When we think of stunning photographs, we tend to picture landscapes on an epic scale. Equally awe-inspiring–and perhaps more difficult to shoot–is the incredibly small. Since 1974, the Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition has celebrated vistas that are only visible when magnified hundreds of times. This year’s winner is Wim van Egmond, curator of the Micropolitan Museum. (The museum is wonderfully known as “The Institute for the Promotion of the Less than One Millimetre.”) Van Egmond took first place with a 250x magnification of Chaetoceros debilis, a marine plankton that forms a helical chain.
Van Egmond collected the algae himself, using a plankton net and a fine meshed net. He then shot a sample using a Nikon digital camera and an old Zeiss microscope. “I used special stacking software to combine many focus layers,” he says. “This way I could get every detail in focus.” Egmond intentionally blurred the background, however, in order to emphasize the helix’s three dimensional appearance.
Van Egmond says he approaches his photographs like human portraits in order to capture each micro-organism’s unique personality. The Chaetoceros debilis appears to be a happy little bugger, though given its prickly hairs, the creature is probably prone to moodiness.