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Monday, July 10, 2006

How (Not) to Photograph Scientists

Medicinal chemist Derek Lowe offers a plea:

After seeing a recent in-house promotional brochure, I'd like to issue a brief request on behalf of my fellow researchers. This is addressed to all professional photographers: please, no more colored spotlights.

I know that you see this as a deficiency, but scientists do not work with purple radiance coming from the walls behind them. Not if we can help it, we don't, and if we notice that sort of thing going on, we head for the exits. In the same manner, our instruments do not, regrettably, emit orange glows that light our faces up from beneath...

Posted by: OREN GRAD


Blogger Robert said...

I would also add that very few scientist routinely work with a tastefully placed array of assorted glassware filled to various levels with multicolored clear fluid.

6:52 PM  
Blogger carpeicthus said...

Whew. I've got a gallery show coming up chock full o' photos of world-renowned scientists, and not a colored spot among them. I guess it helps that I was with actual guys doing actual jobs, and not shooting stock with the same guy who will later be my model for a chlamydia patient.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Derek said...

Thanks for the link. I swear, one more thoughtful-look-into-the-Erlenmeyer shot, and I'm going to spaz out. The biology equivalent is "pipetting pink stuff into a vial" or "peering intensely into the microscople". These always remind me of Socialist Realism poses, actually. . .

8:19 PM  
Blogger Max said...

Another neat trick in movies is when a guy is looking vey seriously at a radar screen or something like that. You don't see the screen actually, but you can see the scene in it sharply projected on the guy's face. And most people think "Cool! why doesn't that happen to me with my gameboy? or may be it does?". And you, the heretic photographer, have to throw all the ilussions out by saying "no, it doesn't happen, light doesn't project that way!".

8:34 PM  
Blogger BWJones said...

Its amazing. I've been interviewed by the Discovery Channel and other popular sources and all the photographers that "shoot" scientists bring those colored gels with them. However, the real photographs are the ones who show the scientists behind their computers or stacks of books/journals.

The problem of course in making this seem attractive is that many scientists work is poorly represented visually at the scales or representations that laymen are familiar with. This is true for bioscience, materials science, mathematics, chemistry etc...etc...etc...

12:59 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

This maybe a little nerdy, but it came to my mind when I read this post:

5:37 AM  
Blogger Svein-Frode said...

Hilarious! Good to see some mythbusting going on! If there is something that always cracks me up it is those "stock shots" of people working.

"Ken" models in Armani suits talking into their fancy cell phones illustrating bankers/traders are also quite hilarious! I tend to see them daily, chainsmoking in sweaty shirts, while rubbing their big bellies wondering why they went to business school when they could have been models, gigolos or even pilots instead (yeah, because all pilots look like Tom Cruise and Ray-Ban models)...

6:00 AM  
Blogger Bernard Piechal said...

As the young scientist working in every-day work with lasers (and I dont mean laser pointer, but some 10W lasers that can burn a hole in crystal) I can't stand the pictures of the scientists with the faces just above the optical table and lit by the bright laser beam. It's not only that the laser beam is NOT as clearly visible, as the laser sword of Lord Darth Vader. What I find really ridiculous is that the scientists just never ever put their faces on the level of the beam. NEVER! Guess why.

7:22 AM  
Blogger David said...

I hear what you're saying. Scientist usually work in messy labs with crap everywhere. I just finished shooting a couple of them with gels bouncing all over as I work in PR and they are going to use this stuff for grant apps and the like. Gotta make something look good in there.
I have done a few of those shots and a couple with overhead projectors beaming images of molecule models onto the guys for portraits and all. It's kind of fun stuff to do really.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Bernard Piechal said...

You know, the scientists can sometimes making jokes of the pjotographers. One time I've read the article about some most well-known polish scientists. There were a story of the famous astronomer, named Wolszczan (he discovered first planetary system other than Sun System). And there was a photo of him, and guess what was in the background. A TELESCOPE. The telescope was aiming in the sky (of course), but... with the wrong end.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Adrian said...

When reading the topic I was thinking of this AP image.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Ian Rees said...

I am a scientist AND a photographer.

The reason they revert to cliches is because it almost can't be done. The lab is a very boring place, really. As an undergraduate, I worked in a plant physiology lab, which had MUCH better photo ops than my current facility.

I work in a well-known cryo-electron microscopy lab. Amazing how timely this article is, as I've been taking headshots of everyone in the lab for the new webpage I'm designing.

At first, I had the grand idea of doing awesome, environmental portraits of each person. But then I realized all we have are computers and electron microscopes. I ended up just doing headshots of everyone :(

The alternative would have been "Chalkboard full of equations in the background." Which is one of the photographs on our institutional homepage.

Anyway, here's one of the better ones.

4:33 PM  

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