The importance of photos in research (Fieldwork Week 9)

I think there are tipping points in time, moments where the scale balances for a second them slumps down to the other side. In a week it’s probably Wednesday; you start the day with most of the working week to go and you end it rushing towards the weekend. On the scale of a month it’s that middle week where the dates start in the late teens and before you know it it’s the 24th and everyone’s commenting on another month whizzing by. These last couple of weeks have been the tipping point in fieldwork for me, where time flipped oh so suddenly from ‘not even half way through’ to ‘one week left of laboratory experiments’.

There’s still plenty of fieldwork to be done, but the last section of my work is tied up with the international field campaign SHIVA so I’ve been wrapping up my laboratory studies in KL. It isn’t the most blog-worthy of work; a lot of it has involved analysing air samples that I’ve collected at all the field sites I’ve shown you over the past few weeks.

In the midst of tying up loose ends, running endless samples, masses of SHIVA-related emails and other such tasks my aim to photograph as much as possible in the lab and field can seem a bit of a distraction, some might even say a waste of time. I love taking photographs anyway; people, food, buildings – I’m snap happy. So I’d probably take pictures of my research purely for the fun of it. But over the past year or so of science snaps I’ve realised the many benefits to research photography, so here’s 5 reasons to get involved:

1. 30 seconds to posterity. Nothing will ever replace a lab book, or at least a digital ipad-like equivalent that our future scientists will be wielding mid-experiments. They’re essential for notes, observations, weights, times etc. But with one quick click of your shutter you can have so much detail recorded – perfect for fieldwork when you’re battling the rain, cold or even the tropical sun.

2. It gives you the benefit of hindsight. Which is, as they say, a beautiful thing. Notes you make whilst conducting an experiment are usually biased to your experimental aims and what you hope to discover. Photos give you the chance to revisit past situations and possibly attribute cause to anomalous results. This happened to me post-2010 fieldwork; puzzling over a slight anomaly in my data I looked back over my site photographs and found a possible cause. Without the pictures I may have written off a chunk of data, but the photos gave me a new little side alley of research to investigate.

3. Perfect poster/presentation fodder. Your presentations will look so much more professional if you include a picture you took yourself as opposed to some irrelevant, pixellated, watermarked image you ripped of the web and then stressed about how to reference, or sat vainly trying to download from Google images whilst cursing the hotel’s free Wifi speed the night before your big talk.

4. It’s ideal for outreach. When people ask you what do you do what do you think they’d prefer to see, a table of numbers of a nice photo?

5. (well, only if you’re as lucky as me) It’s great memories of amazing places and field sites and a reminder of how lucky I am when I’m back in the UK pulling 12-hour days in the lab!


2 thoughts on “The importance of photos in research (Fieldwork Week 9)

  1. I agree! In my own research I’ve found it very important to have a photo that captures your findings in one glimpse–it also helps to capture attention. A great photo can’t replace solid research, but together they are very powerful.

  2. Pingback: Fieldwork week 13: and it’s finished… | pipettes and paintbrushes

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