Worth a Thousand Words

Monday, I went to one of the labs where they’re doing research about which I am writing for my institute’s website to take some photos and video. It was an interesting experience; while I’ve taken photos before, it was always either outside or for my food blog posts. Photographing scientific experiments is a completely different experience.

When I see presentations where the speaker shows a photograph of his or her lab, I’m always annoyed at how useless most of these photographs are.  It’s fairly impossible to get an idea of an experiment by looking at a photo of the optical table because it’s so cluttered that unless you know the experiment intimately, you’re going to need a while to trace out what’s actually happening.  Of course, you’re unlikely to do so during the minute or so it might be displayed in a talk, or in the few minutes you might glance at a photo accompanying an article.

But the general public might just think it’s cool to see a picture of all the stuff put together, even if they can’t understand what’s going on, in detail.  So there’s a fine line between a throwaway picture to just show “science” and a picture that might prove interesting to someone with a little more knowledge of the field.  Luckily, the photos I was taking were in a clean room, so there was less in the way of clutter, as they want to avoid having unnecessary things in the room.  That meant that I could get clean shots of optics and mechanics, without having to play focus tricks.

So far, I’ve finished the most recent round of edits for two pieces, and I’m excited to see them come together.  I’m finding I really enjoy writing about science, as it gives me a chance to stretch intellectual muscles I don’t often get to use as an experimentalist.  I like trying to find ways to explain things without the ability to resort to technical jargon.  The pieces on which I’ve been working have also added the layer of trying to illuminate the text with visual aids.  It’s been interesting to try to come up with efficient and interesting ways to enhance the text with pictures and video.

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