Scientific photography has been one of the driving forces behind the development of photo imaging since Victorian times. If you have a keen interest in the world around you, and the hidden truths of existence, then scientific photography is an exciting and vibrant field of practice. Scientific Photographers record experiments, illustrate scientific information and analyse the hidden world around us, using a variety of specialist photo imaging techniques, such as, infrared, ultraviolet, time-lapse, thermal imaging and micrography (a camera attached to a microscope).
Here the emphasis is not on the beauty of the picture but the subject and purpose for which the image was produced. The resulting images may be used for measurement or analysis, or to accompany scientific reports, articles or research papers. Scientific teams may commission Scientific Photographers to help record a specific experiment, but they may also be considered specialist scientific researchers in their own right, as in the case of Remote Sensing.
What is the job?
Whereas most other types of photographers work with the spectrum of light visible to the human eye, the Scientific Photographer is often interested in revealing hidden attributes of the world around us using extreme lenses, non-visible light and radiation sources and highly specialised photo imaging systems. They photograph a wide range of subject matter, from very high-speed transitory events taking only microseconds, through to extreme close up work. They may also use remote cameras to capture the progress of explosions, or the paths of missiles. Scientific Photographers therefore need to have a good knowledge of and passion for science as well as photography.
Specific scientific techniques include aerial photography, close-up photography and photomicrography, high speed photography and photonics, infrared recording, micro-imaging, photofabrication, photographic visualisation, photomicrography, photogrammetry, remote sensing, stereoscopic (3D) photography, radiography and ultraviolet fluorescence. These techniques themselves are then used in a variety of specialist settings where the scientific photographer may be involved not only in the production of images but also the development or modification of equipment. Typical applications include: astronomical photography, cavity and endoscopic systems, fisheye lens photography, holography, low light level imaging, panoramic photography, peripheral photography, surveillance systems, telephotography and underwater photography.
Scientific Photographers are usually employed by government departments, by research establishments, or universities, and work as part of a scientific team. Most Scientific Photographers are employees rather than self-employed. This means they enjoying the benefits of a salaried post, though rates of pay are moderate.
Typical career paths
There is no set path into Scientific Photography. However, most Scientific Photographers are scientists with an interest in the production of photo images that record, illustrate, explain or popularise the results of their investigations or experiments.
Vacancies for Scientific Photographers are advertised in the national press and in specialist journals such as New Scientist, Police Review and the British Journal of Photography.
Essential knowledge and skills
Scientific Photographers must be able to select and use the best equipment and techniques for the job. They need a very thorough grasp of photographic principles, particularly those involving non-standard techniques. The work requires a dedication and care which is not always necessary in other, less objective, forms of photography. Other key skills are a close attention to detail, and a meticulous approach to image and data recording.
Scientific Photographers should have a strong interest in science, and a sound knowledge of physics and optics. Technically complex shots may take time to prepare, and often require input from a number of people. Patience, a co-operative manner, and a desire to work as part of a team are therefore essential attributes.
There are National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Photo Imaging. These give a detailed breakdown of the knowledge, awareness and skills needed to effectively carry out a particular job role. The NOS relevant to this job are listed at the end of this profile.
Training and qualifications
There is no standard route into general scientific photography. Most employers require a science degree, combined with a recognised photographic qualification, and an interest in a specialist area such as thermal imaging or micrography. Some employers may also support work-based courses, such as NVQ/SVQs.
Employers may support work-based qualifications, such as Apprenticeships and NVQ/SVQs. Photo Imaging NVQ/SVQs are currently available at levels 2, 3 and 4.
Health & Safety - All photographers need to understand Health & Safety legislation, and should be capable of assessing and managing the risks and potential dangers associated with the use of electrical lighting, equipment and props. Forensic Photographers may be subject to physical stresses from carrying heavy camera equipment and lighting, indoors and out, in all seasons and all environmental conditions. They should therefore seek advice about appropriate techniques for lifting and moving equipment. There may also be a range of other risks specific to their specific area of work and they should seek suitable training in appropriate risk management procedures and best practice.
For this information and more, please view the attached PDF.
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