footage. It can be a bit of an overwhelming system at first, but once you get the hang of it, the system is extremely powerful and not too terribly difficult to work with. YouTube is my best friend when it comes to tutorials, and there are hundreds of videos out there that will help you get started or show you how to accomplish different techniques.
Do you SCUBA Dive?
Much to my delight, I can officially say yes to this question now! After wanting to dive for most of my life, I finally had the funds and the courage to do it. Everyone is a little bit nervous at the start, most people just keep quiet about it. However, once you finally get in that water and do it and feel yourself breathing underwater, it's amazing. I absolutely love it. There is a lot more to SCUBA diving than one might imagine, but after the first few dives it becomes easier. I need more practice to get the hang of it, but I have plans to continue diving quite a bit. It's all very exciting.
Are you going back to Chile?
Yes. I am definitively returning to Chile, most likely about a year from now. I have some research that I need to finish, so at the moment I am applying for a grant that would allow me to stay there for an extended period of time. I have never, ever wanted anything more in my entire life. However, this grant is extremely competitive, so I am planning to somehow save up enough money to be able to go back even if I don't get the grant. It's a bit scary, really; it's a great deal of money and I don't know how I'm going to do it. It has been stressing me out for weeks. But, this means everything to me. Somehow, some way, I am returning to my second home, that I can promise you. I'm not sure of the details yet or how exactly I am going back and I won't know for sure for several months, but I am doing everything in my power to get myself back there. I've been writing grants, got SCUBA-certified, plan to practice my SCUBA skills consistently until my return, practicing my Spanish (listening to music and tv shows in Spanish, keeping a little book of Spanish words, Duolingo, etc.) and have been already planning the rest of my research. I'm not letting this one slide through my fingers.
Hopefully I was able to answer some of your most pertinent questions. If you ever have any questions or something you would like to see on the blog, please don't hesitate to ask!