Far

Originally posted on BioDiverse Perspectives.

In a previous post, the photographing ecologist explained the importance of getting low to get the interesting and catchy pictures of your scientific subjects. As you can imagine the extra effort this would ask from your knees, I here want to highlight one more reason why it is certainly worth the effort: it creates the chance to display your subject in its wider environment.

Invasive red clover along a fjord in northern Norway

Invasive red clover along a fjord in northern Norway

This wider environment is an important factor. As scientists, we have the habit to focus too much on the details. From our first steps in the PhD, we dive too deep in our own little niche. And as we get closer and closer to our subjects, it might become difficult to communicate to uninformed outsiders about the broad picture.

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A good picture could be the rescue here. It provides a non-scientific public immediately with a lot of useful information about your study object and its environment. Especially when you took into account the ‘Low’ and ‘Far’ strategies…

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When you dare to ignore the common urge to take a frame-filling picture of your subject, you improve your chances of explaining the details to your audience. A well-designed picture in which attention has been paid to the background, starts telling a story. A story about the world in which your subject lives, the ecological frame where everything is situated. You loose small-scale details if you refrain from close-up images, but in return you get a large amount of information that broadens the view.

Herd of reindeer in their typical environment: roaming the tundra with the Lapporten mountains in the background

Herd of reindeer in their typical environment: roaming the tundra with the Lapporten mountains in the background

Taking some steps back might also help to get a simpler image, one that is easier to understand. Keep an eye out for distinct lines and shapes in the landscape, as they can provide a pause for the eye of the viewer. This will make the true subject of the picture to stand out.

With this close-up of a dead lemming in the Scandinavian mountains, for example, you can see the details of the gruesome torture that happened to this poor animal.

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But I also love this overview, as it immediately adds an extra dimension to the story. How the little fellow was probably left behind there on that rock by a bird of prey. How the hunter was driven out by an unwanted visitor halfway its meal on its favourite rock overlooking the whole valley.

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So, going ‘far’ from your subject turns out to be an interesting way to tell ecological stories. I experienced the trick to work for people as well. A picture of an ecologist in action in the middle of his ‘natural habitat’ emits a lot more power than any detailed close-up will ever get.

Hiking through the Scandinavian mountains in search for an experimental plot

Hiking through the Scandinavian mountains in search for an experimental plot

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