GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History educators did not let COVID-19 put a damper on their plans to offer nature photography camps – complete with free cameras – to schoolkids across the county. They simply moved the camps online.
For the past few weeks, museum photographer Kristen Grace and school outreach coordinator Alberto Lopez Torres have been inspiring the next generation of nature photographers.
They teamed up with county organizations, Woodland Park Boys & Girls Club, Girls Place, Inc., North Central Florida YMCA and I AM STEM Camp, to bring virtual photography camps to almost 100 children in the month of July with all supplies being provided by the Florida Museum.
“We are all scientists and observers of nature and we hope that by bringing this museum experience to these community centers, we will create a spark in these young scientists that we might not have been able to reach otherwise,” Lopez said.
Each week-long camp typically consists of the children meeting at the community center to watch Lopez and Grace broadcasting live from the Florida Museum. They receive their photo assignments via a morning Zoom session and then have a couple hours to take part in daily photo activities independently before discussing and evaluating their work in an afternoon Zoom session.
Campers are taught how cameras work, techniques for getting a great shot and how to observe backyard biodiversity. One activity involved finding the alphabet in nature – think “L”-shaped branches, “Y”-shaped trees or the “O” of a frog’s eyes – and using the iNaturalist app to identify the species photographed.
The children also learn from a special guest speaker each week and have their work featured in a slideshow and virtual party on Friday. Past speakers included mosquito specialist Lawrence Reeves, National Geographic Explorer and conservation photographer Jennifer Adler and Joseph Saunders, a wildlife photographer and co-founder of Black Birders Week.
At the end of the program, the campers’ work will be featured on the museum’s website. In addition to digital cameras, the Florida Museum also provided flashlights, stationary, activity kits, nature magazines for crafts, a photo bingo board and digital resources.
“After the program ends, the community centers get to keep all the cameras and gear they used during the week, giving hundreds of other kids the access to resources they might not have had before,” Grace said. “We would love for this program to receive regular funding so we could help provide this opportunity to more kids around town.”
Angela Howard, president/CEO of the North Central Florida YMCA, said the program provided a unique learning experience despite the challenges of the pandemic.
“We were concerned the kids would be ‘virtualled out’ so we were happy this program gave them the opportunity to meet up and spend time outside, especially since we have plenty of space here for them to take creative, beautiful pictures safely,” Howard said. “This was such a happy surprise for them!”
The final week of camp begins today, July 27 at Girls Place, Inc. and will feature guest speakers Geena Hill, a conservation ecologist and photographer, and Florida Museum biological scientist and imaging lab manager Zachary Randall.
Writer: Nikhil Srinivasan, 352-273-2034, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Kristen Grace, email@example.com; Alberto Lopez Torres, firstname.lastname@example.org
Media contact: Kaitlin Gardiner, 352-273-2028, email@example.com