Envisioning Science – The Design and Craft of the Science Image By Felice Frankel, forward by Phyllis Morrison

“These are honest documents of scientific investigation… but capture the marvel of whatever phenomena I intend to capture”

What better word could a true champion of science use, than marvel.  In this book of stunning photographs from the scientific and artistic endeavors of Felice Frankel, with a few from other contributors, we find examples and a valuable set of lessons in scientific photography and presentation.  But much more than that, in these beautiful and informative photos, we find inspiration that science is beautiful, and that images of science can convey both beauty and a rich detail of information unavailable by other means. 

The stunning photographs in this book are the lead attraction – I recommend leaving it on your coffee table to impress your friends, and convince your non-scientist family that your career choice is indeed fascinating.  But Felice goes beyond the beauty to show us how the photographs were obtained.  She gives us practical advice, such as, “Don’t center the important element in your photograph, it makes for an uninteresting image”, and, “Make comparisons by including the other”, i.e. two forms of the phenomena of interest.  The “butterfly and caterpillar” story that is behind many beautiful photos can be made explicit, and fascinating, by including both in the same photo. Additionally, “Using multiple samples….[can] contribute to your aesthetic appeal of your image through repetition, and can also imply that your scientific result can be duplicated”.  Simple, solid advice from someone who has made a career of scientific photography.

Even an experienced photographer will appreciate Felice’s advice on lighting, especially using multiple light sources for descriptive shadow creation. Two-light methods are particularly useful in microscopy, and her use of a white card to create diffuse light, eliminating dust in a closeup, is the kind of skill that separates the descriptive photo from the stunning one. Suggestions on the use of photos in a presentation include, “Think about layering your story, with images appearing one after the other,” and, “Depict a process that changes over time”.

Felice’s advice on digitally enhancing pictures is sound even given the age of this book. Most importantly, her admonitions on the importance of honoring the original data/photograph and being careful to only enhance the understanding, and not the record of the phenomena, is solid advice for any time.  This book shows us many examples of how the elegantly composed photo can do such a quick job of describing a complex phenomenon, and Felice goes on to help us understand how we can best design, and then display, those photographic records.  This timeless classic should be on the bookshelf of any scientist for whom the photographic record is part of their work, and it is a must read for those of you who seek ways to champion science, and bring the marvel of discovery and understanding to a broader audience.