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Rob Mc

Volunteering for Researchers

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Has anyone had an opportunity to volunteer with an individual researcher? There's obviously challenges such as geographic location and access limitations (like if they work for government agencies) but it seems like there's so many areas of ocean research happening every day, there wouldn't even be enough of us on this forum to capture it!  Conservation groups are usually smart about marketing, but for individual scientists with super specific projects and tight budgets, they need our photo skills more than ever. Just wondering if anyone here has experience in working with scientists to showcase their work? 

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I've been working with researchers the past 6 years. I do underwater mapping, photogrammetry and image processing. Photography is my side hobby. Many of the applications have been very interesting from marine assessments and habitat mapping to sampling volcanic vents to study ocean acidification, etc.

My favorite was conducting a population census of giant clams (Tridacna gigas), I did a digital scan of the seabed to create an underwater aerial image of the nursery, then did an automated count of the clams to assess population, sizes and mortality.

 

Screen Shot 2021-08-03 at 07.18.54.jpg

Edited by Pomacentridae
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That's amazing! I use photogrammetry a lot for work myself but it's for film & game industry assets, not research. That's a really awesome application! What sort of background did you start out with to get into that line of work? Were you always doing image processing or GIS type work or coming at it from another field perhaps? Really interesting stuff!

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I have an engineering background and had experience doing surveys, which naturally leads to remote sensing, mapping and image processing work. I got connected in 2014 to a marine laboratory as they needed some technical mapping advice. Learning what they did I saw that my skill sets had applications in their field so I started helping out and joining some projects.

I do agree with you these scientists need more publicity, the work they do is amazing! They are always looking to collaborate and involve people in their work, they mostly have marine science backgrounds, so if you have a different skill set that plugs in the need gaps the better. Since there are so many fields of study, whatever skill set you possess, trust me, there will be field that will fit your skill set.

I think it is worth visiting them, see what they do and offering your help if there are problems you see you can help out in. I started off as just volunteering my time and knowledge, especially if the work was really interesting. Then they do get you officially involved in projects so eventually it became paid work. One benefit I love is getting to dive in really remote places normal people have never been to and get paid to do it. I am only doing this part time, my main work is still engineering.

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Wow so a lot of those subjects go hand in hand it sounds like. I’m kicking myself for not starting out in a technical field, my 8 years in the film industry has given me lots of hands-on experience with acquiring photogrammetry and lidar data but no technical background or ways to analyze/use that data.  I’m actually just starting the process of going back for a masters in image science. It’ll take me a while but I’m genuinely excited about learning this stuff. I’ve been doing some volunteer survey diving for Reef Check in California and crossing paths with researchers in a variety of fields, but getting more involved like you is a really exciting goal for the future. 

That’s awesome your experience has led to full-on involvement with projects. And the aspect you mention about diving places people don’t normally get to visit is spot on. In my short time volunteering I’ve quickly realized that even just one cove over from a recreational dive site may be completely different, and visiting a research site with actual researchers gives a totally different perspective. I can imagine the locations you get to visit are on a whole other level. With your expertise and level of involvement, is it a sort of "science first" scenario with opportunities for photography when time allows? 

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Regarding photo opportunities from my experience, the science is always a priority when it comes to fieldwork. However, there usually is a lot of flex with the schedule of activities. There is always an extra day or hour in a day for contingencies — for bad weather, travel delays, etc. If we don’t use that time up and everything goes to plan, we usually use that extra time to rest, explore or have fun.

 

There was a time we had 3 extra days (due to the ferry trips only every 5 days). So we were able to plan an entire side trip. But typically a day at the start and a day at the end of the trip is the buffer. Then an extra hour on site per day.

 

Some of the research staff also do underwater photography for fun. Best to buddy up with them! We usually go back to the best places we saw when we were working. but given the logistics involved in getting to these really far off sites. We tend to only bring small systems (compact camera or M43 platforms).

 

Some roles that get rotated during trips is the role of safety diver. (Usually someone who isn’t directly involved in the experiment for that dive). The guy's job is just to watch over everyone as they do their work. He also acts like the trip documenter and takes photos of people working. If you’re into photographing people this is a nice role to be in. Usually in a 10day trip, i am involved in 85-90% of the experiments/surveys done, so about 10-15% of the time it is possible for me to be the safety diver or help in other people’s experiments.

 

Sometimes we do hire a dedicated photographer to document the trip. Especially for campaigns or ground breaking work.

 

If you get based on a research station even better, much more opportunities to explore, plus the station usually has very experienced people that can tell you where the best places are. You can also bring your big camera rig as logistics typically allow for it.

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk

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