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A progression in photomicrography

I recently realised that I have been taking photomicrographs for 6 years now. Over this time, my knowledge, skills and equipment have progressed quite a bit. Going through my archives, I can almost chronicle each of the new “chapters” in this fascinating photographic discipline.

2007

My first Photomicrograph – taken using a cameraphone against the eyepiece on a microscope. This was taken whilst I was on a work placement at university.

Ectemnius sp. Wasp under microscope

 

2008

Still using camera phones, I hadn’t dabbled that much in photomicrography, as the only opportunities I’d had, were either during lab practicals or work placements. However the experience I gained showed some improvement in technique, if not equipment.

Bagworm (Pachythelia villosella) head and thorax

 

2009

I Finally progressed to using a “real” camera and not a phone. A tough Olympus camera. The small, recessed lens helped with positioning the lens over the microscope eyepiece, reducing vignetting and preventing camera zooming action from hitting the microscope eyepiece etc.

Microscopic molluscs – Foraminifera

It was at this point that I  began to contemplate photographing the universities entomological collection, but I knew it would be a massive undertaking.

 

2010

I Updated the tough camera to a newer model (from a Mju 1030 SW to a Tough 8000 I think).

Female Ixodes ricinus

I also buy my own microscope, an Indian made “Radical Instruments” trinocular dissecting microscope. It’s pretty much a budget instrument, but serves its purpose well.

Microscope setup

You might also notice the camera. I’d had the 400D probably since 2006 or 2007, however I didn’t have a suitable method of attaching it to a microscope, which is why I was using the camera phone and compact cameras. However, with my own microscope, I was now able to get an adapter, so in 2010 I start using an SLR for photomicrography. It’s not perfect however, as larger specimens are too big for the microscope. I have limited photoshop experience at this point, so my attempts at photomerging several photos together, are lacklustre. (See below for one of the better ones!)

Carabus arvensis

It is at this point, with the equipment that I have, that I dive in and begin photographing the entomological collections at the University.

It is also around about now that I also discover focus-stacking processes. However, I didn’t know about the dedicated stacking software that was available, and so my first attempts are a time consuming process of manually aligning a handful of photos in photoshop, and layer masking them to only show the in focus areas. For the really big specimens I resort to using my SLR kit lens, manually adjusting focus each photo

Geotrupes sp.

I also attempted to put scale bars in the photos, with limited success, and in the process making the photos pretty ugly.

Dyschirius globosus Hbst.

 

Fairly quickly after getting the microscope, and using the 400D, I realise I really miss live view for photomicrography. As a result, I upgrade the 400D to a 40D – however I only keep the 40D for about 3-5 months, before selling it on and buying a 7D

Great diving beetle larvae

I think near the end of the year I also discovered Helicon Focus, and soon my workflow relies on manually taking photos and then running them through Helicon in individual stacks.

 

2011

Not much changes now except that I go from using my kit lens or nifty 50:

Nicrophorus investigator

To buying and using the Canon 100mm macro lens. Not sure if it is also at this point that I discover the camera remote stacking application.

Lucanus cervus

As soon as I get the 100mm macro, and see the capabilities of automatically generating the stacks, I realise that for all but the [i]smallest[/i] of the specimens, I can get a better quality image if I use the macro lens and then crop the image down afterwards, instead of using my dissecting microscope, which now sits on a shelf gathering dust for a lot of time.

 

2013

April – I buy the 250D closeup filter. This increases the 1:1 macro magnification to 1.4:1. It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a big difference!

I soon get bitten by the “must get close bug” and end up buying the MP-E 65mm in June. This leads to a reevaluation of processing methods, several tweaks later the photos are looking really good.

 

The latest development is that I have discovered that Helicon Focus’s competing software, Zerene Stacker, despite being slower, produces consistently better results. So I buy a copy of that too. I still intend on using Helicons remote app for controlling focus stacking with the 100mm when I need to use it, which is only really for really big things that are too big for the limited working distance of the MP-E to handle.

Fly head up close and personal

So that’s the last 6 years of photomicrography in a nutshell. Hadn’t realised how long I’d been doing this until I started to write this post!