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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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July 11, 2006

More Purple Radiance

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Posted by Derek

Hmm, my post on colored-spotlight lab photos seems to have hit a couple of nerves. I note that a few photographers have defended their gel-shooting ways in the comments:

"Photos help create interest in your work. Adding a little Hollywood glitz is the price you pay if you want to continue getting paid."


"As a photographer, I would only note that my colleagues and I simply may have been trying to make the pictures interesting enough to bring *more* people in to read the stories. Which, of course, is where they would learn about what you were actually doing.

The profile of scientists is far too high as it is, I think. I doubt you can safely walk the streets in anonymity these days. The last thing you guys need is more visibility, what with all of the unsolicited, excess grant money rolling in. I mean, how can a scientist burn through that kind of green with just 24 hours in a day?

. . .Amazingly in the 21st century, some photographers are still trying to increase the interest and visibility levels of science.

What a waste."

Well, let's clear up a couple of things. First off, fortunately, I'm not dependent on grant money. I work in industry, for a very large company, and we raise and spend our own cash. And believe me, we have no problem burning money - it's trying to figure out how not to burn all of it that occupies our time. That means that what I'm really dependent on is people buying our drugs, and on my lab (and the others like it) coming up with new ones. Interestingly colored pictures of our work will do very little to advance either of those.

Second, although I didn't make a big point of it, this brochure was (as mentioned in the first paragraph) in-house. Its target audience was people who already work for the company, which made the colored gels even more laughable than they would be otherwise. This wasn't for the local newspaper's color front page. There was no public outreach involved.

But as for that, well, that's one reason I have this blog. I'd found over the years that almost no one I met had any idea of what it was like to do drug discovery research, so I jumped at the chance to talk about it. Much of what people think they know is incorrect, too - if my salary depended only on what a good opinion people have of drug companies, I'd be in trouble. No, I think it's great for people to find out what this job is like - I just think that glitzed-up photos are a poor way to do that.

Why? For one thing, they're a cliché. These shots have been a joke for many, many years among scientists, and if you tried to count up all the purple glows (or red-green-blue colored flasks) out there in print, you'd never finish the job. I think that for every person who (unaccountably) finds such a picture compelling enough to read the accompanying article, there must be two who flip past it in boredom. They've seen it a thousand times before; it's not an eye-catcher any more.

But that's a practical matter. A larger one is the problem of falsification. It's not just that our labs don't look like that, although they sure don't. It's that one group of viewers will take away the wrong message (that lab work is constantly exciting and dramatic, like on TV), and another more suspicious group,will take away another wrong message: that it's so boring that it has to be tarted up to be bearable at all.

The truth's in between. Exciting stuff happens, but it doesn't happen the way a screenwriter (or an art director) would lay it out. And while the exciting stuff isn't happening a lot of routine work is getting done, and a lot of dead ends are explored in what is (in retrospect) horrible detail. The job takes a particular personality type, and if you get frustrated easily or have a short attention span - in other words, if you're the type who needs the stimulus of bizarre colors to find something worth looking at - then it's not going to work out well for you as a career.

I'll close with one other photographer's comment:

"Science is about accurately representing data. Photography is about making an interesting image.

True enough, although photography - not promotional photography, admittedly - can also be about accurately representing reality. But what would a bunch of photographers think of some pictures allegedly showing them at work, but with no cases of equipment in sight, no encumbering battery packs or extra camera bodies. . .just dynamic-looking poses of them holding cameras which, for some reason, are glowing orange and green and purple? If you won't do that to each other, why will you consent to do it to us?

Comments (39) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. dWj on July 11, 2006 11:22 PM writes...

When I was teaching non-major undergrads physics, I figured my most important task was to leave them with a sense of how science is done. I'd like them to learn the laws of electromagnetism, but, given the choice, I'd rather they have an idea how they were discovered -- an appreciation for the uncertainties involved in experiments, for the difficulty in setting up an experiment in a way that keeps those uncertainties manageable, and, ideally, a sense of what it's like to get a result. In a freshman physics class they will almost always know in advance what kind of result they're looking for, but I hope they at least come out with a better sense for all these things than they came in with.

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2. daq on July 12, 2006 1:10 AM writes...

I posted a comment on the original post, but I see what you're saying. It's still just a problem with the stock photography in general. People have this idea of what these brochures should look like, and we either know that that expectation is necessary and make it, or make something showing "reality" and get shot down for not making it pretty enough. And there are plenty of those goofy stock photos of photographers, too.

But consider this: if your income relies on people buying your drugs, should the advertising show people actually using the drugs - and also the possible side effects? Enjoying a party with friends or playing catch with their grandson, then cut to shot of mild abdominal pain, moodiness, and occasional diarrhea? Asking for truth in public relations is like asking for science with more sexiness in it. And in today's media saavy world, scientists aren't the only ones laughing at the absurdity of such photographs or ads.

Commercial photographers do it because it's what expected and often their lives are pretty unglamorous, too. Human resource people (who sound like the people who thought the gels would be cool) are the same people who make sure enough minorities are in the shot, make sure everything is "on brand" and are doing anything to build excitement in what sounds like a company newsletter. Most people see through it anyway.

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3. JSinger on July 12, 2006 9:07 AM writes...

It's still just a problem with the stock photography in general. People have this idea of what these brochures should look like, and we either know that that expectation is necessary and make it, or make something showing "reality" and get shot down for not making it pretty enough.

I think that's the crux of it -- there's an accepted visual shorthand for Scientist, and the photographers fell obliged to produce it. The researchers can laugh at yet another picture of someone peering into an Erlenmeyer of bright green liquid, but if they really did show an accurate picture, you'd probably find it horribly unphotogenic.

What I object to more is when universities stage those "PI wearing lab coat and pipetting" shots. That borders on misconduct, to depict them as doing work that was done entirely by other people.

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4. RKN on July 12, 2006 9:19 AM writes...

The researchers can laugh at yet another picture of someone peering into an Erlenmeyer of bright green liquid, but if they really did show an accurate picture, you'd probably find it horribly unphotogenic.

There you go. Invite them down for a "shoot" in the animal facility while you're doing whole-body luminescence on mice after gavage!

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5. Jose on July 12, 2006 9:49 AM writes...

I work in a med chem lab, and recently had a friend who is an MD, come visit. I gave him a quick tour of the lab, NMR facility, etc. We were walking through the bench area, and he was shocked, truly shocked at how "dirty" it was (in a celite, silica, chemical waste sense).
"You make stuff here that goes into animals?!?!?!"
So, we have someone who is well educated, and well versed in science, who is amazed. The PR glory shots are doing a serious disservice to the field.

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6. Moosh on July 12, 2006 10:30 AM writes...

Wow - When PR meets reality... there a book that would sell a few copies by title alone.

There will always be hold outs for the Art of production…. But the “science” of “art” is what each photographer needs to remain true to: Are they about creating beauty, no matter what the cost… or about exposing the beauty that exists inside the thing being photographed. My vote says the real art comes from the latter.

Reality TV, blogs… audiences are raving more truth based information in 21st century. And though it may take some professional work to make that palatable to audiences (lighting, editing, software), there is a line that separates reality from fiction – all professionals need to know, and remember, where that line is.

PR folks, of which I am one, need to accept the challenges they face every day. Be honest, be creative, and think beyond the obvious so your work can be different. Where is the warmth and emotional element of a purple scientist staring at red / orange Petri dish?

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7. mdh on July 12, 2006 11:23 AM writes...

I have to admit that while I was amused by the first post by Derek on this topic the second one with comments from photographers reminded me of a group dynamic that I always observe at large scientific conferences. Has anyone else ever noticed that the posters with lots of color and cool images (e.g. immunofluorescence) usually gather larger crowds than the boring looking bar-graph based posters?

Maybe we scientists are just as easily drawn in by the pretty colors than those lay people outside. Maybe our in-house publication production team even knows about this phenomenon!

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8. Mark on July 12, 2006 5:20 PM writes...

for Jose (#5) above:

My response would have been: the environs in which art is made is a whole lot different from the gallery in which it hangs.

Seriously, I have seen many a discombobulated art studio--and no one ever questions that. The PR shots definitely contribute to a skewed perception of our actual working conditions.

Then again, I despise a truly filthy synthetic chemist who has no concern for proper chemical hygiene--he is a hazard to himself and all around him. Nothing like a lab filled with fine micron-sized silica particles flying around or lachrymator residues coming out of erlenmeyers in the dirty dish bin.

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9. PML on July 12, 2006 9:40 PM writes...

I run the Production Dept. of a design firm, and I can tell you honestly that designers have to bear a lot of the blame here. Stock photographers just shoot what sells, and designers definitely aren't looking to represent truth when the buy.

The reality of the design world is usually misrepresented in a way similar to yours. Elegant divas lounging about with color swatches in their hands don't last long. As a matter of fact, most design school graduates move on after a few years spent juggling several mindlessly boring projects at once. If they last, they will have learned that the theories of design they soaked up in school take a back seat to expediency, and really creative opportunities are rare. In the meantime, the need a picture of a guy in a lab coat doing something science-y, not too specific, with colors that complement the others used on the spread. Usually, they spend more time worrying about getting a good balance of race and gender than reality, and price determines the final choice. Art has little to do with it, and stock photographers are not photojournalists.

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10. eyebum on July 12, 2006 10:39 PM writes...

What a bunch of crap. Get over yourself and quit whining. Your bitching about the lighting effects of promotional photographs of labratories has a serious flaw-there hasn't been anyone who was "turned off" of a career in science because they found out the horrible truth of labratory lighting.

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11. BCP on July 12, 2006 11:17 PM writes...

Couple of comments:

1) I think that the excitement in med chem type research has been completely missed here. It's not related to a colour change or a particular "eureka" per se - to me it's in finally unravelling a perplexing/anomolous NMR spectrum and getting it to jive with your MS etc, finally getting past a synthetic bottleneck, or finding the unusual trend in a structure/activity relationship could be explained by a new hypothesis that might just make it all work. This kind of stuff is exciting, anyone who doesn't get this, probably won't understand 80%-90% of this blog. And yes, I've worked in a lab where we kept food dye on hand, just in case.

2) I used to work at a multinational UK based pharma co. We had a new 750MHz NMR installed in its own bunker some decade back or so, and prior to doing any actual science with it, the corporate PR team brought in the dry ice and blue light brigade. Of course, photographer wasn't to know that the screws in his tripod were paramagnetic -- end result - quenched magnet and 6mo delay. Nice.

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12. Michael Pereckas on July 12, 2006 11:22 PM writes...

I think some of the photographers are missing the point. It isn't so much that the photos are staged, but that they are staged Very Oddly Indeed (and in a cliche manner). The photo of the living room in the architecture magazine is carefully staged, with all clutter removed and the lighting improved, but normally it isn't in a darkened room with one purple light and a big bowl of spaghetti balanced on the sofa because someone thought spaghetti looks good. Normally the photo of a chef in the kitchen is not shot in red light with the chef holding a severed cow's head up in the air. Especially not if the chef is famous for vegetarian dishes.

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13. Boo on July 12, 2006 11:31 PM writes...

"As a photographer, I would only note that my colleagues and I simply may have been trying to make the pictures interesting...last thing you guys need is more visibility, what with all of the unsolicited, excess grant money rolling the 21st century, some photographers are still trying to increase the interest and visibility levels of science. What a waste."

Oh, good grief. I hate to break it to ya pal, but not a single dollar of my grant money was pulled in as a result of a photo with some dumb "SCIENCE! WITH COLORED LIGHTS!" effect (or affect for that matter).

Additionally, at my university we actually have an intelligent photographer who realizes that reality is more interesting than fantasy. When she has to take photos of us for the paper etc., she gets us actually doing our work. Guess what? It's at least as interesting as the blue-glow-of-the-week photos.

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14. Guy on July 13, 2006 12:30 AM writes...

I actually wouldn't mind a nice photo of myself with my cameras lit with some deep, saturated color gels.

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15. alex on July 13, 2006 3:31 AM writes...

Additionally, at my university we actually have an intelligent photographer who realizes that reality is more interesting than fantasy. When she has to take photos of us for the paper etc., she gets us actually doing our work. Guess what? It's at least as interesting as the blue-glow-of-the-week photos.

Then you're lucky and have a phoographer who is actually any good and can create an interesting and compelling shot without having to resort to funky colours and ultra-dramatic lighting.

As with any profession, most photographers are of average skill. It will take a good one to make an interesting photo of something that is visually rather boring.

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16. ken straiton on July 13, 2006 6:21 AM writes...

I am a photographer, and yes I have used colored gels - something I try to avoid these days, but at the time it was expected, even demanded as the then current, cool style.

Please take pity on the poor photographer who is being paid to make an interesting or dramatic photo for some corporate use and has more or less the same visual wasteland to deal with time after time - what to do? Well, lighting helps a lot, but it need not be vulgar or alter any reality - other than that the default lighting available makes most anything appear pretty featureless.

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17. MTK on July 13, 2006 7:01 AM writes...

As a chemist and a very amatuer photographer, it's interesting to read the comments. The whole false day-glo lighting and food colored solutions thing doesn't offend me or anything, it just indicates a lack of imagination.

In my opinion a good photographer can make any image interesting without resorting to cheap gimmicks which make a parody of it. Different angles, framing, focal lengths, lighting (natural)etc. can all make for dramatic shots. It just takes a little thought and research. Unfortunately, most photograhers don't have the time to do that.

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18. Janne on July 13, 2006 7:15 AM writes...

I think the problem we see with this kind of photography can be described by an analogy. Say your paper is going to do an in-depth piece on the changing nature of police work in the city. Do you then drag out the police inspector that features in the piece and stuff a plaid hat on his head, a curly pipe in his mouth and have him peer intently through a large magnifying glass at a painfully obvious footprint in the mud outside the police headquarters?

There's a difference between cleaning up and prettifying or shooting with a view to present a particular angle of the story on one hand and outright lying on the other.

And as others have stated already, pictures like that have probably never pulled in a single dollar to any research project. A grant committee is not going to state "well, this group does have a really good publication record - but these guys have an insanely cool piece of equipment and really photogenic weird light so lets give them the grant!"

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19. Sports Photo Guy on July 13, 2006 8:05 AM writes...

So Derek, I am to believe that in person you appear in black and white with classic portrait lighting? Photo techniques are OK when you're stoking your ego, but how dare someone apply them to your profession? Tell you what, you stick to the science and let the PR professionals do their job, OK?

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20. Derek Lowe on July 13, 2006 9:00 AM writes...

SP Guy, as I mentioned in a comment on the first post, that head shot wasn't taken by a pro. I took it myself, in my dining room, with a shutter delay. No spots, no gels, no reflectors - just natural light from the window. Thanks for the compliment, though.

I'm not saying you shouldn't make things look good. I'm saying that purple glows and red emanations aren't good.

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21. Hap on July 13, 2006 10:52 AM writes...

Key phrase, SP: "do your job".

PR is supposed to make people look good; stupid lighting doesn't do that - it only makes them look weird. If it's supposed to be a photogenic representation of how people in the field work - it doesn't do that either, because it doesn't show what they do accurately. If some photographers lack the imagination or the skill to do the job well (and since it has been done well before, one can conclude that it can be done), then blaming the subjects for complaining about the inaccuracy and triteness of your photos doesn't seem anything other than pathetic.

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22. chuck kimmerle on July 13, 2006 12:13 PM writes...

I think this discussion shows a fundamental misunderstanding that researchers have about photographers and the images they produce. As a photographer, my basic responsibilities are split between the subject and the audience, but most importantly I must consider the purpose of the image.

The majority of the university publications for which I shoot, including those that are research based, are meant to showcase current research projects to the general public. That audience may include politicians, alums, potentential donors, civic leaders, fellow faculty, current and potential students/parents, and anyone else who may be on the mailing list. These are public relations vehicles for the greater good of the institution, not research periodicals destined for a vita entry. Literal accuracy in these types of publications is unnecessary and often counterproductive as it rarely attracts reader interest.

Chuck Kimmerle
University of North Dakota

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23. Dani Weber on July 13, 2006 12:43 PM writes...

Hmm, interesting commentary I have happened upon. As the frequent end-user - i.e. the veterinarian who reads the industry journal, I have to say I agree with the scientists objecting to the funny lighting. I have noticed these weird photos in the journals for the last few years and they always make me feel slightly queasy.

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24. Dutch on July 13, 2006 3:46 PM writes...

As an in-house photographer, I have to give my customer what he or she wants -be they engineers, scientists, art directors, or PR folks. I prefer not to use gels because I got tired of that "look" years ago too, but when the customer wants bright colors that's what I give him. And, some of those customers are, in fact, scientists and engineers.

The dramatic, darkened room look is often necessary to hide lots of stuff and clutter in the background. I understand that this is very normal stuff in a lab, but it detracts from the emphasis on the subject, and from the message I am trying to convey.

A few years ago I asked why the PR folks didn't use more of our in-house images in our annual report, and was told that we didn't do good people pictures or dramatic facilities images. Some time later I was handed the annual report of another company as an illustration of what looks good. Guess what dominated the booklet.

Talk to the designers and PR people about your objections. And, good luck with that.

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25. Rick Lee on July 13, 2006 4:51 PM writes...

Do you think you're special? It's not just labs we tart up. We tart up everything we shoot... whether it's a lab or a computer room or the truck garage. That's what we get paid to do. Shooting an accurate representation of something is NOT what we get paid to do. Most scientists could do that themselves. We've seen the pictures that you guys take. :-)

But seriously, I appreciate you're point of view. I really do. And just as soon as the art directors stop asking for colored gels on the lights, I'll stop using them. (It's been known to happen, but not real often)

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26. billh on July 13, 2006 4:53 PM writes...

I think its pretty fair to say that science gets dolled up when it is photographed because in most cases it is ugly - I imagine grotesque in a lot of instances.

Feeling misrepresented? Name a profession that isn't.

Anything and everything gets 'spun' to a certain degree if its going into a visual medium for the public's consumption.

The evening news is 'spun'.

I have also noticed that pharmaceutical companies 'spin' their stuff harder than most other industries. You know, those TV commercials of families playfully frolicking in a meadow while the disclaimer/voice over tells you of all the health risks involved in taking the product.

I am confident that no colored gels are used in the development of new pharmaceuticals.

So, yes. Photograph science in a realistic light - don't leave out the nitty gritty stuff, like animal testing/failed experiments/the lab worker exposed to something toxic etc. Just let it rip.

I worked on one of the biggest pharmaceutical accounts in North America for about 5 years - lots of massive blunders by our client were buried. Wording of ads was painstakingly slow - lots of little landmines to steer around. Can't say this, can't show that.

Hence colored lights - inoffensive and devoid of meaning.

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27. John Denniston on July 13, 2006 5:15 PM writes...

As a retired newspaper photographer and later photo editor, I agree that the cliche scientist photographs, especially the ones with coloured lights are dreadful and laughable. The purpose of a photograph is to record what is happening. Photographers should photograph what the scientist does, follow him around for a couple of hours, photograph what he does in the context of his surroundings. These pictures may not be dramatic compositions but they will show something real and more important they will be useful as historical records. Image pictures, as popularized by photographers like Annie Liebowitz are great eye candy but they provide no useful information to the reader.

Regards, John Denniston

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28. Anonymous on July 13, 2006 5:27 PM writes...

"...there's an accepted visual shorthand for Scientist.." That's right... just like in all movies photographers are shown in darkrooms hanging prints to dry on a line, even though no photographer would EVER hang prints on a line. To fight it is to be frustrated.

"...the purpose of a photograph is to record what is happening." Not necessarily. We're not all photojournalists.

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29. Denis Kelly Jr. on July 14, 2006 1:16 AM writes...


I was drawn to your site by a photographers forum. I am glad I read your remarks. Just yesterday, I was reading an article about location lighting that featured a surgeon's operating room with purple and yellow glows. It was enticing and yet absurdly affected. I will retain your perspective and continue to try to reveal insight and thoughtfulness among my subjects by engaging them in thoughtful conversation while we photograph. By the way, your blog portrait is pretty good.

Denis Kelly, World Photographer, LLC

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30. Colorcanuck on July 14, 2006 12:07 PM writes...

Okay, okay, I just have to chime in here! ;0)

I agree with virtually everything said so far, because each person represents there own individual reality in their own peculiar and unique way. Yes, I want a shot of me with glowing eyes and bulging red hardware someday; perhaps on my gravestone marker! Yes, Derek's portrait is good; though I might add it is because he portrays some character and black and white is best suited to portray such distinct aspects in portraiture. Uhm...dare I say it is more accurate and flattering? ;0) noi

However; all photographs have purpose. Some to portray reality, tell a story, reveal evidence or a reality, capture a brief split second in time (photojournalism, medical, forensic, etc.), and some to capture the eye, sell a product, titillate, etc....etcetera. It, photography and image capture on the whole, is simply a multi-purpose tool for whomever's hands it is in at the time. Anyone has the right to bemoan its uses, and anyone has the right to champion it.

We all use technology of the day to our own best advantage and I think the discussion Derek raises is one every photographer (and scientist for that matter) should be aware of when approaching how they portray a subject. Each purpose unto its own, and for what reason, is ultimately decided upon at point of discovery; the result is determined by what we choose to do with the application of our knowledge and personal and professional epiphanies. Let's hope some consideration goes into the pursuit and application of it all.

Congratulations to you all and keep up the good work. ;0)

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31. Steve Perrett on July 15, 2006 6:55 AM writes...

And as others have stated already, pictures like that have probably never pulled in a single dollar to any research project. A grant committee is not going to state "well, this group does have a really good publication record - but these guys have an insanely cool piece of equipment and really photogenic weird light so lets give them the grant!"

As someone who was an academic research scientist for 18 years, I have to chuckle at the several scientists who made indignant statements similar to the above. In fact, grant committees do make awards based simply on the use of the insanely cool piece of equipment. In the pharmaceutical and biotech industries that fact is self-evident. One doesn't need to make a product that works, only one that sells. Thus, the herpes medicine ads with the beautiful couple biking in beautiful surroundings. I wish I could get herpes one day. It seems to be the perfect life. Seriously, basic research has gone down the same road. It's not what you do, but how you present it. The scientific method, much like the Geneva Convention, has been rendered quaint. So my suggestion to the indignant scientists, if you want to keep getting grants or selling your product, is to shut up and pose with the colored lights --- cause you can be sure others will not have a problem with it.

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32. Jim Hu on July 15, 2006 9:30 AM writes...

The problem is not that we don't want photographers to make us look good. We just don't want them to do it in a way that will also make us look like idiots to our friends and colleagues.

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33. MJ on July 15, 2006 9:36 AM writes...

What about your portrait? Was it shot digitally in color and then manipulated to black and white? Was it shot and lit from a high angle to hide your weight? Do you trim your beard differently than the hair pattern actually grows? Get over yourself.

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34. Dave Newman on July 15, 2006 1:52 PM writes...

I'm surprised so few have commented on the ethical gulf between PR and science. A scientist is always trying to disprove things. Science only works if scientists are scrupulously honest, reporting everything they observe, what works and what doesn't work, in enough detail that others can replicate it. Glossing over stories, or lying (euphemised as 'spin') has no place in science.

Rather than promoting beliefs as true for all time, scientists welcome surprises, welcome puzzles, welcome change. It is this uncertainty that is dramatic, not the interactions between people and lab. equipment.

So perhaps still photography is not the way to dramatise the ideas, and arguments about them, that excites scientists. Video photography of field work or a debate in a secondary school might work. Or better still, ask a graphic designer to come up with a drawing or animated cartoon that illustrates the fascinating ideas, like the ones in Scientific American.

Start with the fieldwork, or activities that engage members of the public with your science, then dramatise that. I have lots of boring photos of different designs of charcoal and wood cooking stoves, but the ones I show people first are the cooking tests where Kenyan women are using them to cook ugali, the courses when we taught people to build stoves out of mud, and our Heath-Robinson experiments measuring stove surface temperatures with thermocouples plugged in to a data recorder powered from the battery of a motorcycle parked just outside the open shed.

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35. FP on July 15, 2006 10:52 PM writes...

I am a professional photographer who has done a fair amount of photography in research labs. This includes environmental portraits of scientists and general research photographs. I feel some of my strongest work has been in black & white. Have I ever used colored gels? Of course - these are one of the tools in the toolbox. Can colored lights be used in a subtle and tasteful way? - of course. Are garishly lit colored photos a cliche-of course. What profession or industry isn't represented by it's own brand of cliches.
But please don't lay a blanket of blame for mediocre photographs on photographers. It is quite misdirected. There are two elements required for excellent photography in publications. A talented photographer with some vision and a client that is visually literate and willing to push the boundaries of what the company has published in the past. Oh, and did I mention in addition to all of the above, a decent budget. This combination is rare but it does happen occasionally.
You just don't get it. We are working for the same boss. Go knock on the door of your company's Director of Public Relations or better yet the CEO. That is where the real blame is. It is they who demand safe and boring work from us. Ask any photographer - 1 in 10 jobs ends up in our portfolios. The irony is that we get hired on the basis of the interesting work on our portfolios and then when shooting the job, get asked to do the same old cliche shots. I suggest that you take the responsibility of art directing your company's next shoot as if your next review and raise depended on the people above you liking the results.

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36. TFox on July 18, 2006 6:49 PM writes...

Another perspective is to ask how serious photography can be used in communicating real science in an effective, artistic way. Eg see

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37. csusandman on July 20, 2006 6:21 PM writes...

Soooo... do these photography techniques affect how you do your job?

How it's portrayed is one thing. How it helps / hinders your performance is another.

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38. Dan P on December 14, 2011 10:16 AM writes...

It's a form of metaphor. You can't directly photograph awe and wonder because it's a little abstract. So you replace it with something concrete you can photograph, namely a glow. I think most people know not to take these things literally but I suspect some scientists aren't so good with metaphor.

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39. Mrs. Anonymous BMS Researcher on July 2, 2013 12:58 PM writes...

BTW, though there isn't much call for actual photos of professional medical writers at work, at least the Standard Visual Narrative of us is a bit closer to the task. Several common variants (from websites of CROs and other large companies, though not my own workplace):

1) Earnest young woman holding a pen looking pensive.
2) Earnest young woman at a keyboard looking pensive.
3) Closeup of a pen or keyboard by itself. Extra points if it's a fountain pen.

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