Welcome to Microscope Monday, where every week I will feature some of my microscope artwork, share any interesting information I have, and encourage you to post your own microscopic and macro images in the comments. Please do.
I am not a scientist and have no formal training. I view this purely as artwork. I am currently housebound due to a disability, so I am focusing on making these photos, something I have done on and off for many years. At a later posting, I will talk about my history with microscopes and what led me here, but today I want to talk about the process I go through when I make these photos. It’s something I get asked about a lot, and it is complicated, so I hope you can bear with me. I took a lot of photos to help.
The first thing you need to know is that a microscope has a very limited field of view and an even more limited focal length. What this essentially means is that only a portion of the thing you want to photograph will be in the shot and only a little bit of it will be in focus. For the rest, I need software.
The microscope’s tiny lens takes in very little light, so samples need to be brightly lit. As you’ll see from my messy work table, I came up with an admittedly imperfect DIY solution with three LED lights. Now... let’s get started.
The first thing to do is pick out a sample. I want to take a photo of lavender today, from a sample kindly provided to me by a Redditor who owns a spice market who sent me a lot of different spices in the mail to keep me busy! Here are the different lavender buds. I have to choose one with the naked eye or sometimes a magnifying glass. In this case, the naked eye is sufficient.
Next, I put the subject on the slide for photographing. I want to get the top of the flower, meaning it has to stand straight up. Thankfully, there is a simple solution to that...
Then I get the lighting just right. My iPhone can’t capture this very well, but trust me, it’s lit properly.
If I need to move anything around, I have a variety of tools at my disposal.
And finally, we’re ready to go... here is my setup on our very messy multi-use table. As you can see, it’s a standard lab microscope with a camera stuck into the eyepiece. It’s a 14 mp camera from Amscope, which I am not very happy with, but I’ve learned to live with. This is connected to my MacBook which is booted into Windows, because their terrible software doesn’t work properly on a Mac. I usually shoot at the lowest level of magnification, 40x, because I like showing whole objects and it’s harder to do that with higher magnification.
This is what the terrible software looks like. Sorry, I have no idea how to take a screenshot on Windows, so I just did it this way. That’s also a different picture than the one I was working on above.
I have to take hundreds of pictures of the subject, while slowly turning the fine focus knob on the microscope. If the picture is larger than my field of view, I have to move the slide (which can be moved with some adjustable knobs) so that the next part of the subject is revealed so I can do that all over again and stitch it together in the end. In this case, I’m only going to do this twice, but I typically have to do this six or seven times. I’ve done it as much as twenty. As you can imagine, this is a long and boring process.
I actually took pictures of several other subjects that day. In the end, you can see how many I ended up with.
I then put the images into a piece of software called Helicon Focus which puts them all together into one single image with everything in focus. In this case, 125 images.
I do the same thing to the second series of images I took for the rest of the flower. After that, it’s over to Photoshop to put them together with the Photomerge feature.
After some Photoshop wizardry, I am presented with this-
Which I then crop, clean up and do touch-ups before saving as the final photo. Here it is: Lavender Flower at 40x no. 1.
And there you have it. All-in-all, I would estimate the average photo takes 3 hours. A more complicated one can take up to 10.
I hope you enjoyed this rather long first edition of Microscope Monday. I promise the future ones will be shorter.