The Hidden World - My Look at Photomicrography

by Marek Miś
July 18, 2017

The way I remember it, my interest in the micro world and for the microscopy began when I was very young teenager (thirteen or fourteen years old). The great inspiration for it was the book which I found in my father's cupboard. That old book was titled "Microbe hunters", written by Paul de Kruif. I could read there about some pioneers of microbiology. Among them was incredible man Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek. When I red about his discoveries and about his self made tiny microscopes I felt a desire to do the same. Like van Leeuvenhoek I was constructing my own microscopes and started doing my own discoveries. Because I desired to share with others what I could see through the magical lens I was drawing with pencils various aspects of the micro world.

My first photomicrographs I took in 1980. They were black & white and poor quality. Because of technical problems that time I gave it up for many years. I went back to the photomicrography in 2009 when I bought my first digital SLR camera Pentax K10. After some years I bought another Pentax camera K5. Lately I managed to purchase the top Pentax DSLR FF Pentax K1. The digital technology gave the possibilities of effective photographing through the microscope and satisfying results. The new chapter in my photomicrography I started with an old German microscope Lumipan. You can see it in the picture below (Photo A)

Lumipan microscope and Olympus BH-2 Microscope by Marek Miś ©

A few years ago I managed to complete my new microscope Olympus BH-2 (from e-bay) which I use now (Photo B). I purchased the best quality objectives Olympus SPlan Apo for this microscope which were available on the second hand market. Unfortunately they are not cheap but the quality of the images what they create is worth of their price.

The world hidden for our naked eye is very diverse and simply unlimited if about the available subjects. It gives opportunity to take unusual photographs quite different than these ones which we can take in our ordinary big world. The microscope gives us the possibility of discovering totally different spheres. You can enjoy observing living microorganisms, admire inner plants structures or beautiful shapes and colours of various recrystallized substances and many, many more subjects. However I like taking photographs of close-up, macro and landscapes as well, the photomicrography preoccupied me unreservedly.

In my photomicrography I use various techniques of lighting (bright field, dark field, phase contrast, Rheinberg illumination, polarized light, oblique illumination and mixed techniques). The main techniques which I use are polarized light and dark field. I very often combine them together obtaining very interesting and attractive results. Below you can see the same subject (the transverse cross-section of Polygonatum multiflorum stalk) illuminated with various techniques of illumination. Presented images are only some examples of colour results. The colour possibilities which we can get with polarized light combinations are simply unlimited.

Polygonatum multiflorum stalk by Marek Miś ©

To obtain dark field illumination I use self made black round stop inserted next to condenser diaphragm. It is just round black piece of paper glued to transparent thin plastic circle. For polarization I use photographic linear polarizing filter (as the polarizer placed on the illuminator of the microscope base). As the analyzer I use a small circular photographic filter which is placed inside the trinocular head. As the compensators I simply use the pieces of various plastic foils (for example pieces of CD wrapping foil). Various colour effects can be obtained by rotating polarizer and compensator and it depends on the degree of rotation of these components.

To start the adventure with the photomicrography you should prepare something easy. Very nice for the beginner are air bubbles. You can simply use the soap and water to create the foam with many bubbles and put some of it on the slide and cover with the cover slip. For an example of such air bubbles taken in polarized illumination see the image below. The micrograph is taken in polarized light.

Air bubbles taken with polarized light microscopy by Marek Miś ©

More examples of air bubbles taken with various techniques of illumination (and obtained in various ways)  you can watch on the next image below.

Air bubbles by microscopy Marek Miś ©

The next subjects which I love to photograph are various microorganisms. The special group which I like the most are desmids, a kind of algae. I can describe them without any exaggeration as the real jewels of the micro world. Their cells take beautiful shapes and forms. They can look like crescent rolls (Closterium sp.), black rye bread (Netrium sp.), egg-like (Cosmarium sp.), DNA chain (Desmidium swartzii) and many more. Desmids can be especially found in dystrophic lakes together with Sphagnum, a kind of moss. The easiest way to get them is taking the moss with some water. You can squeeze the moss to the small dish and then to take some drops of such water on the slide. You can also cut some small pieces of moss and put them on the slide with some drops of the same water. I prefer that second way because in this way I can take photographs presenting microorganisms together with a small piece of their habitat. Below you can see the image presenting desmid Netrium digitus between Sphagnum leaves. The micrograph taken in Polarized light.

desmid Netrium digitus between Sphagnum leaves by Marek Mis ©

To encourage potential photomicrography lovers to searching these wonderful alga I am enclosing the illustration with more of species.

Desmids by Marek Miś ©

The next important and very beautiful alga for photomicrographers are diatoms. They are very special and unique microorganisms. They look like microscopic boxes. Each cell consists of two halves. One of them is called the cover and the another is called the bottom. The covers are hard and richly ornamented. Some of diatoms freely float in water as the plankton. The other ones create the settled forms and attached to the various submerged surfaces making component of periphyton. The photograph below presents the example of such settled form of diatoms named Gomphonema sp. In spite of taking this photograph in polarization and dark field you are not able to see the black background. This is because the main subject (diatoms in this case) are photographed against the another subject instead of plain black background. The results are quite different than that ones obtained with the only  polarization without dark field.

Diatoms Asterionella formosa and Fragilaria sp. by Marke Mis ©

Some other examples of diatoms you can see on the image below. Some of them (Asterionella formosa and Fragilaria sp. on the left image) are not settled species, so to get them it is necessary to filter water samples with a special plankton net.

Diatoms by Marke Mis ©

Another very interesting group of microorganisms are protozoans and rotifers. There are huge amount species of them. They can live as the settled organisms or free swimming ones. Some of them are very slow when the other ones are very fast like formula 1 cars. Protozoans and rotifers are one of the most diversified in shape and form among the microorganisms.

One of them are amoebas. They are generally divided into two large groups: naked and testate ones. Naked amoebas most often look like semitransparent microscopic lump of protoplasm. The testate (or shelled) amoebas can be better seen because of their shell in which there is the body. The amoeba shells can be ornamented or encrusted with various elements (silica, mineral grains etc.). On the image below you can see a testate amoeba from Arcella genus. It was photographed near Sphagnum sp. leaf using dark field illumination.

Arcella genus. It was photographed near Sphagnum sp by Maret Mis ©

The next image presents two other species. In the third (last) image you can see the microorganism slightly similar to amoebas which belongs to group called Heliozoans.

Protozoa by Marke Mis ©

Another group of protozoans are ciliates. One of them (Stentor sp.) is presented below. This photograph is taken in polarization and dark field. Inside of Stentor can be seen the round vacuole with ingested green algae (Dictyosphaerium ehrenbergianum). Most of ciliates move and feed thanks to many cilia surrounding their mouths and covering their bodies.

Stentor by Maret Mis ©

Some other examples of ciliates are shown in the picture below.

Protozoa by Maret Mis ©

The green Stentor in the first image and green glass-like Vorticella include in their bodies tiny symbiotic green algae. That is why they are green. Stentor in accordance with the actual needs can be anchored or freely swimming. Vorticella are mostly settled or anchored. Their thin and long stalks are very flexible and can be shortened in lightning speed when they feel in danger. Some ciliates live in special houses called a lorica. The second and the last image show such examples. In the last image you can see extremely lazy genus of ciliates called Suctorians. They almost do not move and feed with the special thin plasmatic tubes called tentacles.

And now it is a time for some rotifers. The image below presents predatory rotifer which I managed to catch just in the attack moment for some species of flagellate. The technical quality of the image is not perfect because of relatively high noise produced by sensor. I took this photograph with higher sensitivity obtaining high shutter speed to froze the rotifer motion and show the entire action without blurred image.

Rotifer in polarized light by Maret Mis ©

Rotifers by Marek Mis ©

The rotifer on the first image hunts with a special trap consisting of long ciliated arms. It is an anchored kind of rotifer. Philodina sp. in the second image can freely swim and can attach to various surfaces. In this case rotating corona cilia are very visible. Two rotifers in the last image are the only small fragment of spherical colony which consists of many individuals.

Very attractive subjects for photomicrography are tissues of various plants. They look beautiful especially in polarized light and in dark field combined with polarization. Some plant tissue photographs can be easily obtained by putting the small pieces of plants on the slide without any special preparation. The example of it can be the leaf of Canadian pond weed. Its leaf is thin and transparent so the cells can be beautifully visible. You can see it below. The image was taken with polarized light.

Canadian poind weed viewed by polarized light microscopy Maret Mis ©

We can do the same with some species of moss, for example Sphagnum. Its leaves consists of only one layer of cells. The example taken in polarization you can see below.

Sphagnum moss iby polarized light microscopy Marek Mis ©

Other photographs we can take when we prepare appropriate cuts of the plants. I make it with shaving razor. It should be new because only then is possible to obtain slices of appropriate quality. You can make transverse or longitudinal cross-sections. In both cases the images seen through the microscope are quite different. You can also take epidermis from the leaf or from the stalk. Below are some next examples of plant tissues photographed through the microscope.

Polarized light microscopy by Marek Mis ©Apart from microorganisms and plant tissues I like to photograph quite abstract images based on various recrystallized substances. In this case you never know what you will be able to see. That is because crystallization process depends on many factors, humidity, temperature, kind of surface and many more. Even on the same slide you can find quite different images in spite of the same prepared substance.

To prepare the slide with recrystallized substance first you should make a concentrated solution. Some drops of such solution should be put on the slide surface and the slide should be left for drying. It takes from some minutes to hours, days and even months what depends on chemical properties of the substance.

On the first image below you can see ascorbic acid microcrystals taken with polarization and dark field.

Abstract photomicrograph using polarized light ascrobic acid by Market Mis ©

The next image below presents other ascorbic acid images and images of other recrystalized substances. Some of them you can find in your kitchen or in drawer with pharmaceuticals. If it is possible I often try to find such images which remind me the ones from our big ordinary world like grasses, fields, forests, mountains, forests etc.

Polarized light micrographs by Marek Mis ©

It is worth trying almost everything like van Leeuwenhoek was doing to know how it looks under the microscope. Always just after making preparate the first look into the microscope eyepiece is very exciting. The last image presents the agent for calcium from electric jugs. This micrograph was taken with polarized light and dark field. I think you would not ever think that it can look in such way.

Polarized light micrograph by Marek Mis ©

As I mentioned at the beginning the micro world is simply unlimited. There is no way to describe all aspects of photomicrography in such short article. With some of the selected images and short descriptions I have tried to show its beauty and to encourage the readers to do their own explorations. Photomicrography is a very specific kind of photography. First of all  it requires a microscope and many attempts to improve your skills day by day. You can learn anything with a bit of practice :)

To those who might like to see more of my microimages I invite you to visit my web pages and my fanpage.


Authors Biography & Contact Information

Marek Miś portrait Marek Miś lives in Suwalki, a small town north-east of Poland. He is a freelance photographer specializing in photomicrography and macrophotography. He is an author of many articles on nature, microscopy and photomicrography. In 2015 he published his book on macrophotography and photomicrography titled "Blisko, coraz bliżej. Od Fotografii zbliżeniowej do mikrofotografii" (Helion 2015). He also is a multiple finalist of two main photomicrography competitions: Nikon Small World and Olympus BioScapes. He won twice 6 th place (2012 and 2016) in Nikon's contest. He is an author of some individual exhibitions (Suwalki, Warszawa, Kowno) and participant of many collective exibitions in Poland and abroad (USA, Canada, Great Britain, Pakistan). Marek conducts the workshops on photomicrography and macrophotography in his town. Thanks to cooperation with some photo agencies (Science Photo Library, Science Source, Diomedia, Bioshots) his images go to the many countries worldwide.



On the web site you can download a sample of this book in PDF format.
Text is in Polish

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