This is one of my favourite microscopy images: the small section of a Madagascan Sunset Moth wing, an image created by combining 997 separate frames in the biggest focus stack I have ever completed, shot using a Mitutoyo Plan APO 20x objective. The image is currently in the running for the Visualizing Science People’s Choice contest. It’s in second place.
I would kindly ask for you to vote for this image. Voting can be done here: blog.cdnsciencepub.com/visualizingscience/
Anyone can vote, from anywhere in the world. The website is a little difficult to use on mobile platforms so you might need to use a laptop/desktop – if everyone reading this message were to give me two minutes of your time, this image would take first place easily. If I’m asking you for two minutes, I’ll give you two minutes of my own time with a fun description of what we’re seeing here:
The wings of some butterflies create colour by unconventional means. Colour is usually an absorption / reflection thing; something absorbs all light except for the wavelengths of light we associate with orange, we see that object as orange. Another way to create colour is through optical interference, wherein structures cause light waves to interact with each-other, sometimes cancelling out certain frequencies or amplifying others. We see this all the time around us, in everything from soap bubbles to oil spots; I’ve seen it in ink, coffee and even snowflakes as well. Some insects have evolved to create the same sorts of colours – including this moth.
Because the colours are partially based on the trajectory of the incoming light in relation to the surface of the scales on the wing, if the angle changes than the colour might change as well. This is why we see colour shifts along the curve of these scales, and why I opted to photograph this wing at a rather extreme angle instead of “flat” to the focal plane of the camera. A lot more work in post-processing, but it reveals some extra magic in the process.
Tags: butterfly wing scales insect focus stacking science physics optical interference entomology nature natural micro macro microscopy colour lumix S1R LumixS1R lumixstories mitutoyo 20x
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Experiment time! What happens when you grab a grape vine tendril from the garden and try to turn it into a gnarled sculpture? This. It’s not perfect – no experiment is; but you know what experiments are? Fun!
We have some overgrown grape vines in our backyard, partly due to my lack of tending the gardens this year. My focus has been shipping books, prints, and getting things in order for our big move to Bulgaria. A gentle reminder that if you want a copy of my new book, the clock is ticking on placing an order: skycrystals.ca/product/pre-order-macro-photography-the-un... - or get in touch if you’d like a print of any of my work! There is a bit of a backlog for prints as I’m still shipping images from my Kickstarter campaign, but I’ll make it work.
Anyhow, this image: the goal was to find a vine with character. A vine that wasn’t symmetrical or a spiral, something that made its own rules. I think this one tried to wrap around various blades of grass and ultimate failed, but it made for an interesting structure. Then, I started placing the water droplets.
Only a few at first, all placed with a hypodermic needle. Droplets stick very well to vine tendrils of a variety of plants, allowing me to add extra water to make some droplets bigger, or suck up droplets that form in the wrong location and find a better spot. There’s a lot of slight adaptation to the design, and you’re never completely satisfied with the results. The droplet on the right side in the middle, as an example, I now wish was larger.
I didn’t have the right flowers, another drawback. I could only find “mini” Gerbera Daisies for this shoot. I would have liked the black area in the droplets to be smaller, but that would require one of two things: the flower to be closer to the droplets (and thereby being more in focus in the background), or the flower to be physically larger in the same position. A distracting background would ruin the image, so I opted for a larger black border. This could have been solved by another process of shooting with a wider aperture, but then extensive focus stacking efforts would have been needed. Choices, choices!
Shot with a Lumix S1R and a Tamron 90mm F/2.8 macro lens. It was focus stacked, but only two shots required; the high-resolution mode was activated on the camera to allow for more extensive cropping, still yielding a very valuable image.
In the end, I like this image. It’s funky. It’s a little off-beat. It’s fun – and that was the entire purpose of the experiment.
Tags: water droplets refraction reflection gerbera daisy flower vine tendril grape macro Tamron Lumix S1R science curves orange
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Hiding right in front of us is a world we cannot see. Humans evolved to see light, but only a small portion of it that is useful for our daily lives. There is more to be seen beyond this limitation, including patterns in flowers that are invisible to us. Thankfully we have the technology to break down these barriers and explore a world only seen by pollinators.
Many insects can see into the ultraviolet, and some flowers take advantage of this by creating patterns that can only be seen in these otherworldly spectra. Take these Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) for example. We know these flowers to have a black center and solid yellow petals, but there is a special trait that we would never have noticed without the aid of technology: almost half of every petal absorbs ultraviolet light, while the rest reflects nearly all of that spectrum. This creates a very large, UV-dark target that bees (and other observant pollinators) can see.
To be fair, it’s impossible to know how a bee might perceive such information – they see more than just UV light, and we cannot comprehend exactly how their compound eye vision interprets information in general. That said, these flowers evolved to take advantage of their pollinator’s ability to see shorter wavelengths of light – or maybe the pollinators evolved to see these patterns? It’s a “chicken and egg” scenario. I know that certain cultivars of the genus Rudbeckia have a dark ring that is visible to our own eyes, and I’ve always wondered if this was caused by selective breeding of specimens that had a genetic mutation that shifted the UV pattern into the visible spectrum. A botanist might know the answer!
To create this image, I used a camera modified for “full spectrum” photography. Camera sensors are natively sensitive to light from roughly 300nm through 1000nm, but human vision is limited to only 400nm-700nm. This means that for a camera to properly depict the world as we see it, filters are added to limit the sensitivity range to that of our own eyes. These filters can be removed by trained professionals (don’t try it yourself!), and a camera can then be outfitted with filters to limit the spectral range to something different – including infrared and ultraviolet.
The problem with photographing UV light directly has two primary components: filters and lenses. You’ll want a filter that blocks 100% of visible AND infrared light. If even 1% of the infrared light sneaks through, it’ll equal to all of the UV light that the sensor can detect and wash out your image. The best filters on the market are from maxmax.com – the XNite 330C coupled with the XNite BP1. The two filters combined are the absolute best option. You’ll also want a lens designed for the task; I used a Rayfact 105mm F/4.5 lens which is the successor to the UV-Nikkor lens of identical specifications. This lens is made of quartz optics that allow for better ultraviolet transmission. Such lenses and filters are NOT inexpensive, but there are some options for you to consider at a fraction of the cost. I’ve bought from this eBay seller before, and I can attest that this setup works quite well to start out: www.ebay.com/itm/273863933139 - it’ll cost you more to get a camera converted to full-spectrum that it will for the lens and filters!
The camera I had converted was a Lumix S1. Fantastic camera to do this with, especially when I’ve had some documentary work requiring high-quality video in unusual wavelengths. With the high-resolution mode, I was able to shoot this image at a greater distance and crop in, negating the need for any focus stacking efforts.
If you’d like to learn more about UV reflectance photography, you can check out my new book on macro photography: skycrystals.ca/product/pre-order-macro-photography-the-un... - a 384 page book with nearly 90,000 words of photographic instruction. While more time and attention is given to UV fluorescence photography, there is still value in exploring the capture of ultraviolet light directly.
Tags: ultraviolet patterns insects pollinators flowers black-eyed susan floral blooming yellow hidden botany macro entomology UV rayfact lumix S1 LumixS1 lumixstories
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This is a very simple image to create, but I want to detail exactly how simple this is for anyone out there to accomplish, as a single frame, even if you do not have a macro lens. “Back to basics” images like this are so helpful in revealing the fundamental ingredients that go into these types of images! Read on for all the details.
First, you need a tabletop macro setup, and the end result should be:
- A bright LED flashlight, pointed at the flower (gerbera daisy) in the background
- A clamp holding a flower petal in front of the flower
- The flower and the petal are a few inches apart
The camera needs to be positioned such that there is good alignment between the petal and the flower; the center of the flower should appear roughly behind the droplets. You can accomplish this by moving the camera, the petal, the flower or any combination – but the alignment is very important to get the refraction to show up properly in the droplets.
The droplets are placed carefully with a hypodermic needle (available for sale on Amazon with blunt tips for safety!). Some flower petals will hold droplets very nicely, such as this yellow gerbera daisy. Oddly, some fail – a white gerbera daisy from the same purchase would allow every droplet to roll off. Some people add an amount of glycerine to the water to help droplets “stick” better, but I prefer just plain water and working with compatible subjects.
The hidden secret to this shot – which did not require any focus stacking or extensive editing trickery – is in the resolution of the image out of camera. I utilized the “high-resolution” mode on my Lumix S1R to quadruple the resolution of my image, and then cropped in extensively down to this frame. The closer you get to your subject, the shallower your depth of field. The reverse is true as well – getting farther away will supply you with a greater depth of field.
So long as diffraction doesn’t muddy the details (shoot at F/11 or wider) and the lens is capable of resolving the finest details, you’ll still have very good-looking pixels and plenty of detail to work with. I used a Tamron 90mm macro lens for this image which is inexpensive and has great optical performance, but I could have used a non-macro lens based on how little magnification was required for the full image. I’ve also been experimenting with Topaz Gigapixel AI to push the details even farther with promising results.
For a comprehensive tutorial on all things macro photography, including a chapter dedicated to water droplet refraction photography, check out my new book: skycrystals.ca/product/pre-order-macro-photography-the-un... . It’s available only until I move to Bulgaria, likely within the month of October. If you have been on the fence about purchasing a copy, now’s the time to place an order! Ask anyone with a copy and they’ll tell you it’s the definitive book on macro photography. :)
Tags: water droplets refraction reflection flower gerbera daisy floral petal macro novoflex lumix S1R tamron LumixS1R lumixstories
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Okay, time for a mind game. PLEASE try to get this to work. :) This is incredibly cool when you get it to work – by crossing your eyes. This is a stereoscopic 3D image of frost.
This is set of where the right image is on the left, and the left on the right. If you cross your eyes such that you see three images, focus intently on the “middle” image which is a visual overlap of the two frames. Once your vision “locks” the chaos of crystals will have depth information added. A great tutorial on cross-viewing 3D can be found here: www.kula3d.com/how-to-use-the-cross-eyed-method
This image is frost growing on the side of my chest freezer. I left the lid open a crack on purpose, so that moist room-temperature air would enter and deposit freezing water vapour into these types of structures. Worked like a charm! Illuminated with a ring flash held underneath the frost, I would move the light around in various positions until the reflections off the various crystal facets was pleasing. Because these reflections are very direct they will change slightly based on the lens position; since they are not identical between the two frames, you see a “sparkle” effect.
The image was taken with a purpose-built stereoscopic 3D macro lens from deWijs, a 3D company in The Netherlands. The lenses have sadly been out of production for quite some time but periodically used copies show up on eBay. It’s a really useful tool to shoot stereoscopic content, but it’s not required. Even with just your regular lenses you can easily shoot images like this!
You simply need to move the camera left or right and take photos at slightly different positions, while keeping the camera pointed in the same direction. The most convenient way to do this for macro photography is to use a focusing rail, but mount the camera 90 degrees from normal operation. Now you can quickly shift the camera in predictable increments. Take a few images at different separations to see how much depth you’d like!
I enjoy shooting stereo 3D images, even though it’s an incredible small niche. As human beings, we have two eyes and perceive our world with depth – why should be limit our artistic adventures to be an entire dimension less than our perception? I wrote a whole chapter on the subject in my new book, and included red/cyan anaglyph glasses: skycrystals.ca/product/pre-order-macro-photography-the-un...
Tags: 3D stereo stereoscopic stereoscopy frost ice crystal mineral frozen water mineralogy hydrology lumix S1R LumixS1R lumixstories deWijs stereo3D science fractal geometry macro
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