Science Video Tip: Keep Your Audience in Mind

This post continues the theme of diverse audiences and how to prepare your science communications for them.  In this video, I describe the three types of learners and how you might use that knowledge in preparing your next video or other communication project (for best viewing, select the HD version and full-screen options (see menu bar at bottom of player window)):

Can Plants Move?

Here are a few videos that answer that question.  These are good examples of footage that one might use to illustrate plant “tropisms”.

The first video shows the rapid movement of a carnivorous plant, Drosera glanduligera (sundew), from Australia, captured with a high-speed camera.  The video is my compilation of footage posted online in the journal PLOSone with the article describing the phenomenon (access article here). This species has two types of tentacles, one with the sticky globules, which trap anything touching them, and non-sticky tentacles that fling insect passersby towards the center of the rosette where it gets stuck to sticky tentacles that then slowly pull the insect toward the area where it will be digested.  That flinging movement is one of the fastest trapping mechanisms found in the plant kingdom.  The speed is actually amazing when you think about it….this is a plant, not an animal with rapid-fire muscles.

For best viewing, select the HD version and full-screen options (see menu bar at bottom of player window).

By the way, I put together the video above in iMovie using the downloadable images and video footage offered on the open access article in the journal PLOSone.  All such images published there are under a Creative Commons Attribution License, which means that anyone can use them without permission as long as the creators (authors) are acknowledged.  This is a good example of how the scientist videographer can use published footage, images, and graphics to create a video about a science topic and without paying for or having to acquire the permission of the creators.

The second video is a time-lapse sequence showing Cuscuta reflexa (dodder) growing on another plant (Perlagonium sp.) in a phytotron in Norway.  This type of plant is a parasite on other plants and can actually insert root-like structures called “haustoria” into the host plant.  Once established and drawing resources from the host plant, the dodder’s roots growing in the soil eventually die, and the parasite then relies on its host for water and nutrients.  The sequence in this video was shot over 14 days with each second equaling about 40 minutes of growth.  Thanks to Joy Marburger for the link.

The last video is one based on footage I shot in Sri Lanka of a “sensitive plant” I came across in a parking lot.  Using that (admittedly shaky) footage plus some text explanation, I created a short video about seismonastic movement in plants.

It’s difficult sometimes to make sessile organisms such as plants interesting to the general public because, well, they don’t move or appear to do anything interesting.  However, the scientist videographer can use this fact to advantage and use footage that shows something unexpected, which as we’ve learned, is one feature of a video that appeals to viewers. Most people don’t expect plants to move, so videos about plant tropisms, which challenge that perception, can be quite effective.  Moreover, adding the question as to why plants might have evolved movement raises the viewer’s curiosity and perhaps stimulates them to learn more.

Another point I’d like to make here is that I was able to produce these videos in a very short time. The sensitive plant video took about five minutes to pull together and another five minutes or so to export and upload to YouTube.  The video on the carnivorous plant took somewhat longer (about 30 min), mainly because I had to read the paper to understand what the video footage and other images were demonstrating.

With a small effort, using your own or published (but public domain) images and video clips, you also can create short, informative videos.

Who’s That In the Mirror?

Here’s a great example of a creative video shot by Mark Rober who wanted to get some footage of monkeys and orangutans at his local zoo but saw that they ignored humans banging on the exhibit glass.  So he held up his phone to the glass and lured the primates over to look at themselves on the phone’s camera.  Not entirely happy with these results, Rober fabricated a mirror-cam so that his subjects would be centered in his shots as they investigated their reflections.  Great idea and one that worked well to get some amazing footage of primates exhibiting self-awareness.  One of the orangutans even brought over its baby, which proceeded to investigate its reflection.

Anyway, those of you who study animals might find this approach useful or inspirational to develop creative methods to film animals.  And the rest of you can just enjoy the interesting video:

Sources of Public Domain Images

The scientist videographer will often have occasion to use a still image or video footage that s/he has not shot. If you plan to publish your video (on the internet or elsewhere), you will need to get permission to use anyone else’s images.  The exception is when the images are in the public domain.  Where do you find such image collections?  Government websites are a good place to start.  Many government agencies (in the U.S., for example) are creating collections of images and video that are freely available to the public.  In some cases, the images were taken by government employees or were acquired with government funds, automatically placing them in the public domain. In other instances, the agency has compiled scanned images from historical books, maps, and other sources into collections on their websites that can be searched and then downloaded for free.

Below, I list a few of these websites; the list is not exhaustive, but is designed to give you an idea of where to look for images and footage you might need.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a nice gallery of images, including topics such as animals, plants, field research, lab research, illustrations, and education; you can download images at 72 or 300 dpi. The image at right is of Giant Salvinia (USDA, Peggy Greb).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has an extensive collection of images taken in a variety of places around the world by scientists and other employees; high resolution images are available. The photo to the right is of pancake ice taken by Michael Van Woert (NOAA, NESDIS) in Antarctica (located in the Art in Nature Gallery (Patterns and Textures)).


Related NOAA sites contain more still images, animations, and video. An example is the NGDC Digital Marine Geology and Geophysics Images collection, which contains, for example, animations of dives to the ocean floor such as the Mariana Trench (click on photo at right to go directly to the animation).

The NOAA Fisheries Service (Northeast Fisheries Science Center) maintains an archive of historical photos related to fisheries in the northeastern U.S.  Hundreds of photos are available for download and free use with proper credit.  See photo of a basking shark at right (NEFSC, Paul Galtsof).  There are also photo galleries of marine mammals, seabirds, invertebrates, sharks, ships, and scenic views.


The National Marine Sanctuaries maintains a media library containing still images and many video clips of coastal areas, waves, reefs, deep sea views, fish, sharks, and invertebrates.  The media library is searchable.




The NASA Goddard Space Visualization Studio is the premier location for finding photos and especially animations of the earth and space processes.  Whether you’re looking for animations of arctic sea ice changes or volcanic eruptions, you’ll find them here. The NASA Earth Observatory contains an extensive set of photos, maps, and animations of the world that are downloadable and free to use.  NASA’s Visible Earth contains a massive catalog of images and animations, which are searchable.  See a high resolution image of the Sri Lankan coast during the 2004 Asian Tsunami (NASA, VE) below:

If you are looking for images of hazards, land, oceans, atmosphere, life, snow and ice, or human impacts, these NASA sites will likely contain the image or animation you need.


Another site I often visit for historical photos is the Library of Congress (LOC).  Their American Environmental Photographs 1891-1936 collection is a treasure-trove of material. Many of the images in this collection were taken by or of Henry Chandler Cowles (the “father” of American plant ecology); see his photo to the right with students on a botany field trip (note they are all female students!) (LOC, unknown photographer). Interestingly, I can trace my scientific lineage through my graduate adviser and several generations of professors back to Cowles.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has a digital photo collection containing many historical and modern images of earthquakes, national parks, and mines.  See photo at right of an earthquake at Hawkes Bay, New Zealand (1931) (USGS, unknown photographer).  There is also a large collection of historical images taken by pioneer photographers of early USGS expeditions (see stereo photo below of an expedition camp, part of the W.H. Jackson collection).

These are just a few of the many government sites where you can find media in the public domain. There are some sites that purport to catalog public domain images, but beware. Many of these are commercial sites and contain a mixture of images grabbed from government sites (public domain) and images that may be copyrighted.  Try to obtain such media from their original sources, which often offer them at different resolutions and contain all relevant information about the image.  If you do use media from secondary sites, be sure the image is really in the public domain and abide by any restrictions listed with the image you wish to use. For the media offered for download on government sites, the only restriction is that you cannot copyright any public domain image, and it’s always appropriate to credit the source and the photographer, if their name is given.

Science Video Tip: The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a well-known principle of photography that generally leads to well-balanced and more interesting images.  Most photographers know about the rule of thirds, but it’s easy to forget this concept when shooting video.  If you look at amateur video (or photos), you will notice that the videographer often centers the subject, which is not very interesting composition-wise.  By following the rule of thirds, however, you would place your subject quite differently in the frame and may even prompt you to be more creative in your shooting.

Although you don’t have to follow this rule (or any rule, for that matter) in making your videos, it can be a useful guide in capturing well-composed footage, especially if you are just beginning and are unsure how to set up your shots.  By following the rule of thirds, your videos will look more professional and will be much more pleasing to the viewer.

In this short video, I describe how to use the rule of thirds to compose your shots so that they are visually pleasing (for best viewing, select the HD version and full-screen options (see menu bar at bottom of player window).