Extreme Macro Photography

It all started with a video… To be precise a video on Microsculptures, a project by Levon Biss, a British photographer. As a result I ordered his book on the project and lost myself in the enchanting images of insects from every corner of the planet. Extreme-macro photography technique has a high quality and reveals impressive details of, what you normally would consider, ‘ just a bug’.
The techniques of acquiring images via photographic systems, microscopy or astronomy (from the macrocosmos to the microcosmos there is a step) fascinated me from an early age. My encounter with Levon Biss’ project pushed me to launch myself in a new hobby in the beginning of 2020.

To start an exploration in the microscopic world , you can find everything you need at home. All you need is a seed, a grain of salt or sugar, an insect on the windowsill. A grain of sand, current of a million year’s old, provides material that guarantees days of work.
Resulting in rewarding images of intricate design of nature.

After publishing several images on social media, I received praise and on the results and questions ‘ How to?’
Below you find my journey, in the sub-sessions, you can find results.

How to? Learning by doing!

Using a reflex camera (actually I have a mirror-less SONY A7R II ), extension tubes of defined lengths and microscopy objectives as a digital capture support, it is possible to access a universe that we cannot even imagine how complex and fascinating it is.

The use of microscope objectives allows to obtain magnifications, much higher than those obtainable in classic macro photography. It implies on the one hand to have a very stable support to avoid vibrations, and on the other to work with extremely small focal distances.

This last factor consequently requires shooting numerous frames (dozens, see hundreds of images in sequence) to have the whole subject in focus, however small it may be. The series of photographs that follow one another with steps sometimes of a few microns (microns or tenths of a micron), are acquired with a motorized platform connected to the camera and a microcomputer. The latter manages parameters such as the start and end of acquisitions, the advancement step, the pause time before and after the shot.

Good lighting is fundamental. You need a homogeneous diffusion of light, ideally without any reflections and shadows. (unless need to highlight specific structures of the subject).
Using different types of light sources can help, such as white light led panels, on flexible supports. You can find these lamps even at Ikea, very useful.
The frames, saved in the original format (RAW) at 16bit, are compiled on a software dedicated to this purpose (I use Helicon Software) which returns a focused image of the whole subject and is recorded in .DNG format. This technique is called focus stacking.
Next step is to process the image on Adobe Photoshop to correct any defects (such as the presence of any dust), change the color balance, increase contrast, detail (the Topaz Sharpen extension works excellently in this area) and others parameters that allow to obtain an optimal final image ready to be published.

Technical details

The images visible in the Extreme macro-photography section of this website are obtained by using different optics. Ranging from the inverted Componon-S 2.8 / 50 lens by Schneider-Kreuznach, perfect for subjects having millimeter dimensions, to the Russian LOMO 3.7x lens with almost perfect, the excellent Mitutoyo 2.5x (nec plus ultra to acquire insects encased in amber), the Nikon CFI Plan 10x, the Mitutoyo 20x, and the last of the series, but not for interest, an Olympus 50x ULWD Neo SPlan for subjects smaller than 500µm. Each lens has its own intrinsic characteristics, and consequently they are dedicated to completely different subjects.

Interested to have more info’s on extreme-macro technique?

You can download the article, that I’ve published in the excellent revue Fossil News in the number 23.4 (Winter 2020), from here:

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