You might think that at first glance you’re looking at fish scales, but you’re actually looking at the wings of butterflies!
American photographer Chris Perani shows the stunning beauty of butterflies by capturing the microscopic details of their wings.
Perani turns to extreme macro photography to snap images of iridescent hairs and scales. He uses a 10x microscope objective attached to a 200mm lens, which creates an almost non-existent depth of field.
“Using a focus rail, the lens must be moved no more than three microns per photo to achieve focus across the thickness of the subject which can be up to eight millimetres. This yields 350 exposures, each with a sliver in focus, which must be composited together.”
He then keeps repeating the same process six times until 2,100 separate exposures are combined into a single image.
With the naked eye only able to see butterflies at a glance and from a distance, it’s incredible to appreciate these magnificent little creatures up close!
In the interview below, Perani talks more about himself and his macro photography:
Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to becoming a photographer and to doing what you’re doing today?
“From my earliest days of taking photos, I have been drawn to capturing images that you can’t see with the naked eye. I have photographed water balloons popping, water drops colliding, and inks mixing in water. I am obsessed with the challenge of putting nature in motion and trying to capture the right moment to show something dynamic in a still image.”
Where did you get the idea to do extreme macro photography on butterfly wings?
“One day, at the San Francisco Academy of Science, I noticed a table full of microscopes and butterfly wings. There I could see every detail in their wings. I knew instantly that that was going to be my next project, shooting extreme macro of insects.
Researching how to take pictures with microscopic detail, I came across Levon Biss Microsculpture videos for shooting insects with microscope objectives. Acquiring a similar setup, I began shooting insects.”
Please give us a little insight into your creative process. What equipment do you use? How do you capture something so microscopic?
“For every butterfly, I study the scales and the colours, and to find a spot where the colours intersect. Here’s how the photos are taken:
Each image of a butterfly wing consists of 2,100 separate exposures merged into a single photo. To photograph their wings I use a 10x microscope objective attached to a 200mm lens. Since I use a microscope objective, the depth of field is almost nonexistent.
Using a focus rail, the lens must be moved no more than three microns per photo to achieve focus across the thickness of the subject which can be up to eight millimetres. This yields 350 exposures, each with a sliver in focus, which must be composited together.
This process yields one piece of a six-piece puzzle. The process is repeated six times for different sections of the wing with the final result being the composite of these pieces.”
How difficult is it to do what you do? How long does it typically take?
“I started by shooting complete insects, which was extremely frustrating. Each final image was around 20,000 photos merged. The slightest mistake (a speck of dust, the movement of light) would ruin a photo and hours of work.
After months of fine-tuning my setup while improving my Photoshop skills, I had the process down and it became second nature to me. An image now only requires 2,000 merged photos, which takes about an hour to finish.”
Lastly, do you have a favourite amongst all the photos you’ve taken?
“My favourite photo is Blue Charaxes Imperialis #1. I love the light blues and dark blues mixing together.”