Imaging can be thought of as the most direct of experiments. You see something; you report what you see. If only things were truly this simple. Modern imaging technology has brought about a revolution in the kinds of questions we can approach, but this comes at the price of increasingly complex equipment. Moreover, in an attempt to market competing systems, the microscopes have often been inappropriately described as easy to use and suitable for near-beginners. Insufficient understanding of the experimental manipulations and equipment set-up leads to the introduction of errors during image acquisition. In this feature, I review some of the most common practical pitfalls faced by researchers during image acquisition, and how they can affect the interpretation of the experimental data.
This article is targeted neither to the microscopy gurus who push forward the frontiers of imaging technology nor to my imaging specialist colleagues who may wince at the overly simplistic comments and lack of detail. Instead, this is for beginners who gulp with alarm when they hear the word "confocal pinhole" or sigh as they watch their cells fade and die in front of their very eyes time and time again at the microscope. Take heart, beginners, if microscopes were actually so simple then many people (including myself) would suddenly be out of a job!