Things are not always what they first appear. Take the image at the top of this story. While it may look like a colorful sea anemone you’d spot while snorkeling, it’s actually a microscopic photo of an oak leaf.
The image, captured by photographer Jason Kirk, was just awarded first place in Nikon’s 2021 Small World Microphotography Competition. The photo shows a southern live oak leaf’s trichomes, stomata and vessels in microscopic detail.
“Using various lighting techniques and design tools, Jason’s final image is a masterful example of the dynamic relationship between imaging technology and artistic creativity,” the Nikon Small World website states. “Using a custom-made microscope system that combines color filtered transmitted light with diffused reflected light, Jason captured around 200 individual images of the leaf and stacked them together to create the stunning image.
Also essential to this extreme close-up of the leaf was the 60x lens magnification provided by Kirk’s unique microscope camera. That magnifying power helped capture the white trichomes in the shot, which are delicate outgrowths that protect the leaf from extreme weather and insects. The violet areas are stomata, tiny pores that control the flows of gases to the plant. The cyan channels in the photo, meanwhile, transport water throughout the leaf.
“The lighting side of it was complicated,” Kirk said. “Microscope objectives are small and have a very shallow depth of focus. I couldn’t just stick a giant light next to the microscope and have the lighting be directional. It would be like trying to light the head of a pin with a light source that’s the size of your head.”
He edited the color temperature and hue in the image in post-production to better show off the various elements in the image.
Kirk is certainly no newbie to the world of microscopic photography. He first experimented with microscopy in the mid-90s during the early days of digital photography. Today he’s a professional imager who works as the core director for the Baylor College of Medicine’s Optical Imaging & Vital Microscopy Core. You can see top 20 images in the 2021 Nikon Small World contest here.
Nikon Small World is the still image companion contest to Nikon Small World in Motion, which focuses on microscopic video footage. Last month we shared an alarming video that won an honorable mention in Small World in Motion. The incredible close-up clip shows how the coronavirus attacks cells at a microscopic level.