TwinsTwins © Peter Barta
© Peter Barta

2008 BioImages Citation of Merit

This photo of twins Kara and Lauren was taken by Peter Barta for the front cover of Promise magazine. Kara had stage IV neuroblastoma, a form of cancer that runs from the base of the neck to the tailbone. Lauren, her identical twin sister, was the perfect match for the stem cell transplant needed to treat Kara's cancer.

"I knew this photo had to make a powerful connection with the viewer. I try to make the child or children feel as comfortable as possible and have fun with them. It helps to get that 'real' photograph if they feel calm and at ease. These two little girls were great, fun and just goofing around. I somewhat set them up for the picture, but I just let them do their thing to make sure I get that natural smile."

"The photo was taken with a Nikon D2x, Nikon 50mm 1.4 lens, photographed at 1/160 sec @ f/2, ISO 400, using one 1600 White Lighting strobe with shoot thru umbrella (model light only), but just using the model light to light the twin sisters. Doing this helps keep my f-stop short to get that nice soft background keeping the focus on the sisters. Since I deal a lot with cancer patients who are children, it also helps not to trigger the strobes; it can start to hurt their eyes or just wear them out."

Read more about this photographer

Peter BartaPeter Barta grew up in a small town in Lake Crystal, Minnesota. He attended Mankato State University Minnesota, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography. At the time, he was working at the local newspaper as a photojournalist, a job that he said, "gave him great experience with news, event, sports, and people photography. I also have a great passion for nature and wildlife photography that has taken me to some great locations."

He currently works as a Biomedical Photographer at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

Below, Barta shares insight into his specialty of biomedical photography and advice for other photographers interested in entering this field.

Why did you choose this specialty?

Throughout my photography career, I worked in restaurants and managed kitchens, which paid for my photography at the time. After coming back from a seasonal job working as a chef in Yellowstone, I decided to look for a job for what I went to school for. So I sat down at the computer day after day looking on every job site you could imagine trying to find a photography job that I found interesting. I found a job listing from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and they were looking for a biomedical photographer. The next day, I went back to the post and it was taken down. I called St. Jude and was told that I could still send in my application. And after a few interviews, I found myself moving south to Memphis, Tennessee.

What type of cameras do you shoot with?

I feel very lucky that I work at a place where we try to keep up with technology as best we can. Currently we are using the Nikon D4, D3s, D3, D2x. My personal gear is Canon so I get best of both worlds.

What is your favorite piece of equipment or photography accessory? Why?

I am a gadget freak so any kind of camera equipment or cool gadget is fun for me to play with. But I have always been a sucker for macro photography. It is really a whole different world. There are a lot of technical issues you run into which I find to be a fun challenge.

Describe your typical workday.

Every day is different and that is what I love about this job. A day could consist of a fun patient event in the morning, working in surgery late morning, a celebrity visit in the afternoon, and a fundraising event at the end of the day.

What is great about being a biomedical photographer at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is that it is so broad. We cover so many different types of photography: promotional photography, portraiture, public relations, illustrative, celebrities, medical photography, scientific photography, and then also being fluent as you can be in Photoshop. All of these use different techniques so it really puts your photography skills to the test, and challenges you differently every day.

Do you have any advice for photographers interested in a career in medical photography?

Unless you are going to school for medical photography, there is a good chance that you might not get that much experience. What helped me get the job that I have is accumulating experience in a lot of different types of fields—and become a well-rounded photographer. Try to learn and do as much as you can. To be honest, I didn't see myself as a people photographer. I was more of the isolated nature photographer. But I knew if I wanted to make it in photography, I had to learn how to make people feel comfortable in front of the camera. And that is why I applied for a photojournalism job in college. Push yourself as much as you can and work on your weaknesses.

I, of course, still shoot nature, wildlife, travel photography, macro photography; which all have their own specialized technique. You learn something new every time you go out there. You can always sit in a classroom or read a book about photography, but you really have to get out there and do it yourself. Photography is such an independent art. Make your own mistakes and learn from them. Believe me: You will never stop making mistakes. I think that is the greatest thing about photography—takes a lifetime to master.