Arts and Humanities People and Community

Students view South Florida park through a different lens

University of Miami students taking the “Introduction to Digital Photography” course spent the semester giving back to the community through beach cleanups at Biscayne National Park and learning technical photography skills by capturing the landscape.
From left: Jeff Larson, Quanxi He, Peter Wintersteen, Jovita Inciute, Felix Rivera, and Angel Diaz. Photo: Sean Black

From left: Senior lecturer Jeff Larson and students Quanxi He, Peter Wintersteen, Jovita Inciute, Felix Rivera, and Angel Diaz. Photo: Courtesy of Sean Black

Point, focus, capture, and cleanup. 

For a group of University of Miami students taking “Introduction to Digital Photography,” not only did they learn the art of digital photography but also the importance of caring for the environment. 

As part of the fall semester course taught by Jeff Larson, senior lecturer of photography in the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Art and Art History, students spent several weekends visiting Biscayne National Park. While there, they participated in beach cleanup sessions before photographing the picturesque waterfront landscapes. 

“This class is a beyond-the-classroom type of experience. Students not only learn what we do in the classroom, but they learn how to put it into practice in the real world,” Larson said. “Most of the time, when you give students assignments, they don’t know how to apply it in real life. Photography is a skill they can use for the rest of their lives, and this class teaches them that while also giving back to the community and the environment.” 


Over the course of four visits, the group collected nearly 500 pounds of plastic materials that had accumulated around Elliot Key, the largest island in the park. Following the beach cleanups, students put the technical photography skills Larson taught them to the test. 

They learned how to use DSLR cameras, manage photo exposure, shutter speeds, lens techniques, and photo composition, along with how to process their images in Adobe LightRoom. For each assignment, the group photographed various park areas, the plastic waste they picked up, and their classmates. 

Felix Rivera, a student from Miami studying sport administration, enjoyed capturing the essence of Elliot Key. In addition to honing his photography skills throughout the semester, Rivera said that the class offered a unique opportunity to dedicate time to the community. 

“It’s great when you’re out there [picking up plastic] and feel like you’re trying to make a difference. I wish more people would go out and do it,” he said. 

For Jovita Inciute, a senior pursuing her Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting, the course offered her a new experience not only for photography, but for personal growth. Inciute said she learned about environmental preservation and how plastic affects marine life. The experience made her take a look at her own lifestyle and consider reduction of plastic consumption on a day-to-day basis. She also used the visits and artistic outlet as a moment to relax. 

“The peacefulness and tranquility found on the piece of land amid a big city, traffic jams, and noise pollution gave us a momentary pause in our daily lives,” she said.