Do a few Google image searches for “scientist”, or for specific scientists, or just look at some lab websites, and you’ll find that the pictures run to type. Lots of shots of scientists in the lab or at their field site, or with some obvious stand-in for their lab or field site. For instance, here’s E. O. Wilson with an ant sculpture,
Jane Lubchenco in the rocky intertidal,
Rees Kassen with a petri plate and a colony counter,
and Robert Oppenheimer with a chalkboard full of equations.
The conventional nature of these images is understandable. The whole point of a photo of a scientist is to convey some sense of what they work on. But effective as images like the above are, they’re not very creative. I prefer images that are just as effective, but more visually imaginative.
How about a fisheye lens to jazz up that conventional scientist-standing-in-lab shot?
Shooting in black and white smartens up what would otherwise be a pretty conventional shot of an ecologist talking to students at a field site:
More imaginatively, why does the scientist’s study system have to be the background? Why can’t it be the foreground?
The setting or object illustrating the scientist’s study system can be chosen more creatively. This is risky–the resulting image might not work–but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The scientist doesn’t have to just stand there and smile, either. That previous shot of Robert Oppenheimer is nice, but it couldn’t be more conventional. I much prefer this shot of him:
Speaking of iconic, unconventional shots of physicists:
Finally, my casual googling failed to turn up any interesting group shots of scientists. Best I found was this image, which I think is famous in paleontological circles:
Lack of cool group shots of scientists seems a shame in our increasingly collaborative age. Someone needs to do for group shots of scientists what Rembrandt did for group portraits in the 17th century: find a way to portray everyone doing something:
In the comments, share links to your favorite pictures of scientists, especially ones that play with or defy the conventions of the genre. (UPDATE: our commenters came through, as they always do! See the comments for a great shot of Charles Elton on a motorcycle with a bag full of mousetraps!)
p.s. Shameless self-promotion alert: the University of Calgary photographer took this shot of me for a story about various Darwin-related events I organized back in 2009. He put some thought into how to represent Darwin visually, and eventually came up with what I think is a nice variant on the “academic sitting in an office surrounded by books” genre: