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Each of These Alien-Like Insects Was Created from Over 8,000 Photographs

Levon Biss uses macrophotography to capture insects in unprecedented detail.

by Emiko Jozuka
Apr 28 2016, 4:20pm

Jewel Longhorn Beetle, Sternotomis sp (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae) Image: Levon Biss

When Levon Biss photographs an insect, he doesn't just use one shot. Instead, he uses "macrophotography" to shoot thousands of images of a single bug in order to come up with a 3D-like model of it.

Biss, a commercial sports photographer, started out shooting the insects that his son collected in the garden before branching out to dead insects from the archives of Oxford University's Natural History Museum. His new exhibition, "Microsculpture," opens there next month.

Orchid Cuckoo Bee, Exaerete frontalis (Hymenoptera Apidae). Image: Levon Biss

In a bid to capture the insects in unprecedented detail and to give them a 3D illusion, each of his photographs is made up of between 8,000 to 10,000 separate shots. Biss splits the insects into multiple sections, photographing each part—whether it be an antenna or a wing—in 600 to 800 images

"The camera is set on a rail and I automate it, so I'll program in my start-to-end point, my two focal points, and the camera's movement forward on the rail at ten microns in between each shot," Biss told me over the phone.

Tortoise Beetle, Platypriamelli (Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae) Image: Levon Biss

"When you go to this level of magnification with microscope lenses, the depth of field is so shallow that only a miniscule part of the images is in focus so you have to take a lot of shots to get focus all the way through."

Biss said that the challenge lies in compressing all the shots to make one fully-focused image. Each photograph takes him around two to three weeks to complete.
Microsculpture from Levon Biss on Vimeo.

"It takes three days to shoot the insect and probably another four days to process all the information, then another week to bring all the different sections together to produce one solid image of an insect," he said. The largest image in his latest exhibition will be 3 x 2 metres while the rest will be 1.25 x 2 metres.

Each of the insects photographed, according to Biss, possesses a unique color, shape, and texture

Tiger Beetle, Cicindelinae sp. melidae (Coleptera, Carabidae) Image: Levon Biss

"I'm bringing my commercial lighting techniques to a very small space," he said. "If you were standing next to me, I'd light you very differently to a six-foot guy standing next to you because you'd have different skin tones and bone structure from each other, and it's the same with insects."

Next up, Biss will be collaborating with a VR company to bring his audience an even more visceral experience with the insects that he shoots. "There'll be a virtual 3D experience where you can put on a headset and fly around a 16-metre insect," he said.

Orchid Cuckoo Bee, Exaerete frontalis (Hymenoptera Apidae). Image: Levon Biss