Microsculpture is a unique visual experience. A 10mm insect is shown as a 3 meter print, revealing minute
detail and allowing the viewer to take in the structure of the insect in its entirety. The beautifully lit, high
magnification portraiture of Levon Biss captures the microscopic form of these animals in striking high-resolution
Microsculpture. Exhibition :
Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
27 May – 30 October 2016.
AMicrosculpture 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.
On show in the main court of the Museum, surrounded by stunning Neo-Gothic architecture, the largest of
Microsculpture’s photographic prints measure up to three metres across and surround the visitor.
Seen alongside the tiny insect specimens themselves, this huge transformation of scale offers a unique viewing
Text provides information about each creature in the show, while the photographs allow visitors to scrutinise tiny
structures up close and then step back to take in the beauty of the insect as a whole.
The Museum of Natural History receives around 650,000 visitors a year and was a Finalist in the Art Fund
Prize for Museum of the Year 2015. Its internationally-important insect collection contains more than seven million
specimens drawn from every country in the world, including specimens from some of the most remote regions
and islands. Combined, the Museum’s collections represent a vast repository of information on biodiversity.
The entomology collection also has significant cultural and historical value, containing the world’s oldest pinned
insect specimen and many thousands of insects collected by pioneering Victorian explorers and biologists such
as Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.
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.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
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’.
Biss’s passion for nature and photography have now come together to create Microsculpture, a unique photographic
study of insects in mind-blowing magnification. For his latest personal project, Biss embraced the world of
macrophotography and has taken the genre to a new level. His photographs capture in breathtaking detail the
beauty of the insect world and are printed in large-scale formats to provide the audience with an unforgettable
Biss explains his photographic process :
“ 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. ”
All images from Microsculpture are available to purchase.
For print sale enquiries or for further information please email : firstname.lastname@example.org.
To view more of Levon Biss’s work visit http://www.levonbiss.com
Microsculpture- The insect photography of Levon