Photographer Spotlight: Alex Smith & His Ecology Research
As an assistant professor of molecular ecology at the University of Guelph, Department of Integrative Biology and the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, Alex Smith travels the world conducting scientific research.
To help contextualize his collections and ecological tests and assist in his teaching, Alex uses high-definition, gigapixel panoramas to provide an extremely detailed look at his research subjects. Focused on documenting the natural world, Alex captures nature as it appears today, as well as changes that occur over a period of time.
GigaPan has been a part of Alex’s scientific research program since 2008. With the entire GigaPan EPIC series of camera mounts (EPIC Pro, EPIC 100, EPIC) in his possession, Alex is able to capture vanishing and temporary moments in his fieldwork. “My panoramas create a connection between the digital and natural worlds. Not only do I capture moments in time, but I can share these fragile locations with people who can explore them when I return home,” Alex said.
GigaPan technology also helps Alex verify his collections and tests. For example, he frequently samples ant communities on volcanos in northwestern Costa Rica. While he records his field notes, his lack of botanical literacy may lead to an important missing piece of metadata. To help mitigate this concern, Alex carries GigaPan camera mounts up to each sampling site.
“The high-definition images that I take using GigaPan are a far better descriptor of the habitat than my vocabulary,” Alex said. “It makes it much easier for me to share with fellow researchers and make scientific inquiries.”
In addition, in one of his Arctic Ecology courses, Alex was able to use GigaPan to expand the opportunities for experiential learning and help students experience, explore, understand and question a sub-Arctic environment. Students were encouraged to use GigaPan technology in any or all aspects of their final project. The result: Detailed images of spiders and carnivorous plants that captured the diversity and structural complexity within each area.
“Because of GigaPan, this project didn’t end with the journey to the site, but allowed students to bring digital souvenirs that were publicly accessible and annotated through time by a community of experts and non-experts alike,” Alex said.
Since 2009, Alex has also been using GigaPan to take a weekly photograph of the Dairy Bush forest on the campus of the University of Guelph of Ontario. As a part of the city and university since 1830, the forest is being affected by the rapidly expanding urban environment, exposed to increasing anthropogenic pressures of degradation, fragmentation, biological invasion and destruction.
“To fully understand the changes, the forest needs to be monitored over time. If such monitoring is democratized and publicly available then one may assume that a marginalized environment may become more valued by the human population. GigaPan is allowing me to show the changes in extreme detail,” Alex said.
Taken at one of his favorite spots in the world using his Canon PowerShot G10, Alex’s most beloved GigaPan image is of an area in Costa Rica’s Area de Conservacion de Guanacaste (ACG) national park, which is currently available to print. The gigapixel panoramic image captures a small area on a ridge in a cloud forest on Volcan Cacao in northwestern Costa Rica.
Along with his GigaPan camera mount, Alex returns to this site several times a year to collect data (i.e. specimens, meteorological, photographs).
“What I like about this panorama is that it is visually fascinating as it captures this intricate, exciting and isolated location. The image features wonderful detail that cannot be captured with a regular photograph, that’s my favorite aspect of GigaPan.”
To share his panoramic images, Alex creates websites associated with each collection trip to Costa Rica. His use of GigaPan has also been featured in the journal of Science, Conservation Magazine, OnEarth, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and GigaPan Magazine. He is also a Fine Fellow of Carnegie Mellon University where he has contributed to the university’s Fine International Conference on Gigapixel Imaging for Science.
To see all of the images Alex has taken using GigaPan, visit his profile on GigaPan.com or learn more in the latest issue of GigaPan Magazine.