I have seen a number of the images Levon has created and have to say I am blown away by the beauty and technical expertise.
Levon Biss is a British photographer based in the UK who has been shooting campaigns for international brands for the last 18 years. His work has graced the covers of publications such as TIME Magazine and he has produced a best selling book on the global game of soccer titled ‘One Love’.
Here Levon explains how he works on his Microsculpture project
“Each image from the Microsculpture project is created from around 8000 individual photographs. The pinned insect is placed on an adapted microscope stage that enables me to have complete control over the positioning of the specimen in front of the lens. I shoot with a 36-megapixel camera that has a 10x microscope objective attached to it via a 200mm prime lens.
I photograph the insect in approximately 30 different sections, depending on the size of the specimen. Each section is lit differently with strobe lights to bring out the micro sculptural beauty of that particular section of the body. For example, I will light and shoot just one antennae, then after I have completed this area I will move onto the eye and the lighting set up will change entirely to suit the texture and contours of that part of the body. I continue this process until I have covered the whole surface area of the insect.
Due to the inherent shallow depth of field that microscope lenses provide, each individual photograph only contains a tiny slither of focus. To enable me to capture all the information I need to create a fully focused image, the camera is mounted onto an electronic rail that I program to move forward 10 microns between each shot. To give you an idea of how far that is, the average human hair is around 75 microns wide. The camera will then slowly move forward from the front of the insect to the back creating a folder of images that each have a thin plane of focus. Through various photo-stacking processes I flatten these images down to create a single picture that has complete focus throughout the full depth of the insect.
I repeat this process over the entire body of the insect and once I have 30 fully focused sections I bring them together in Photoshop to create the final image. From start to finish, a final photograph will take around 3 weeks to shoot, process and retouch.”
Microsculpture The exhibition
Oxford University Museum of Natural History
27 May – 30 October 2016
Microsculpture presents the insect collection of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History like never before. The result of a collaboration between the Museum and photographer Levon Biss, this series of beautifully-lit, high magnification portraits captures the microscopic form of insects in striking large-format and high-resolution detail.
Levon is holding a workshop at the Museum:
Photography Workshop with Levon Biss
Levon Biss’ photography is a masterclass in lighting. Pick up some expert techniques using specimens at different scales from the Museum collections. Special workshop to coincide with the Microsculpture exhibition.
Details to follow after Microsculpture exhibition opens on 27 May.
Saturday 9th July
Formed at scales too tiny for us to perceive and with astonishing complexity, the true structure and beauty of insects remains mostly hidden. Their intricate shapes, colours and microsculpture are dizzying in their variety, but it takes the power of an optical microscope or camera lens to experience insects at their own scale.
At high magnification the surface of even the plainest looking beetle or fly is completely transformed as details of their microsculpture become visible: ridges, pits or engraved meshes all combine at different spatial scales in a breath-taking intricacy. It is thought that these microscopic structures alter the properties of the insect’s surface in different ways, reflecting sunlight, shedding water, or trapping air.
Alongside these elements are minute hairs adapted for many purposes. They can help insects grip smooth surfaces, carry pollen, or detect movements in the air, to name but a few. The shape of these hairs is sometimes modified into flattened scales – structures so small they appear like dust to the naked eye. In some insects, such as butterflies and beetles, these scales scatter and reflect light, creating some of the most vibrant and intense colours seen in nature.
The evolutionary process of natural selection should account for all this wonderful diversity of microstructures, but for many species their specific adaptive function is still unknown. By observing insects in the wild, studying museum collections, and developing new imaging techniques we will surely learn more about these fascinating creatures and close the gaps in our current understanding.
Dr James Hogan
Life Collections, Oxford University Museum of Natural History