How to be a research photographer
My background as a research photographer, forensic photographer and medical photographer has always been useful albeit quite niche, but when I was recently commissioned by Cancer Research UK, I knew that I could definitely add great value to their project trying to capture their scientists at work. I jumped in head first and pushed hard to capture images that would meet and exceed their marketing needs.
We had a full day of shooting and a very full brief to complete. We moved through many departments and captured images for Imaging, Stem cell, molecular and computational biology. In the afternoon we headed into Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology (CEP) and finished up in Drug discovery.
The many years working in scientific laboratories, research units and medical environments are extremely useful when considering how to make creative images in busy and often cramped labspaces and choosing items that demonstrates the life of a working scientist.
Hint: I try to identify a background that offers good contextual detail and colour. Peripheral or walled areas within most labs are usually stacked with equipment or boxes, depending on there placement these objects can form an attractive background to use to frame a subject onto. Sometimes they don’t lend themsleves to being photographed unless organised in detail, this can take alot of time though and usually the lab staff need their space back pretty quickly . In these cases I usually choose a shallow depth of field (something like f4 – f5.6) will transform the science clutter into a soft focused usable background.
Don’t be frightened to ask them to describe the process they’re performing. Whilst they demonstrate the process, imagine the angle that would depicts drama or documents the process well. I always make sure the correct / most up-to-date equipment is being used to match their task (asking always helps here) and always insist on them wearing safety gloves, specs, lab coat and face masks if applicable. This reduces the number of rejections later should the safety protocols be revised in the future. Keep an eye out for tatty pieces of paper tapped to machines, remove them after asking.
One last tip: when photographing an activity with someone wearing gloves, ask them to wear one size too small for them. This makes the gloves look like they fit better and removes any need to photoshop the creases out later.
The task of a good research photographer is to be mindful of the science as seen by the layperson as well as their peers. Delivering great photographs is expected, but ensuring they’re not rejected for something that flaws the process is key to success.
Below is a mixture of images that were captured on the day. We went for a style that was a mixture of documentary and creative PR, so we predominantly used the ambient light available with a minimum of off camera flash to supplement the scene.
I’m very grateful to all the staff at Cancer Research UK for their unwaivering commitment to fighting Cancer and for their help in creating some really unique images.
I’m always eager to work with scientific or research companies, so click the estimate box below to get in touch.
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Until next time.