Stunning Shots from the 2021 Close-Up Photographer of the Year Competition Unveil Nature’s Minuscule Details
Salamander silhouettes, an ant clutching a snack, and the diverse findings of an unintentional insect trap are a few of the winners of the 2021 Close-Up Photographer of the Year contest (previously). Now in its third year, the global competition garnered more than 9,000 entries across 55 countries, an incredible selection that unveils the stunning and minuscule details of the natural world. See some of our favorite shots below, and view all winners on the contest’s site. (via Kottke)
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Project Stardust: A Photographer Scours Rooftops Across the Globe for Minuscule Cosmic Particles
According to Olso-based photographer and researcher Jon Larsen, the most exotic particles from across the universe are likely hiding in a rain gutter or scattered among debris on rooftops. Larsen, who works in the geosciences department at the University of Oslo, has been at the forefront of micrometeorite discovery since 2009 when “a shiny black dot suddenly appeared on my white veranda table while I was having strawberries for breakfast.”
The event sparked a now decades-long exploration into the field of “cosmic dust particles, the oldest solid matter there is, ‘ash’ from dead stars, etc,” he tells Colossal. “Nothing has traveled farther…The search/hunt for stardust continues in all directions, but I am particularly interested in the unmelted ones, which contain water and complex organic molecules, (the) building blocks of life.”
These findings are what Larsen calls urban micrometeorites or minuscule bits of extraterrestrial matter found in heavily populated areas. Even though 60 tons of the dust fall to Earth every day, scientists previously considered the tiny pieces only discoverable in remote regions devoid of human life “due to an unsurmountable wall of terrestrial contaminants,” the researcher says. “Furthermore, the micrometeorites were thought to have a very short lifespan here on Earth due to the harsh weathering.”
That theory changed after Larsen scoured countless areas across the globe, producing a monumental archive of tens of thousands of particles. These range from the common barred olivine to the rare glass with chromites and volcanic residue. Most are considerably smaller than .05 centimeters.
Larsen’s pioneering research has culminated in a few books, including an identification guide and a forthcoming tome collecting his paintings, photos, and drawings on the subject. It also forms the basis for Project Stardust, a global community of micrometeorite hunters where he shares images of the gleaming, metallic findings in the form of striking macro shots that reveal crystalline details, jagged edges, and the particles’ lustrous surfaces. Simultaneously focused on the discovery and beauty of his findings, Larsen’s practice falls at the intersection of science, photography, and art. He explains:
Stardust looks like nothing else down on Earth, and they are beautiful jewelry from space. That it fell on me to discover these extraterrestrial beauties was rather bizarre because I do not come from academia but the art world… It was these qualifications which enabled me to find the way through the labyrinth and discover what everybody else said was impossible.
The publication of Larsen’s next book will coincide with exhibitions in Oslo and Berlin. You can find more of his work in the recent Werner Herzog documentary about meteors and comets, Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, and explore the vast archive of his findings on his site. (via Kottke)
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Macro Photos Frame an Ant-Mimicking Jumping Spider that Radiates an Iridescent Sheen
The diverse taxonomic order of spiders is brimming with strange biological phenomena: black widows have been known to cannibalize their mates, tarantulas are covered in barbed urticating hairs that they fling in defense similar to porcupines, and others have evolved to mimic the shape and pheromones of an ant to avoid predators.
On a recent trip to a wooded area in Santa Claus, Indiana, photographer Kevin Wiener uncovered one of the latter species, the tutelina similis, and snapped a few macro shots of the 6-millimeter creature. Each of the striking photos catches the arthropod’s iridescent exoskeleton in a manner that highlights its rainbow luster and reveals its ant-like appearance. Similar gleaming color schemes are widespread in the world of insects, including on the microscopic scales that cover butterflies.
The radiant jumping spider is part of Wiener’s vast archive of insect images, which he shares on Instagram and in his online group called All Bugs Go to Kevin. He launched the resource in the spring of 2019 as a way to offer insight into the micro-world of insects, and it now boasts more than 42,000 members, including scientists, macro photographers, and other arthropod enthusiasts.
Currently based in Evansville, Indiana, Wiener fuses his background in both wedding photography and pest management into a practice that highlights striking and bizarre organisms. “I try to photograph my subjects in a way that gives the appearance of a personality which makes them appear less scary and helps those with fears to see them differently. I want to showcase the beauty of arthropods and show people the things they don’t see with the naked eye,” he tells Colossal. “Basically, if it’s little and moving, it’s probably gonna have a photoshoot.”
In addition to uncovering the diverse world of insects, Wiener also teaches an Indiana Master Naturalist course and has presented to the Entomological Society of America as part of a symposium. You can follow his work that falls at the intersection of science and photography on Instagram and Twitter.
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Food Photography Science
Striking Macro Photos by Levon Biss Crack Open Dried Seeds to Reveal Their Gnarly Insides
Within the vast collections of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a trove of dried specimens that once were juicy seeds and fruits primed for reproduction. Now gnarled, fractured, and blanketed in tiny, dehydrated bristles, the individual pods have been preserved as part of the carpological archive at the Scottish institution, a resource photographer Levon Biss (previously) spent hours sifting through in preparation for a stunning new series of macro images.
Spanning from the rampant clusters of the Ko Phuang to endangered rarities like the Coco de Mer, the photographs reveal the inner details otherwise enclosed within the specimens’ shells. Texture and subtle color differences are the basis for most of the shots, which frame a cracked or sliced pod in a manner that centers on their unique components.
The botanic garden’s collection is global in scope and boasts about 100 individual pieces per species, meaning Biss sorted through hundreds of thousands to choose the final 117 that have culminated in his new book The Hidden Beauty of Seeds & Fruits. Initially culled based on aesthetics, the resulting selection encompasses all processes of seed dispersal, along with information about morphology, location, and history. “I tried to make sure all methods were included in the overall edit so that the work becomes an educational tool, not just pretty pictures,” Biss tells Colossal, further explaining the research process:
Each specimen is contained within a small box, and sometimes, you would find a handwritten note on a scrap of paper where the botanist provided a visual description of the surroundings where the specimen was found. Some of these specimens are over 100 years old, and reading these very personal notes made me wonder what the botanist had to go through to find that specimen. What were their traveling conditions like? What did they have to endure to bring the specimen back to Edinburgh? Reading these notes gave me a connection with the botanist and was certainly one of my personal highlights of the project.
On view in the same space as the original specimens, Biss’s photos are up at the Royal Botanic Gardens through October 31. The Hidden Beauty of Seeds & Fruits, which is published by Abrams, is available now on Bookshop, and you can find prints from the series on the photographer’s site. Keep up with his biological snapshots, which include a striking collection of iridescent beetles, on Instagram.
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A Colorful Macro Photo of Beach Sand Reveals Infinitesimal Fragments of Coral, Quartz, Shells, and Plastic
A stunning macro image by Ole Bielfeldt lays out the individual elements that comprise a dusting of sand from a Mallorca beach, revealing a piece of microplastic embedded within the colorful composition. “Although to the naked eye this looks like very clean natural sand, pieces of microplastic, as seen in the last image, can be found when viewed under the microscope,” says the Cologne-based photographer, who works as Macrofying. The prevalence of the tiny pollutants is especially high on Mediterranean coasts, meaning seemingly pristine beaches comprised of quartz, seashells, and coral debris are often riddled with the manufactured material.
Bielfeldt is known for zooming in on the otherwise unseen details of common goods and natural substances, which he shares in an extensive archive on Instagram and YouTube. “My work has definitely shaped my view on everyday objects. After exploring so many different samples, you get a new feeling for your environment and start to understand how some things work. There’s a complete and amazing little universe hidden right before our eyes,” he says. (via Twisted Sifter)
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Macro Photos Spotlight the Colorful, Whimsical Plant Growths Caused by Cynipid Wasps
When an herbivorous insect like an aphid or mite needs a place to feed and reproduce, it sometimes seizes a tiny section of a plant where it establishes an abnormal growth or gall. These tissue pockets, which are spurred by a reaction in the host, provide shelter and nutrition for the creature, and although some can be unsightly blemishes, others, like these brightly colored growths of cynipid wasps, are bizarrely beautiful additions to the otherwise green leaves. Photographed by Timothy Boomer, the macro images capture the imperceptible details of the galls, which appear like fairytale-style mushroom houses, prickly sea urchins, and fuzzy, striped domes. See more of the whimsical growths, which generally only cause cosmetic damage to the host plant, on Instagram and Boomer’s site, where you can also purchase prints.
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