Photomicrographer  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotPhotomicrography is photography through a microscope. The stuff that is easily visible in a photomicrograph can't normally be observed without an optical microscope.

Bacteria, viruses, single-celled organisms and tiny detailed views of much larger things -- like skin or microchips -- can all be captured by a photomicrographer.

dotPhotomicrographs serve a number of purposes. They help scientists learn about the microscopic worlds that surround us, they make those worlds easier to understand, and they create a permanent impression of them.

"Recording images seen in the microscope onto photographic film allows scientists to produce a hard copy for research records," says Michael Davidson, a photomicrographer.

dotIn addition to being scientists, photomicrographers are also artists. Although most of us aren't even aware that it exists, the invisible world that surrounds us can be breathtaking.

While a photomicrograph is a technical document that can be of great value to science or industry, a good photomicrograph is also an object of beauty.

dotPhotomicrography can be used in many scientific, medical and educational areas, such as:

  • Medical research and diagnostics
  • Ecology and environmental contaminants
  • Agriculture and food-microbial processes
  • Criminal investigations
  • Forestry and forest products
  • Electronics
  • Publications
  • Educational textbooks, curricula and interactive CD-ROMs
  • Exhibitions

dotUsed in a teaching setting such as a chemistry laboratory, photomicrography gives students new insights into chemical and molecular behavior and a greater understanding of what chemistry involves. Rather than trying to understand microscopic worlds from numbers, charts and drawings, students can actually see what they are studying.

dotAlthough in the past, photomicrographers held positions in many academic institutions, this is no longer as common.

"At one point, most universities had several staff members engaged in scientific photography. Typically a professor, graduate student or researcher would come to this group for help if their work required photographs," says photomicrographer Ron Neumeyer. "Today, things have changed. Support staff have been cut, leaving most scientists little choice but to become proficient in photomicrography."

dotPhotomicrography encompasses the techniques of both black and white and color photography. It's important for any photomicrographer to develop good photographic skills. They must be able to translate what the microscope sees into an image on film.

"To be a good photomicrographer, besides knowing the photography side of the subject, you should have a good grounding in microscope technique -- the preparation of specimens and different methods of illumination," says scientific photographer Arthur Strange.

dotPhotomicrography is a highly competitive field. Those with the best business ability and the best reputation find salaried positions or attract enough work to support themselves as self-employed photographers.

Depending on their position, photomicrographers may need to promote themselves and manage the financial and business aspects of their career.

dotGood eyesight, artistic ability and manual dexterity are needed in this career. Photomicrographers should be patient, accurate and enjoy working with details.

At a Glance

Take pictures through a microscope

  • A background in photography is essential
  • Photomicrographers are artists and scientists
  • Good eyesight is required