Interesting visuals (photos, graphics, charts, etc.) attract attention and help to make complex information accessible. Good images grab attention and add value and meaning to the text.
However, sourcing the right images can be time-consuming and challenging. Don’t leave the hunt for images till last!
If you are working on a communication project (article, web site, etc.) focused on a specific researcher or research group, it really pays to invest in a professional photo shoot. When you take a professional photographer to a research group, make sure everyone is well briefed and willing to collaborate. Professional photographers will set up special lights and screens and will need at least two to three hours to complete a proper shoot. Make sure the scientists are aware of this beforehand and that they will be patient during the process. It pays in the end.
Fuzzy, blurry and under-exposed (dark) photos project a poor image. When images are used in printed media (such as brochures), they must be in high resolution – at least 300 dots per inch (dpi). To use photos fairly large, for example A4 size, they need to be at least 600 dpi. If you print low-resolution images in a magazine or newsletter, they will “pixelate” (break up into pixels).
In the online environment 72 dpi is adequate. High-res images may take long to load. Most graphic software packages (for example MS Paint) will allow you to resize your images so that they are 72 dpi and about 600×400 pixels in length or height.
Always credit an image correctly, either with the name of the photographer or the name of the organisation that owns the photo.
Take time to write good captions
Most readers scan a page and focus first of all on the visuals. If a photo catches their attention, they will read the caption before they read any other text. This suggests that it is worth investing time and effort in writing compelling and “catchy” captions that will intrigue the readers enough to encourage them to read further.
The photo and caption should complement each other. The photo captures a moment in time and provokes an emotional reaction, while the caption tells the reader what, where and when. Ideally, the photo and caption should intrigue the reader to read the rest of the story.
So, how do you write a good caption? Here are some tips that may help you.
Identify the key people or topic in the photograph and give information about who, where, what, when and why.
Avoid stating the obvious, for example: “A science show presenter doing a demonstration”.
Avoid using terms like “is shown, is pictured, and looks on”.
Sometimes longer captions are required, but it can’t be more than 2-3 sentences.
Write the caption as if you’re telling a family member a story.
Take care with copyright
When you use images that you have sourced online, it is very important to make sure that you don’t breach any copyright conditions. Simply taking an image from a website or blog, without the permission of the owner, means that you are copying another person’s intellectual property without permission.
“Science communicators could add a valuable service by providing advice on copyright issues. I find that researchers don’t always understand and accept copyright limitation when teaching or when giving talks. They often grab pictures and graphics from the Internet and believe that there are blanket copyright exclusions when images are used in education. This could result in a bill for copyright infringement.” Susanne Benner, head of communications, Max Planck Institute für Chemistry, Germany
There are some image repositories where permission to use has been provided to support the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge. A ‘Creative Commons’ licence means you can use the image as long as you give credit to the original creator of the work (find out more at www.creativecommons.org). Explore, for example, the free images available at commons.wikimedia.org and www.morguefile.com. The Commons on Flickr commons is another great source of free images since certain large science institutions have contributed to the public domain collection.
Some stock libraries, for example the ones listed below, also offer science-relevant images, often at a very reasonable fee. Here are a few examples.
Look for examples of (printed and online) science stories where the visuals make a significant contribution to the meaning and impact of the story. Look for interesting, compelling photos illustrating research. These examples will add value when you talk about visual communication during a training workshop.
“Most quality newspapers or publications will not accept a photograph if all the people on the photo are not identified. Therefore, avoid group photos – researchers love them, the media hates them.” Wiida Basson, media liaison officer at the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Stellenbosch University