Worth A Thousand Words

i-c663033968d846c7624c9f8a346abff9-fish_id_lessons-thumb-515x343-60516.jpgThe ToBo Lab fish crew learning how to ID parrotfish from fish expert Rich Pyle aboard the Hi'ialakai

"Visual storytelling through science/nature photography" was the fourth session I attended at Science Online 2011. Run by ace photographer and journalist Allie Wilkinson and photography enthusiast and science writer Melody Dye, the session focused on how to enrich the public understanding of science through imagery. We often don't realize how important visual presentation is in communication. Whether in the form of a pic next to a headline or a photo essay, images are powerful means of communicating.

Allie first got interested in photojournalism though a course in her master's program, but it wasn't until she took an internship at USGS that she realized the paucity of good images taken of scientific research. She showed the video of the only pictures available to her of scientist actually doing research for a podcast she worked on - a whopping two shots of measuring tapes on sand. "You aren't always going to have a professional photographer around to take great photos," she cautioned the scientists in the audience. Scientists, she says, need to take on the role of photographer if they want good images of their research that truly convey the work they do.

But not just anyone can take great photos, can they? Melody thinks so. She explained that becoming a good photographer isn't as hard as you might think. She pointed out that good camera equipment isn't as expensive as it used to be, and that tutorials are available online to show you how to use whatever you've got. From there, practice makes perfect.

What was great about this session was the audience participation. Josh Rosenau chimed in with the photographer's maxim that "the best camera you have is the one you have with you," reminding us all that great photos are also a product of circumstance as well as talent.

And what about tips for the budding photographer? Take a lot of pictures! With the onset of digital photography, you can afford to take a hundred bad shots for every good one. Also, when sharing pictures online, have good titles, tags and share them under a creative commons license - that way people can find your stuff and use it, getting your name out there. Websites like flickr and zenfolio are great places to expose your work to a large audience.

Of course, like with writing, the best way to become a better photographer is to look at pictures. Figure out what attracts you to images, what makes them stand out or catch your eye, and determine what works for you.

Overall this session was jam packed with great ideas for novices all the way to professionals. It imparted in a brief 60 minutes how to get started taking photos, how to improve your photography, and how to get your pictures noticed. Furthermore, it stressed the importance of images in communication. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. And as the Scientific American editor in the audience pointed out, the best picture for a story is one that cuts out as many words as possible!

Visual Storytelling H264 Widescreen 960x540 from Smartley-Dunn on Vimeo.

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With the onset of digital photography, you can afford to take a hundred bad shots for every good one.

I made my living with a camera for the first half of my working life. I'd like to share a bit of wisdom I got from a mentor early on: A photographer's most valuable tool is the wastebasket. Purge the bad shots, or you'll go nuts trying to find the good ones in a hurry. Be ruthless.