Picture it…



Making Of… Photo of Sugar Cane

Time for another post in our occasional series, bringing you the stories behind the pictures and content of some of our posts.

Sugar cane plantation with sucrose molecules.

Sugar cane plantation with sucrose molecules.

We didn’t want to make too big a deal at the time, but the two sugar posts written by Ana McGuinness and Charles O’Brien (follow the links for Part 1 and Part 2) were actually special in several ways: Apart from being new to writing for Picture It… Chemistry, both Ana and Charles had just completed their first year of undergraduate study in Chemistry, and they had spent most of the summer to prepare a winning post for a School of Chemistry competition open to all Bristol staff and students. Successfully, as it turns out.

In their original submission, the photo above drew my attention almost immediately – as one of the chief editors of the blog, it falls to me to check that we are not infringing copyright (which is why we generally take our own photos) and also to make sure that the images have a consistent look, connecting everyday objects with laboratory items and molecular structures. The picture above, suggested as the main image for the blog post, did not fit in with our normal “look”, no laboratory glassware, as well as quite a “busy” background, especially for the stick model of sucrose on the right. In addition, despite record temperatures in the UK last summer, I was pretty sure that there were no sugar cane plantations nearby, making me concerned about being allowed to use somebody else’s photo as well.

When I queried this with our two new writers, the most astonishing story emerged: We were indeed allowed to use the photo, as it had been taken especially for the blog post. Ana’s parents live near Mexico City and she told them about the blog post in one of their regular weekend phone calls. While there are no sugar cane plantations near to where Ana’s family lives, her father contacted some of his colleagues living some 300 miles away in Veracruz, a region where sugar cane is grown. Despite this taking place on a Sunday afternoon, several colleagues went out and took pictures of sugar cane, which were promptly emailed to Ana in the UK. Talk about friends in faraway places…

As you can see from the blog posts, these pictures did not end up as the main image in the end (and there will be more about Ana’s and Charles’s field trip to a sweet shop some other time), but we used one of them in the post, and are including another one here:

Cut sugar cane in Veracruz, Mexico

Cut sugar cane in Veracruz, Mexico

And this definitely wins my inaugural Editor’s Award for Most Interesting Background Story!


Contributor: Natalie Fey (writing etc.), photos via. Ana McGuinness.