Photograph by Drew Fulton
Birthplace: Orlando, Florida
Current City: Ithaca, New York
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
When I was growing up, I wanted to be a lot of different things, but the common theme that ran through pretty much all of them was the desire to be outside and in nature. For many years I wanted to be a park ranger, then a biologist, and then in high school I discovered photography and never looked back.
How did you get started in your field of work?
I first fell in love with photography during one of those typical family vacations to the Grand Canyon and Bryce and Zion National Parks. Quite simply I took roll after roll after roll of photographs and I loved every minute of it. When I got home and got the film developed the photographs were awful so I decided I needed to learn more and from that day on, I was hooked.
Since I have always been an avid birder and interested in natural history, my work as a nature and wildlife photographer was quite natural. Taking that passion into the canopy started with a simple phone call from a friend saying he needed a climbing partner and that I needed to photograph the incredible cloud forest canopy. I first learned to climb trees about three years ago and have never looked back. I continue to climb and teach climbing on a regular basis and search for new ways to capture the world that lies well above our heads.
What inspires you to dedicate your life to bridging the gap between scientists and the general public?
I love the sciences but one of my huge frustrations with the world of academic science is that far too often scientists only write for or talk to other academics and not the general public. Since college, I have made it my mission to be the bridge between the world of academics and the public, using photography and multimedia to help the public learn more about natural history and the scientific process. Everywhere I look, I find fascinating stories that need telling and the hardest part is that I can only choose a handful of them.
What's a normal day like for you?
My days pretty much fall into two broad categories, in the field or at home. When I am in the field, the day usually starts before dawn getting my gear organized and set up for whatever my photographic subject for the day will be. I like to be on site and ready to photograph before the sun hits the horizon. I typically will spend the morning hours photographing and then take a break during the middle of the day. That time typically gets used for editing images, scouting for the evening or next day, or if I have been in the field for a long time, a nap. By early afternoon, I am back in the field with the camera and photographing. The evenings are often long with editing images and preparing for the next day and trying to get at least a few hours of sleep.
When I am home, my days are rather variable but usually are spent at the computer working on images, writing, doing Web development, or research. If it's a nice day, I try to take my reading outside and sometimes into a tree but its not always practical. Do you have a hero? I can't say I have a single hero. I meet people every day from every walk of life that are following their passion and making a difference in their world and impacting the lives of others. I am constantly encouraged and inspired to pursue my own passions and help others to better understand the natural world around them.
What has been your favorite experience in the field?
The most challenging? One of my most memorable days in the field was spending about six hours in the same tree as a troop of howler monkeys while working in Costa Rica. It was incredible to be able to essentially be a part of their world as they went about their business feeding, sleeping, and interacting with each other. Despite them being only 15 feet away, they took no notice of the two people with the video and still cameras busy shooting away. It was just one of those mornings when everything came together perfectly when a resplendent quetzal landed on a branch right next to me just before we started to descend.
Picking one of the most challenging moments is difficult as there can be a lot of frustration and challenges associated with working in the canopy of tropical forests. One of the biggest challenges working in Costa Rica was simply the elements. It was wet and dark pretty much all the time and keeping the cameras dry, clean, and functioning was a major challenge that we had to face on a daily, if not hourly, basis.
What are your other passions?
I have a passion for learning and expanding my experiences. This means that I am constantly exploring new ideas, new technology, and trying to broaden my horizon. I have a passion, maybe an obsession, with birds, so I spend a lot of time birding. I try to get into trees to climb as much as possible. I am an avid reader but I sort of read in bursts where I will get into something and read intensely and then take a break and not read for a while before finding something new.
What do you do in your free time?
My free time is spent either in front of a computer exploring new ideas and technologies or outside exploring new places. I am an obsessive birder and you will rarely see me outside without a pair of binoculars on my shoulder. I also spend a lot of time researching and reading trying to find new stories to tell, expand my personal knowledge, and plan new projects. On nice days, some of that research and reading is done while in a hammock at the top of a tree. Additionally, I try to keep up with the constantly evolving technology and am always looking for new ways to display and tell stories using multimedia.
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In Their Words
Everywhere I look, I find fascinating stories that need telling and the hardest part is that I can only choose a handful of them.
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Jimmy Chin is a world-class climber and an ace behind the lens.