A Peek Into Jan Term: Teaching Nature Photography in Our Own Backyard

Eli Batrez '20 caught this shot of a yellow-eyed Ensatina salamander in Marchetti's class. See it on display at Cafe Louis at the end of January.Professor Michael Marchetti isn’t afraid to get his feet wet—for science. A stream ecologist—and avid photographer—he’s spent his life studying native fish, salamanders, and aquatic insects. And he’s happy to take a few students with him to explore the natural world right on Saint Mary’s campus.

In his Introduction to Nature Photography class this Jan Term, Marchetti will lead students on a “journey to find the hidden, the exquisite, the remarkable, the stunning, the small, and the large—all within our backyard,” he said.

“I frankly have the best job in the world because I get paid to take students out and play in nature. One of the wonderful things about being an ecologist at a small school like Saint Mary’s is that we get to do some really interesting stuff. Partly because we have such dedicated students,” Marchetti said.

“Saint Mary’s has about 420 acres of beautiful habitat on campus, and one of my goals is to get students and faculty alike to start to appreciate the amazing habitat we have around us,” Marchetti added.

“As a stream ecologist, I’ve studied fish, aquatic insects, and now I’m working on salamanders. One of the main things my lab does is study the ecology of how those organisms interact. A lot of people think of humans as separate from the natural world, but we’re just one among millions of other species, and to not pay attention to the other members of the community seems rather silly,” Marchetti noted. “A wise person once said that you’ll never protect something that you don’t love. One of my goals is to take people outside so they can appreciate and come to love the natural world in all its beauty. And then perhaps they’ll care more about it.”

Students in his Jan Term course explore the environment through the medium of photography, learning to take better pictures of the natural landscape and of the creatures that live right here among us. “They’ll also learn to use a suite of scientific tools to identify what we photograph and to provide biological narrative and natural history in support of the images,” Marchetti added.

“I work in Las Trampas Creek quite a bit for my research and classes. Many folks do not appreciate the amazing ecosystem Saint Mary’s inhabits. Fewer still realize that Saint Mary’s campus sits on the juncture of two widely different watersheds: Las Trampas Creek, which flows into Walnut Creek and out into Suisun Bay near Martinez; and on the other side, Moraga Creek, which flows into San Leandro Reservoir and eventually into San Francisco Bay near the Oakland Airport,” Marchetti said.

Some of Marchetti’s students’ photographs will be on display in Café Louis at the end of January. Check out the pics of plants, wildlife—and the yellow-eyed salamander!