PC3 Tumor Infiltrating into Bone


“I believe that the best scientific images feature both accurate scientific data as well as a pleasing aesthetic to make the viewer linger over the image.”

– James Hayden

© James E Hayden, RBP, FBCA

What was your concept when creating this image?

This image was created specifically for submission to a journal (Genes and Development) as a candidate for use on their cover. The image that was ultimately used was this same view, but without the DIC overlay providing the slight 3D shadowing to the cells http://genesdev.cshlp.org/content/32/3-4.cover-expansion.

When creating cover images, it is important to review the journal's previous covers and provide options that are in keeping with the overall design the journal uses. However, the submission must be somewhat unique and provide both scientific information relative to the paper it goes with as well as an aesthetic that works with the journal's layout. In this case, an image was needed that provided a visual representation of the cancer that was studied as part of the paper – a PC3 bone metastasis. The image was to be used in a full page, vertical orientation and the rather homogeneous area along the top ¼ of the image worked well as a background for the placement of the title. The H&E slide that was photographed was taken from a set of slides that were used for brightfield images included in the body of the paper. http://genesdev.cshlp.org/content/32/3-4/230.full.pdf+html

Tell us something about the creative process you use when coming up with a photographic solution to a problem/assignment.

When approaching ideas for cover art, I first visit the journal it is being sent to and look at the images that have been used for the last year. This will give a broad idea of the type of artwork prefered: Do they use illustrations? Fluorescence or brightfield micrographs? Concept pieces or specific images from a paper? Single images or composites? etc. Reading the Instructions to Authors also tells you about what they are looking for: Does the image have to come directly from the research paper or can it just be related? RGB or CMYK? Vertical or horizontal or square? Etc. Ultimately, you want an image that is like the other images they use, but is unique. You may have the absolutely best image ever, but if it looks like a cover they used 2 months ago, they won't use it. This is why I also recommend sending 2-3 options to give the art editors some choices.

Once these basics are considered, it is usually best to find some of the same original material that was used for images that appear in the paper. Most of the time, an image taken for use in a figure is not appropriate for the cover - it tends to be too bland and not eye-catching enough. Once you have gathered the material, it is simply a matter of experimenting with the equipment you have on hand to get some creative views of the sample, always remembering that you still must include the relevant parts of the specimen.

What technical issues did you have, or have to work out, to create this image?

In the case of this image, there was very little fluorescence material to use, as the benchwork for the research had been done months earlier. However, they had some really nice H&E sections that were very interesting to look at. I have found that most journals don't like to use H&E images on covers, so I had to be a little creative. The good news is that eosin autofluoresces, and the different densities of the bone and soft tissue made a striking pattern to image. I used a confocal microscope to get the sharpest image of the sample using 2 different laser excitation and emission ranges to provide the contrast. I was able to use a high spatial resolution to make an image that could cover the 8.5 x 11 inch cover without pixelation.

Tell us something about the subject of this photograph.

The research topic for the paper was related to a mutant p53 protein that helps to regulate tumor metabolism and metastasis. The specific tumor shown here is an infiltrating bone tumor and the image shows a mass of homogeneous tumor cells (top part of the image) breaking through into the bone trabeculae. This long finger of intrusion helped to make the composition work well as a vertical. The original slide is a longitudinal section through a whole mouse limb, stained with H&E (hematoxylin and eosin).

What elements are important to you when you judge or critique your work or the work of other professional photographers?

I believe that the best scientific images feature both accurate scientific data as well as a pleasing aesthetic to make the viewer linger over the image. In this way, a good scientific image is actually used as a bit of a marketing piece to draw attention to the research being presented. When used on a cover, most people will first examine the image and then go to the paper that the image originated from. This is not unlike any other magazine cover found on a newsstand. The more eye-catching, the more the chances are that the target viewer will pick it up and read more about it, so elements like color and composition are probably the first items that are noticed. Beyond that, the technical details, including exposure, sharpness, lighting and photographic technique warrant a closer look. Next, how creative and unique is the image? Has something like it been seen before, or is it a novel look at an object? Lastly (but included in all of the above) how does the technique help to highlight the chosen subject? Does the technique add something that isn't ordinarily apparent, or is it just a straightforward rendition?

What is your photographic background?

I have been Managing Director of the Imaging Shared Resource at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, PA for the past 18 years. As such, I have been able to work with hundreds of Researchers on their unique imaging requirements. I primarily work with widefield and confocal microscopes, but have covered everything from group photos of 75 doctors to live fluorescent mice, to 3D timelapse imaging of intracellular mitochondrial dynamics. Before this, I ran a freelance business (BioGraphics) for 8 years and ran an electron microscopy lab at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine prior to that. I also enjoy wildlife photography (mostly birds) and dabble with astronomical photography as well. I started my career by developing an independent double major at Quinnipiac College in Hamden, CT (Biology/Biophotography) based on the influence of my freshman advisor.

Who are some of your favorite photographers?

Although I do microscopy as my work, the photographers that I like outside of that are mostly wildlife photographers, such as Franz Lanting and Art Wolfe.

Which photographers inspire or influence you?

The two most influential photographers for my career were famed scientific photographer Lennart Nilsson and noted wildlife photographer Eliot Porter. I have also been heavily influenced by microscopists such as Lars Beck, Viktor Sykora and Michael Davidson.

Do you have any advice for photographers interested in a photography career in biomedical/life sciences?

As with all things related to career development, follow your interests and look for opportunities to exploit. You may not immediately find a job as a scientific photographer, but jobs as Research Assistants are plentiful and may include imaging as part of the job. That will help get a foot in the door. Also – don't depend on others to develop your career. Invest in yourself. Get involved in things that help you showcase your work, like BCA and Nikon Small World.

How has your membership in the BCA helped you?

I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today if not for the help that came through BCA. From workshops and lectures on microscopy, macroscopy, lighting, color theory, etc, to the opportunity to publish and present my own work, the BCA has provided the opportunities to develop my skills, my career, and my network. I highly recommend making use of what the BCA can offer.