Microsculpture is an inspiring project by the UK photographer Levon Biss that presents insect specimens from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History like never before. His images reveal details and breathtaking beauty of insects – what entomology science calls microsculpture. The images are displayed as large scale photographic prints up to 3 meters high, the Microsculpture project provides the viewer with a unique opportunity to observe and value this hidden world.
Because of the tiny size the true structure and beauty of insects remains mostly hidden. Complex shapes, colours and texture of insects are dizzying in their variety, but it takes the power of a powerful microscope or camera lens to experience insects at their own scale.
Each image from the Microsculpture project is created from around 8000 to 10,000 individual shots. The pinned insect is placed on a mounted microscope stage that enables the photographer to have complete control over the positioning of the specimen in front of the lens. It is shoot with a 36-megapixel camera that has a 10x microscope objective attached to it via a 200mm prime lens.
Explore the beauty of insects in astonishing detail on Microsculpture website.
Included in this collection are the Shield Bug and Tricolored Jewel Beetle. The Shield Bug was collected by Charles Darwin during a visit to Australia in 1836. The Tricolored Jewel Beetle was collected two decades later by his contemporary Alfred Russell Wallace.
Levon Biss photographs the insect in approximately 30 different sections, depending 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, he would light and shoot just one antennae, then after he have completed that area he would move onto the eye and the lighting set up would change entirely to suit the texture of that specific part area of the insect. Levon Biss continues this process until he has covered the whole body of the insect.
The camera is mounted onto an electronic rail that the photographer programs 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 Levon Biss flattens these images down to create one section picture that has complete focus throughout the full depth of the insect. Once he has completed 30 fully focused sections he brings them together in Photoshop to create the final photograph. It is hard to believe, but a final photograph will take around 4 weeks to shoot, process and retouch.
Microsculpture was first exhibited in the main court of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Seen alongside the tiny insect specimens themselves, these huge photographic prints measured up to 3 metres across offered a unique viewing experience.
Watch how the pictures are made:
Biss had his exhibitions at the Hessischer Landesmuseum in Darmstadt (Germany), Naturama in Svenborg (Denmark), Houston Museum of Natural Science (USA), Maastricht Natural History Museum (The Netherlands), and Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh (Scotland). You can also buy limited edition archival pieces on his online print shop.