San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Exhibits
San Juan River, UTSan Andreas Fault, CA
San Juan River, Utah, and San Andreas Fault, California

Aerial Portraits of the American West

May 11–October 13, 2011

View a retrospective of aerial photography by
pioneering photographer John Shelton on the Third Floor Mezzanine
of the San Diego Natural History Museum.

This exhibition of Shelton’s work marks the first time photographs by the well-known geologist will be exhibited for the public. Shelton is the author of Geology Illustrated, considered by many scientists and professors one of the best geology reference books available.

A geologist filled with a love for music and machines, John Shelton is best known for his pioneering aerial photography. Formerly an associate professor of geology at Pomona College, he has always been intensely interested in the process of learning.


Monument Valley, AZ
Monument Valley, Arizona
Shiprock, NM
Shiprock, New Mexico

For 12 years, he served as geology consultant for Encyclopedia Britannica educational films. Shelton’s love and knowledge of flying enabled him to reveal geologic features and processes through his aerial photographs of wondrous landscapes. In 1993 Shelton received the American Geological Institute Legendary Geologist Award for “Outstanding Contribution to Public Understanding of Geology.”

Shelton authored Geology Illustrated, a comprehensive textbook lavishly illustrated with his aerial photos. In 1999, Geology Illustrated was chosen as one of the top 100 science books of the 20th century by American Scientist magazine.

Unlike most aerial photographers, Shelton flew mostly alone and never had the luxury of using a viewfinder. He maneuvered his low-winged airplane to align his large-format camera through a small, open window to optimize the angle, lighting, and composition of each geologic feature. Originally, his exposures were made with a handheld light meter, but eventually he determined his camera settings from experience.

Admission to the exhibition is included in general Museum admission.

Sheep Mountain Anticline, WY

Sheep Mountain Anticline, Wyoming