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February 2nd, 2009

Tips from a science photographer 1

Posted by Chris Linder

Chris Linder gets big photography grants from an unlikely source: the National Science Foundation. Every Monday until he leaves for his April 4 “Live from the Poles” expedition, he’ll share tips about photographing for science institutions and preparing for an Arctic photo expedition. Check out “2”: How to write a photography-based grant for the National Science Foundation.
"On my first expedition for Woods Hole Oceanographic, I photographed researchers at work in the Irminger Sea east of Greenland." © Chris Linder

"On my first expedition for Woods Hole Oceanographic, I photographed researchers at work in the Irminger Sea east of Greenland." Photo by Chris Linder, WHOI

When I started at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) nearly ten years ago, I was an avid photographer but had no idea that I would someday be paid to photograph researchers on the Greenland Ice Sheet and Antarctica. My first oceanography cruise for Woods Hole, in the summer of 2001, was a month aboard the 177-foot long research vessel Oceanus studying the turbulent waters west of Iceland. My job was to stand a science watch. That entails helping wrangle unwieldy instruments over the side of the ship and making sure that all of the equipment is recording data properly.

When I wasn’t on watch, I indulged my passion for photography. But it wasn’t the photographs of pilot whales and icebergs that caught the chief scientist’s eye — it was the photographs of people working aboard the ship. As a member of the science party, it was easy for me to capture candid moments of people working on deck, analyzing water samples, and playing cards. At the time I had no idea of the value of what I was doing. But when I returned home from the expedition, the photographs were used in calendars, annual reports, and presentations.

The following year, that same scientist hired me to document his 3-year project working in the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. In addition to documenting the work with my camera, I also wrote daily first-person essays describing the experience and facilitated direct communication between the scientists and school kids. It was a tremendously rewarding experience, and for the first time I discovered the power of photography as an educational tool. It was also the start of a new niche for me at Woods Hole—that of a field photographer and outreach specialist. Now, although I still help with analyzing data and publishing papers, science photography and other education projects make up the bulk of my work.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Any other photographers out there who made a name for yourself by visually documenting an industry you used to be part of? What were the keys to your success?

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