Category Archives: Photography

Nikon Small World Image Contest Results: 2007

Nikon just posted the results from their annual photo micro-graph competition, and the winning images are simply stunning. One of the things that struck me about this year’s images was the significant leap in imaging technologies based on florescent DNA tagging combined with the use of confocal microscopy and volumetric tomography, even over last year’s images.

I really enjoyed browsing the Nikon site, going back in time, to see how science has advanced over even a couple of years. Clearer vision brings clearer insight, as they say; these images let us see things never seen before and witness processes first-hand that were mere hypothesis last year. More than insight, there is wondrous beauty and complexity in every image. Here are a few of my favorites from the 2007 gallery, but don’t miss browsing the rest on the home site.


Zebrafish embryo midbrain and diencephalon showing neural fibers in blue and developing neural interconnections in red, by Michael Hendricks of the Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory, National University of Singapore.

Erpobdella octoculata (fresh water leech) muscle strands surrounding a central nerve cord at 25x magnification, by Vera Hunnekuhl, Department of Zoology, University of Osnabrück, Osnabrück, Germany

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Giant unilamellar and multilamellar vesicles (liposomes) at 40x magnification, by Dr. Jorge Bernardino de la Serna, MEMPHYS-Center for Biomembrane Physics, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Fyn, Denmark.


Trematode sp. (parasitic worm) at 400x magnification, by Rodrigo Mexas, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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Lime tree leaf vessels architectonics at 60x magnification, by Dr. Josef Spacek, University Hospital, Department of Pathology, Charles University Prague Faculty of Medicine Hradec Kralove, Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic.

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Cancer Cells at 1500x magnification, by Tomasz Szul, High Resolution Imaging Facility, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama, USA.

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Water Baloon Popping In Slow Motion

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The Awesome Power of Tornadoes

Photographer Mike Theiss recently toured Greensburg, Kansas, the small town at ground zero of that monster tornado. Having seen the stock news footage on CNN, I still hadn’t really internalized the true power and energy unleashed in the EF-5 storm with winds howling at over 200 mph. Check out these photos of the utter devastation, linked directly from Mike’s site.

From Mike’s comments on Spaceweather.com:

“The power of the wind from this EF-5 tornado was evident,” says Theiss. “I documented a fork stuck in a tree, a Kansas license plate ripped off a car and stuck in a tree, millions of splintered pieces of wood and much more. There was amazing evidence of winds over 200 mph everywhere.”

“Every single vehicle I saw was peppered with rocks, boards and other debris,” he continues. “The only safe place would have been underground, but I think that might not have been very safe either because I saw basements that were filled with tons of debris from the house collapsing in on itself.”

“My experience at ground zero was depressing yet uplifting. Among all the destruction, the only reaction I witnessed among residents was positive excitement about how great the city will be once it’s rebuilt. The entire community pulled together and began cleanup immediately. One idea being tossed around is to ‘go green’–i.e., to use wind, solar energy and other resources at hand to power the reconstructed city. This would make Greensburg the first 100% green city in the USA. What an amazing idea!”

Greensburg Photo Gallery
[donate to the Green for Greensburg Fund]

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Biomimetic Digital Photography

Or, How to Make Your Camera Work More Like Your Eyes

Anyone who has ever tried to snap a few photos with a modern camera has probably felt the frustration that the camera often fails to get the exposure quite right, with things that you can see clearly either washed out and over-exposed, or invisible in the shadows. The intrepid among you may have even gone so far as to turn the switch to manual, only to discover that it is really hard to do too much better than the automatic system. You end up with these types of exposure-bracketed images:


The sky detail is only visible in the lower exposure (faster shutter speed) and the building detail is only visible in the higher exposure. And yet when you look directly at the scene, everything is clearly visible to the naked eye. The reason for this is that through an amazing combination of the iris’ aperture dilation, and the logarithmic response of the photo-receptive neurons in retina, the human eye automatically adapts to an incredibly broad range of illumination intensity as it scans across broad scenes. A camera, on the other hand, must use the same exposure aperture and sensitivity settings across the entire image, and the photo-detectors have a linear response curve.

As a result, a camera’s dynamic range (the number of discrete brightness gradations it can detect) is much more limited, and the same range is applied across the entire field-of-view. This means that in scenes with wide illumination variations, typical photographs fail to capture details on either the bright side, or the dark side.

But there is a growing field of photography called “High Dynamic-Range Imaging” that combines multiple photos of varying exposure to artificially expand the dynamic range of a final composite image. The technique has demonstrated amazing results. Here is the final photo created using the three exposures above. (examples from this site)

Here are some other before and after sets that demonstrate the power of this technique.


This photo shows a great solution to the canonical problem of imaging a bright outdoors from inside a much darker room. Here is an example applied to portraiture:

There is definitely an art to assembling the images, because if the technique is applied to aggressively, the resulting images look a little surreal. Here are some more examples from a great web site that are on the edge, but still very interesting.

And of course, these same techniques are critical to processing photos of astronomical objects. All you need are a few photos and some photo editing software like Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. And with the great proliferation of interest in these techniques, there is already a large community of web sites hawking the latest techniques and even automated Photoshop plug-in software. Here are a few of my favorites:

Cybergrain.com
Modern HDR Photography
NatureScapes
Photomatix

Go forth and process.

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