Meet A Creative: Tanya Harrison Photographer and Scientist

Meet A Creative: Tanya Harrison Photographer and Scientist

My name is Tanya Harrison, and I am a planetary geologist turned photographer from Seattle, currently living in Toronto.

Perhaps inspired by the uninhabited planet I spend my days studying—Mars—much my photography tends to focus on scenes devoid of people.

I love black and white and colour, film and digital, but no matter what the camera or medium I like to go for a look that pops with contrast. I love the entire process, from shooting to developing the film in my makeshift darkroom (a bathroom with cardboard taped over the windows) or processing the photos in Lightroom/Photoshop, to printing my own giclée prints and experimenting with different papers to achieve the look I have in mind. Looking at a photo on a computer screen is no substitute for holding a print in your hands.

I’ve been interested in photography ever since grade 2, when I was able to get a bright orange 110-film camera through my school thanks to earning enough “points” from selling books. However, I didn’t start photography in earnest until my late teens. Initially my focus tended to be on landscapes—unsurprising as a geologist—but I also found myself drawn to cityscapes, particularly at night. The bold colours of a city lit up at night made it feel alive despite the lack of humans in the shot.

Photography and doing scientific research have a lot of similarities in my mind. You need to be able to think creatively in both to push boundaries and create your own niche. However, others also inspire and influence you. Exploring the work of other photographers makes you a better photographer, just as reading scientific articles makes you a better writer in your own work. My photographic inspirations change over time as I discover new artists. Right now Dave Brosha and Paul Zizka are some of my favourites—and having taken workshops they’ve led, they’ve helped me become a better photographer (and are just awesome humans in general).

Balancing photography and my professional career as a scientist can be difficult at times.

When I’m swamped with trying to meet a deadline for a publication or conference, I’ll find myself longing to go out with my camera but don’t have the time.

But, if I’m travelling or working in the field for my job, then it actually affords me photographic opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. In geology we often work in amazingly scenic places, perfect for landscape photography. And since my focus as a geologist is on geomorphology—a very visual science—I’m always keeping an eye out for interesting features, which lends itself to photography as a side effect quite nicely.


To see more of Tanya’s work you can find her at



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