Science Online | Books & Reports | Newsletters | SB&F | Annual Report | Store
Home About AAAS Programs Membership Publications News Career Resources


Science Books & Films

Triple-A S: Advancing Science, Serving Society

Publications of AAAS and Science

The Science and Art of Photography
Welcome to the SB&F Editor's Blog. I am Maria Sosa, Editor-in-Chief of SB&F. Through this blog I hope to interact with the SB&F community and post news and information related to science books, videos, authors, opportunities and other topics of interest to our readers. I hope you find the blog useful and entertaining. Please, join the conversation by posting a comment on our Facebook page. I'd love to hear from you!


Guest Blogger: Ann Williams, Art Director, SB&F

Scientific photography is both an "art" and a "science", where artists and scientists strive to better understand the world around them. Yet art and science differ greatly in their aim and their practice. 

Art concerns itself with aesthetically pleasing images. The artistic part of photography includes the photographer's artistic goals, his composition, his vision, inspiration and the use of art-related concepts. Understanding the "art" is essential to good photography, but cannot be performed by itself. One cannot learn and master art first and then just take photographs. It requires practice; experimentation and study to determine how use of principles from the "science" affect the appearance of the photograph. 

The science part of photography includes technique and equipment. Art and science need to merge seamlessly for the creation of a successful world-class photograph to take place. If one or these two parts dominates the other the result is either a technically excellent photograph that is not very artistic, or a very artistic photograph lacking technical excellence. As an artist, I hope that scientific photographs have artistic content, message, and vision in concert with technical excellence.

Photography is a highly technical medium because, unlike painting and drawing, a mechanical device (the camera) stands between the photographer and the subject. The brush and paint are the medium between the painter and his canvas, but the painter does not see through his brush and paint the way the photographer sees through his camera. Brush and paints are just tools used to carry the painter's vision onto the canvas.

For example, nearly all lenses introduce some form of distortion, blurriness, vignetting and the like. Painters do not have to contend with such optical difficulties, as their brush paints precisely what they intend to paint. It takes years of training to learn how to use a brush in a masterful manner, but the brush does not have a mind of its own the way a lens does.

Printing the image also entails a number of changes because the printer replaces the camera as intermediary between the photographer and the image he or she is about to lay down on paper. Printers need to be profiled properly otherwise the image will introduce banding and look differently on screen and on paper. No painter ever had to profile a paintbrush, or worry about matching their canvas to the image on screen, or again has to deal with banding on their canvas.

Finally, image permanence is an issue as certain inks fade faster than others. Once again, painters do not need to concern themselves with any of this since the paint they place on the canvas will look exactly the way it looks when they lay it down, with minimal adjustments for drying which may slightly dull some colors, something easily accounted for. Oil paints are among the longest lasting medium, being made from pigments and benefiting from a technology refined over hundreds of years.

In becoming a technically excellent photographer­­-some photographers focus solely on science to the detriment of art. So what should a photographer do? I contend they should start by solving all the technical problems and get comfortable with the photographic process so that it becomes totally transparent to them. This approach will allow creativity to flow and give them the freedom and the opportunity to focus on artistic considerations while knowing that the technical aspects of the medium are accounted for. Then, they should study art; listen to their inspiration; and above all stop thinking and start feeling that they can create images that are emotional responses to the scene in front of them rather than technically perfect, mechanical representations of their images.

This blog post is the second in a series of posts on science and art written by Ann Williams, the SB&F art director. Ann is an accomplished fine artist and illustrator. She has worked as a graphic designer, publications manager, book illustrator, and art director., and has received numerous art and design awards for her work.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Posted 19 Jul 2013 4:10 PM by Maria Sosa