Nicole talks to Empirical about the unique way in which her life as a marine biologist and photographer has come together in the amazing world of Big Sur, California
Nicole LaRoche is a marine biologist who lives in Big Sur and combines her field research with her excellent photography skills. Empirical recently had an opportunity to ask about her development as a photographer as well as her preferences in photography.
Empirical: We love Big Sur and we love your work. How did you initially get into photography?
Nicole: My father was an avid photographer when I was young. He always had cameras around and taught me about photography. I really got into photography in high school where I helped upkeep the photo lab and spent as many hours as I could in the darkroom.
Empirical: Did you pursue any formal training in photography after that?
Nicole: I decided to continue studying photography in college and enrolled at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. After about two years there with some wonderful teachers and some not-so-wonderful teachers, I decided that even though I love taking photos, the politics of the Academy were a bit much and I wanted to transfer to a state school. I decided since I most enjoy photographing wildlife that I would get a double major in photography and marine biology.
Empirical: Did you make a smooth transition from the Academy to the new program?
Nicole: At this time the Academy was not accredited and I could not transfer over my units meaning that I had to start over. I went to community college at Skyline for my general education classes and continued my involved with the photography department by working as the photo lab technician and taking photo classes.
Empirical: Were you able to build on that new beginning elsewhere?
Nicole: I transferred to the University of California at Santa Cruz and graduated with my Bachelor’s in marine biology in 2010.
Empirical: Is that when you got involved with work at Big Sur?
Nicole: While in school at UC Santa Cruz, I started working for Tim Tinker’s lab studying sea otters. Their current study is using sea otters as ocean health monitors. The study is comparing Big Sur and Monterey using Big Sur as the pristine environment and Monterey as the dirty environment (due to agricultural runoff and higher human use).
Empirical:So you’re still doing this work?
Nicole: I have been living in Big Sur tracking sea otters along highway 1 since I graduated.
Empirical:Had you been to Big Sur before?
Nicole: I have been visiting Monterey since I first moved to California in 2003 but didn’t really go to Big Sur much until I started working down here.
Empirical:So where were you from originally?
Nicole: I am from Illinois just outside of Chicago.
Empirical:: That’s a long way from the life you’ve grown into here.
Nicole: Yes, but I really liked visiting the Shedd Aquarium as a kid in Chicago and always wanted to live by the ocean. I moved to California in 2003 to go to college. I first moved to San Francisco where I attended the Academy of Art.
Empirical: And that brings us back to your photography.
Nicole: Yes, I also take the time I have here in Big Sur to capture some of that pristine environment with my camera. I believe that working as a biologist and photographing animals in my free time is a good balance of what interests me.
Empirical: Do you favor one over the other?
Nicole: I love photography and would never want to give it up. But I also really enjoy working as a field biologist collecting data and constantly learning about the world around me.
Empirical:Did Big Sur inspire you as a photographer?
Nicole: I still tend to take more of my photos in Monterey and Santa Cruz. I feel that Big Sur is a great place for landscapes and I tend to lean toward taking animal photos. That being said, I never leave my home without my camera! I take my camera with me to work and take opportunistic photos while out tracking sea otters.
Empirical:What do you most like to photograph?
Nicole: Lately I have been taking a lot of bird and marine mammal photos because these are the species that most intrigue me. But from time to time I enjoy shooting landscapes and other terrestrial animals. I generally stick to outdoor photography and generally very little human involvement.
Empirical:So you tend to take more wildlife shots than landscapes?
Nicole: I am quite happy in the wildlife niche but have been recently working on setting up more landscape shots. That is what I was doing this afternoon, photographing the sunset in Big Sur.
Empirical: What kind of equipment do you use?
Nicole: My main body is a Canon 7D and my 3 main lenses are the 100-400mm L, 24-70mm L and 15mm fisheye lens. My backup lens is a Canon 20D. Empirical: We saw you with that amazing lens in the self portrait (at the beginning of this article). Thank you so much for chatting with us. We wish you the best of luck in both of your developing careers.
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