Levon Biss‘s exhibit Microscuplture is one of the most entrancing macro photography projects. A “unique visual experience,” the series and exhibition is made up of unimaginably detailed macro photographs of insects captured using a microscope lens.
By trade, Biss is a portrait photographer who specializes in capturing world-class athletes, music and movies superstars, including Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson (we will publish Levon Biss portraits, editorial and commerce portfolio in another post on Alafoto). His talent for capturing insects started as a side-project in his home, and featured bugs caught by his own son. But he poured his whole skill as a photographer and light master into those images, and when he showed them to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Microsculpture was born and his specimens got a LOT more intricate.
With his pick of the museum’s massive collection of insects, Biss picked some of the most colorful, beautifully textured, and perfectly preserved specimens the museum had on hand and took them home to produce images like these below.
The amount of work that went into each of these images boggles the mind. As he explains in the behind the scenes video embedded below, each final image is made up of between 8,000 and 10,000 individual photos, because the depth of field of a microscope lens is so incredibly shallow.
What’s more, each section of the insect must be lit a little differently. The eyes might require one type of lighting, the wings another, and the torso yet another. Taking up to three weeks to shoot, process and retouch, each image from the series is comprised of approximately 30 different sections depending on the size of the specimen. Biss explains:
“Each image from the Microsculpture project is created from around 8000 individual photographs. The pinned insect is placed on an adapted microscope stage that enables me to have complete control over the positioning of the specimen in front of the lens. I shoot with a 36-megapixel camera that has a 10x microscope objective attached to it via a 200mm prime lens.
Each section is lit differently with strobe lights to bring out the micro sculptural beauty of that particular section of the body. For example, I will light and shoot just one antennae, then after I have completed this area I will move onto the eye and the lighting set up will change entirely to suit the texture and contours of that part area of the body. I continue this process until I have covered the whole surface area of the insect.
At high magnification the surface of even the plainest looking beetle or fly is completely transformed as details of their microsculpture become visible: ridges, pits or engraved meshes all combine at different spatial scales in a breath-taking intricacy. It is thought that these microscopic structures alter the properties of the insect’s surface in different ways, reflecting sunlight, shedding water, or trapping air.
Alongside these elements are minute hairs adapted for many purposes. They can help insects grip smooth surfaces, carry pollen, or detect movements in the air, to name but a few. The shape of these hairs is sometimes modified into flattened scales – structures so small they appear like dust to the naked eye. In some insects, such as butterflies and beetles, these scales scatter and reflect light, creating some of the most vibrant and intense colours seen in nature.” Read more…
He explains much more in the BTS video below:
Click images to view in a gallery and in full size:
You can see all 34 specimens on the Microsculpture website in beautiful, zoomable, interactive detail by clicking here.