Photomicrography as an Approach to Abstract Imagery
Photographs and text by Ted Oberman
After many years of general photography, I began to understand the wisdom of the message:
Fill the frame
Isolate the image, and
This was the advice I heard from almost all of the excellent photographers I had come across.
Many years would go by before I learned where this would lead.
As I got ever closer to the object I was photographing, I discovered that it would lose its identity
and what I was seeing and photographing was simply color, form, line, texture, and shades of gray.
Composing these elements to make an interesting image became much more challenging to me than chasing over the wide world capturing images
that I found others had done before -- and considerably better, too.
I soon appreciated that creating non-representational photographs with just these elements was more satisfying.
It didn't take too many years to learn that getting really close with macro lenses, extension tubes, and bellows was too cumbersome a technique.
Experimenting by replacing the camera lens with a microscope (plus a camera adaptor) simplified the process.
Using a PhotoMicrographic System provided a magnification range from 3:1 to 45:1 (3X to 45X) that was as simple as rotating a knob on the microscope.
No tripod was needed since the microscope had its own rigid stand.
Transparent and translucent materials could be easily trans-illuminated by a single halogen light below the stage.
Opaque material could be side-lighted with a few halogen lights on rheostats.
Such a setup precludes working in the field but opens an unlimited source of imagery from a different point of view.
It surely is not for everyone, but I discovered it is my preference.
One need not get into the nitty-gritty of the actual technique.
It is essential only to appreciate that it is, as in all photography, a search for images.
This search is one for images on the surface of things.
Anything that can be applied to the glass stage of the microscope and which presents a surface: glass, plastic, oil, ink, paint, hair-styling gel,
or whatever is available in the garage, the lab, or the medicine chest.
These surfaces seen under the magnification of a microscope present images that seem independent of the object, which is seen only in part.
They are non-representational and abstract.
Very slight movement of the light or the object and of any added color or filtration of the light can create new and infinite variations.
It affords the photographer the enjoyment of endless discovery and opportunity to record unique and extraordinary views of commonplace materials.
The connection between the camera and the microscope is made by means of a short extension tube screwed into a T-mount to fit your particular SRL camera.
The T-mount adaptor is available as a standard item in camera stores (e.g. Penn Camera in the D.C. area)
and the extension tube from Bushnell Corporation, "Bushnell Spacemaster #22-3025 camera mount."
See the end notes for more information.
The images shown here are a few examples of the varied possibilities.
Experience has shown me that the following are essential:
1. The highest quality microscope you can afford.
It should be a zoom scope with a rugged and well-machined gear system.
My microscope is an AO StereoStar zoom (dissecting type scope) of relatively low powers.
High magnification microscopes (i.e., those with powers of 75x and higher) are much less useful
and more difficult because of exceedingly shallow depth of field, narrower width of field, reduction of light, and very critical focusing for this type of photography.
2. A quality camera with focal plane shutter and flip-up mirror. (My camera is a Nikon F-3.)
In replacing the camera lens with a microscope, one loses the diaphragm, and exposure is achieved only by shutter speed and variation of light source.
3. Film is a matter of choice and mine is Provia 100F, although I'm sure others could make a good case for a different emulsion.
The specific details on the creation of any one or more of the images shown here requires more than time and space allows.
For specific questions I am available: email
E X A M P L E S
Lift Off #2
Notes on Photomicrography Adapters
Google the Web (35mm photomicrography adapter)
for options on mating your camera to your microscope.
If you're shopping for a microscope, consider one with integrated camera tube (e.g., trinocular microscope), though you'll need an adapter for your specific camera.
The 35mm SLR camera was for a long time the best choice for photomicrography, so a wide range of adapters are available.
Ebay is an excellent source for used microscopes and peripherals at bargain prices (but, as always, buyer beware).
More recently, closed-circuit video and digital still cameras for microscopes have become very popular in the scientific community.
You can even make your own adapter from PVC pipe and save some money:
http://www.barrie-tao.com/microscope_photo.html (see "Homemade Adapters").