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Every year, the environmental storytelling organization Planet Forward — based out of The George Washington University — holds a summit and competition called Storyfest that brings together environmental reporting and communications students from around the country for two days of speeches, seminars, and networking opportunities. Students are invited to submit articles, videos, and podcasts to a competition, too, and the whole event concludes with the announcement of the winners. The grand prizes are always extravagant: previous prizes include a trip to the Amazon rainforest and cruise through Alaska.

I was a finalist in the competition in 2018 for my profile on the environmental essayist/humorist Michael Branch, but I sadly did not win. Then in 2019 I attended Storyfest again as a finalist for my essay on the environmental impacts of dumpster diving. Much to my great delight, I won! The grand prize winners were sent on a storytelling expedition to the Galápagos Islands.

This trip was many firsts for me: first trip to another country; first time snorkeling; first time meeting an invasive goat eradication expert. But most importantly, it was the first time I ever saw myself as a photographer. The animals of the Galápagos are so weird and wild, it would have been a shame if I didn’t try. Guests aboard the ship we stayed on were treated to photography workshop by naturalist and photo instructor Christian Saa. The lecture really shaped who I am as a photographer. The four nature photography lessons I remember from his talk the most were: get as low as you can; get as close as you can; look for textures; and always be on sports mode.

The following photos are a result of these lessons.