AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Jonathan Crowther


Read Jonathan’s paper via THIS LINK

What first interested you in medical visualization?

I’ve worked in the field of skin research for over 15 years now, focussing on the measurement and understanding of the effects of topical products on skin properties.  While some of the work is the direct measurement of changes in skin properties (hydration, barrier function, elasticity etc.), the appearance of the skin can be an extremely powerful tool to convey what these products are doing and how they are working.  As such developing techniques to accurately and reproducibly image the skin under different conditions has become a major part of my work.  I am also a geek at heart and like to understand how things work, so my curiosity has led me to move beyond conventional photography and into the realms of Infra Red (IR), Ultra Violet (UV) and fluorescence imaging of skin.

IMAGE CAPTION: Here are some pictures showing me in visible light, IR and UV light, along with the transmission profiles of the filters used to collect the images.  Highlights how different skin can look when you change the lighting.

These can all tell us things impossible to see with standard visible light imaging, however they bring with them a whole new set of considerations to getting good photographs.



Tell us a bit about your background and education.

I graduated from Durham University with a BSc in Chemistry in 1994, and went on to do a PhD in Surface Modification and Analysis which I completed in 1997, and loved the research so much that I stayed on for an extra 3 years as a Post Doctoral research assistant. During this time I developed a strong Analytical chemistry background with a wide variety of surface analytical techniques for materials analysis, along with cold plasma treatment of materials for the manufacture of metal surfaces and ultra low energy materials.

In 2000 I joined Procter and Gamble where I initially spent a couple of years working in the Oral Care division, and it was here that I started designing studies to look at the effects products had on people during use.  After a year gaining more experience with P&Gs laundry division from 2002 to 2003, I moved into Skin Care, and took a role described ‘Skin Methods’ where I worked for the next 9 years.  Skin Methods entailed learning about and using different techniques for measuring skin to help develop new topical products and substantiate claims for their use.  It was a very varied job, working with multiple project teams at once, and enabled me to develop a depth of knowledge on the techniques used to measure and image skin.  In 2012 I started my own company, JMC Scientific Consulting Ltd, and went into business as a consultant, working in fields ranging from new product research with novel materials through to developing and running clinical studies to provide claims support data for product launches.  In 2016 I took on a project with GSK Skin Health division, and again worked with a wide range of project teams and disciplines to develop new topical skin products.  My research areas that I’ve worked on include moisturisers, cleansers, and hair removal methods (shaving, waxing, epilation, depilatory creams, light based hair removal).

I have a very hands on approach to science and am experienced with the operation and use of a wide range of skin testing equipment including Corneometer, Sebumeter, TEWL, Colourimetry, Confocal Invivo Raman Spectroscopy (for hydration profiles and ingredient penetration), Photographic Imaging techniques, skin grading, tape stripping and SEM, and clinical test design.

It is the cross discipline background I have from working at the boundaries between chemistry, physics and engineering, which I have now applied to my assessment of skin. I apply a strongly analytical approach to my work, and am known for being open and impartial and working with the highest integrity. I’m also a scientist through and through, and am driven to understand how the world works.

As a consultant, what does your job entail?

I am now Director of my own consultancy – JMC Scientific Consulting Ltd.  My work focusses on my key areas of strength, understanding the interaction of topical products and treatments with skin, to enable their development and support claims for their efficacy.  I am a very hands on scientist, and I like to learn from experimentation.  I do this through in-vivo and in-vitro testing of products.  Skin is an extremely complicated organ, and can respond to anything placed on it within seconds.  While there is a role for predictive modelling of skin, there can be no substitute for actual data collected during product usage. To compliment my practical work, I also offer training on different aspects of skin, from its form and function, to the interactions it has with topical products, to the measurement techniques used to assess it and clinical study design.

As well as funded research I also do as much self funded work as possible to understand the methods I use.  Validation of what the methods can, and more importantly can’t, measure is vital to understand the data being generated with them, and to enable them to be used for substantiation of product claims.  By self funding this research, I can make the work as impartial as possible, which is hugely important when understanding the limitations of the technique.


What tools or software do you use in your work? 

I use a variety of skin measurement techniques for my work, as each one tends to give information about a single attribute of skin.  When it comes to my imaging work I have a wide range of photographic equipment which I can use.  I have cameras, lenses and light sources, which can be used for standard colour photography.  I also have cameras which have been converted to be able to image in IR and UV, both in colour and in monochrome.  I had the first monochrome camera conversion of its type in Europe, which has proved invaluable for the UV photography work recently.  I have also built up a collection of UV camera lenses, most of which are extremely rare items, and I regularly use these for my imaging work.  Many of these are pieces of history often being made in very low numbers, but which are necessary to capturing high quality UV photographs of skin.

I tend to make equipment I need if it isn’t available.  I often keep an eye open for second hand lab equipment I can re-purpose, as sometimes the equipment I need just isn’t available commercially.  So I can often be found tinkering in my workshop, making a new piece of research equipment.

Software wise, I use Photoshop, RawDigger (to extract quantitative information from the camera files about light intensity), DarkTable for RAW file processing, and ImageJ for image analysis.


Tell us about the project “Calibrating UVA reflectance photographs – standardisation using a low-cost method

My recent paper looked at developing a simple, and cheap method for people to be able to calibrate light reflection from a surface for UV photography.  This came about from my work on photographic imaging of sunscreens using UV light.  I wanted a method to calibrate the amount of light being reflected from the sunscreen, using a photograph, to help understand how it is absorbing and reflecting UV light. You can buy photographic grey scale targets suitable for visible light photography, but from my own experimentation I knew these weren’t suitable for UV imaging. You can also spend 1000’s of pounds on research grade targets suitable for UV, but which come in a fixed range of reflectances.  While some people can afford that sort of investment, it does push it way beyond the realm of the typical researcher.  I wrote my paper to highlight the issues with standard photography targets for UV imaging, to review the available literature on do-it-yourself UV reflectance targets, and finally present a systematic way to enable people to make their own targets for their work.

Whenever I approach a new project my first job is a literature search.  See what has been done before and if it can be reapplied.  While I found reference to a number of people developing their own UV reflectance standards, there was often very little information on how the standards were developed, and more of an emphasis on what they had been used for.  I often find this – the work done to develop measurement methods is given less focus than the application they have been used for.  This is a problem though when people try and replicate the work.  Without sufficient details on making and testing the targets, how can the data they are used to support be trusted?

This paper was what I refer to as a methods paper.  This type of paper is used to help establish new methods, their limitations and applications, and as such are a vital part of the validation process for new research techniques.

Did you learn any new skills during the project?

It’s always fun trying to replicate someone else’s work. With this one it was back to the lab bench, weighing out ingredients and then finding a cheap way to mix three different powders together to get a very even mix.  I reached out to one of the authors of a paper who had mentioned this technique before, and got a great tip about using a coffee grinder to dry mix the powders so used that approach.

There’s always something new to learn.  If we knew all the answers, why do the experiment?


What was most rewarding about the project?

Getting something which varied in reflectance as a function of composition in a controlled way, seeing that with the camera and doing it for a fraction of the cost of commercial calibration targets:

Figure 2


Yes, of course, for ultimate accuracy and tracability commercially made targets are a must, but they are a huge investment.  This type of cheap, quick but reliable, proof of concept work is vital to help push research forward.  To be honest one of the biggest rewards is sharing the work in a peer reviewed journal.  If something doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, then it can’t be relied upon. So for me, personally, the greatest achievement is getting through that publication process.

What are you working on right now?

My journey into UV photography is still evolving, and I feel a bit like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.  One question that came up fairly early one was “what is the spectral response curve for the camera?  Specifically, what wavelengths is it sensitive to?”.  This seemingly simple question proved to be quite a challenge.  After reviewing what literature I could on the subject, I approached a national testing organisation, and was quoted for 3 months work and more than I would normally budget for an entire years research to be able to characterise one camera.  Not being a viable option I sourced what I thought I would need to be able to build my own device to be able to answer this question and I set about designing and making it.  Here is link to some if the early design and testing of it here, as I try and document things as they progress in case it can be of use to others;

As with a lot of my projects, this was very ‘hands on’.  As an empirical scientist, I like to build and test things, rather than rely on theories and models.  I research the background, source the components, often second hand where available, build and test.  Amazingly this one came together very quickly, and worked first time.  It now enables me to measure the spectral response of a camera/lens/filter combination between 280nm and 800nm in just a few hours, so I can test new cameras and filters very quickly for their suitability for UV imaging.

The technique also gave me a number of new insights into the image capture process which I had never thought about when I started the work.  For instance how does the colour captured for IR and UV photographs relate to the wavelength of light present?  With visible light it is obvious – in a standard cameras sensor there are red, green and blue filters, and each of these lets light through of the relevant wavelength to be captured.  We know what red, green and blue are because we have the information from our eyes to help understand it.  However UV photos also have a colour to them.  What does the colour of a UV photo tell us about the wavelength of light hitting the sensor?  With no visible reference for UV, how to we understand and interpret that colour?  My recent work has enabled me to measure the spectral response of the red, green and blue colour channels from a camera in the UV.  I can then use this to calculate how much light getting through the camera sensor filter at the different wavelength to help predict how the wavelength of UV light being reflected from a surface can be related to the colour in an image.  This could have relevance for skin cancer research for instance, in providing a simple and compelling visual for understanding whether UVB or UVA is being reflected from skin after application of a topical sunscreen.

Is there another project you would like the opportunity to undertake?

I’ve been a photographer for around 40 years, having first started snapping away when I was about 5, and understanding the technical aspects of imaging will always be of interest to me.  The UV photography area has proved to be especially exciting scientifically and also very challenging.  There are a few dedicated UV lenses which allow imaging even down in the UVB region if the camera is sensitive enough, but very little systematic research has been done in this area to review the equipment and its suitability and limitations.  This is such a shame as these pieces of equipment are amazing pieces of engineering and often of history, often being made in small numbers, and are frequently hidden away in peoples collections, rather than being used.

One of the big upcoming areas for skin research is the effects of IR on skin, and whether it is causes damage like we see with UV.  IR imaging will again be important for visualising these effects, so more research on IR photography of skin would also be of interest to me.

To be honest, anything I can my teeth into scientifically is of interest.  It is the picking apart and understanding of an area that really gets me fired up.

Learn more about Jonathan here:








Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s