John Keats famously wrote, about an antique artwork, that "beauty is truth, truth beauty," and readers ever since have pondered exactly how that makes sense. When geologists photograph their objects of interest, I think I can say fairly, they fall on the side of truth. What makes a landscape beautiful, or a rock beautiful or a fossil beautiful, is more than just its superficial attractiveness. These things also have geological information. In documenting them, the geologist's task is like that of the portrait photographer: to show the beauty in the true. That's why we put ourselves with Audubon and his birds rather than Monet and his waterlilies.
My own goals as a geological photographer have always been to instruct people. To do that I avoid the beautifulmuseum specimens and other things you'll never find on an average day. The important thing for me is to help you see the ordinary. That's why I used a cobble of lava that I picked up on a Hawaiian beach as an example of basalt. I took a lot of poor photos of it, under many different kinds of light and different backgrounds. I learned new ways to use my photo software to make the results closer to the way I actually saw this stone. Finally I got some decent images and uploaded them.
That was back in the late 1990s here an About.com. It was pleasant, soon afterward, when textbook publishers began offering to pay for my photos. But it wasn't a total surprise, because I knew that no one else was taking instructive pictures of ordinary things.
That piece of basalt, over the years, has paid for my last two cameras and my photo software with enough left over for some new field equipment. Lately the money has faded away, and that's OK because it was never my main focus. I think that real photographers have caught on, and more power to them.
But today there are lots of geologists sharing their photos, and I don't want to speak for any of them. That's why I've asked them to offer their own photos and their own points of view as part of the Accretionary Wedge blog carnival number 56. I'll add links as they come in and edit this post.
The blogger known as Silver Fox describes a visionary mindset that has her mapping and diagramming the landscape as she passes through it and frames it in her viewfinder: "The photographs I shoot often already have contacts and fault lines drawn and visible in my mind, and the erosional or depositional remnants of geologic time are jumping out of the scenery and into the frame."
Lockwood Dewitt considers his 30 years of photographing things and weighs in on the side of information: "even if a shot is gorgeous, if it's not telling a story, or part of a story, it's not one I'll be likely to take."
Hollis Marriott is a professional botanist, but she carries around with her a keen geological eye. On her blog In the Company of Plants and Rocks, she presents "What I See": Barneby's clover and the Nugget Sandstone it thrives on.
Siim Sepp, the Estonian creator of the highly photo-centric Sandatlas blog, says in his entry, "Geology is so highly visual science that camera is much more useful tool for me than my rock hammer." I can say, to corroborate his thought, that I've been hammering less and photographing more as the years go on.
Garry "Geotripper" Hayes shows a photo from Utah's iconic Arches National Park in which the iconic Delicate Arch is barely glimpsed, focusing instead on the deep background, because "the geologist's eye takes in more than icons."
Ole Tjugen, on his new Overburden Blog, looked for a photo without a hammer in it. His postcard-perfect shot of a fjord takes on real meaning as he explains how this beautiful photo is also true.
Bethany Ellis's Patterns of Nature blog is definitely drawn to the image: large, crisp and well composed. In her post she sees a familiar landmark through new eyes: "as a geology student I now have a new appreciation for this natural icon."
Jessica Ball posts in her Magma Cum Laude blog about a photograph from her field area in Guatemala's Santiaguito volcanic complex. It keeps her both grounded and elevatedgrounded in being reminded how small she is, elevated in "recapturing the sense of awe and delight I felt at that moment."
Hawaiian basalt Geology Guide photo