Scientific photographers use their knowledge of scientific procedures to illustrate or record scientific or medical data. They do this by capturing images of a variety of different subjects and material. They often have specialized scientific knowledge in such fields as engineering, medicine, biology, or chemistry.
They choose and present a subject in order to achieve a desired look or effect, and select the appropriate equipment, such as artificial light, a particular lens, filters, tripods, and flashes. They operate either a traditional film camera or a digital camera, and some may choose to develop their own film. They may convert the film to a digital image and then edit and electronically transmit images using email. This allows them to manipulate or enhance the digital image to achieve their desired effect.
Scientific photographers need to have knowledge of the particular branch of science in which they work. They also should possess an artistic aptitude, good eyesight, and strong hand-eye coordination. They need to have good interpersonal communication skills and be skilled at working with others. They should be patient, accurate, and have an eye for detail. More and more, they are required to have knowledge of computer software programs and applications relevant to their work.
In 2002, scientific photographers earned a median annual salary of $24,040. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $14,640, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $49,920. Salaried photographers tend to earn more than self-employed photographers. Freelance photographers spend large amounts of money purchasing and maintaining their cameras and other equipment.
Training and Education
Scientific photographers can receive training through universities, community and junior colleges, vocational-technical institutes, or private trade and technical schools. Courses cover basic processes, standard equipment, and techniques. Bachelor’s degrees provide a very strong and well-rounded education, especially those that include courses in business.
Regardless of training, employers seek individuals who have a good eye, imagination, and creativity. Many entry-level photographers start out as assistants to more experienced photographers, and gradually move up in level of responsibility. Photographers who operate their own freelance business need to have additional knowledge and skills, including writing, hiring, licensing, pricing, and financial record keeping.
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In 2002, photographers held about 130,000 jobs. More than 50% were self-employed, and most worked in major metropolitan areas.
Between 2002 and 2012, the number of scientific photographers is expected to increase about as fast as the average. Demand will be tempered by increasing productivity and the reduction in barriers to consumer digital photography technology. As scientific photographers face keen competition for jobs, those who are the most creative, flexible, and business savvy will have the best chances for employment.