Making Tiny Things Glorious With Photomicrography

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Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
Male mosquito, or Culex pipiens, 10x.
David Maitland

Two inventions that revolutionized the world, the microscope and camera, offer us glimpses of worlds that were previously inaccessible to humans. Brought together as photomicrography, they offer visual insight into tiny objects that mostly pass people by. A fly’s eye, a cardinal’s feather, a shark’s skin—the images below expose a magnified world that is decidedly whimsical.

This trove of images comes from the Nikon Small World Competition, an image contest Nikon hosts every year, open to both professionals and amateurs. The competition showcases advancements in technology in a photographic medium and doesn’t limit entrants to subject matter. They are judged on how original and visually engaging they are, how much information they hold, and the amount of technical proficiency involved.

It all sounds, well, technical, which is probably what is important when you judge a contest of entrants that include dryhead marine sedimentary agate, cholesteric liquid crystals, mosquito heads, and … butterfly tongues? Images aside, it’s remarkable to think a butterfly tongue could even be photographed.

According to the contest guidelines, “A photomicrograph is a technical document that can be of great significance to science or industry. But a good photomicrograph is also an image whose structure, color, composition, and content is an object of beauty, open to several levels of comprehension and appreciation.”

Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
Slab of dryhead marine sedimentary agate, magnified 32 times.

Douglas Moore/University of Wisconsin.

Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
Image of emergence of cholesteric liquid crystal from isotropic liquid, magnified 25 times.

Ken Ishikawa/Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
This extreme closeup of a fruit fly’s eye halfway through pupal development finished in fourth place in Nikon’s 2012 Photomicrography Competition. It shows the retina, in gold, the photoreceptor axons, in blue, and the brain, in green.

W. Ryan Williamson/Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
House spider, magnified 30 times.

Harold Taylor.

Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
Butterfly tongue, magnified five times.

Philippe Verrees.

Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
The sand-paper-like surface of a shark’s skin, magnified 40 times.

Tomasz Kozielec/Nicolaus Copernicus University.

Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
A female deep-sea copepod, Pontostratiotes sp., collected in the southeastern Atlantic Ocean at 3.35 miles (5,395 meters) deep.

Terue Kihara/Senckenberg am Meer, German Center for Marine Biodiversity Research (DZMB).

Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.
Head of a mosquito, 150x

Ralph Claus Grimm.

Nikon Small World Photomicrograpy Competition.
Cardinal feather, 25x

Ian Walker.

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