People are really good at seeing. Specifically, we’re really good at seeing selectively, blocking out stuff that we’re not interested in, ignoring lighting problems, motion, and other minor annoyances. While this is great when we’re observing life in real time, it isn’t so great when we’re taking photos. The camera is terrible at selective seeing, and depending on your camera equipment and your skill at photography, your camera might also be terrible at ignoring lighting problems, motion of your subject, your own shaky hands, and lots more.
There are some issues in photography that are universal, regardless of why you’re taking pictures, and there are other issues that relate specifically to in-the-field research. Let’s deal with some of the general issues and then move on to issues relating specifically to study abroad projects:
Why Are You Using a Photograph in the First Place?
A picture is worth a thousand words. The point here is that every picture tells a story, and if you’re taking pictures, especially for academic purposes, you’re telling some story, intentionally or not. Deciding on what story you’re trying to tell up front will usually produce better results, whether you’re writing your story or photographing it.
Is the Photograph Alone Enough to Get Your Point Across?
Sometimes, the story you want to tell can be told with a single photo, sometimes you’ll need a series of images, and sometimes, you may need to show a detail from your photo to get your point across. Annotating or captioning your photos can also be important in conveying meaning. Below is an example of two photos in a series that convey a definite meaning otherwise difficult to convey through just one photo or just the two photos without the yellow circle drawing your attention in the first photo.
Is Your Photography Integrated into Your Research Project?
No matter how great your photo is, if it contradicts your research or confuses your reader, it’s best to either reframe how you are using the photo or get rid of it completely. A research paper that focuses on traffic congestion in a city, for example, should not feature a photo of an empty city street at sunset, unless the photo is explained somewhere in your text. Besides integrating the subject matter of the photo into the main theme of your paper, the location of the photo and its size are also very important considerations.
While the points above should give you a good head start when thinking about how to integrate your existing photography into a research paper, I haven’t yet given you any tips on how to take photographs that will help you produce your best research and really illustrate your point. This is another matter entirely and involves not just photography, but also photo editing, so it will probably be best to reserve these subjects for my next installment.