SHOOTING FOR SCIENCE
Recreational divers have made a huge contribution to the discovery of new marine species over the past couple of decades. By travelling to places that most scientists can only dream of visiting, divers have recorded a wealth of new species that had previously resided in obscurity. Being one of the first to photograph an animal in its natural habitat carries quite a responsibility, so here I share some tips on what and how to shoot for the best image.
HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH FOR SCIENCE
Science photography straddles an unusual ground between functionality and aesthetics. It obviously depends on what you want to do with your image, but often a specialist will be able to identify a known species from a fairly poor image so it’s worth shooting what you can.
A species’ description is the formal process by which a newly discovered species is identified. Until surprisingly recently, colour photographs of living specimens in their natural habitat were rarely included in these descriptions: Black and white plates of dead specimens were much more common. Only under exceptional circumstances can a new species be described from an image alone, but getting to this stage often requires that scientists have seen good enough images to confirm in their own mind that it is worth pursuing and collecting a specimen.
For a new fish species, a clear side shot with fins wide open is preferable. However, don’t start collecting specimens without having the go-ahead from a scientist first.
Given that the scientist who writes the scientific description may never see the animal alive, it is valuable to collect other images and information, too. Photos of several individuals will be useful, since specimens preserved in formalin solution very quickly lose their lustre. Any interesting behaviours you observe should also be captured and recorded, but these needn’t be of especially high quality. A wide-angle shot of the animal’s habitat may also help a scientist to gauge its ecological preferences.