Beautiful Photographs of Microscopic Plankton that Look Like Photos of Outer Space

Faults: Coscinodiscus and pinnularia, crushed

Faults: Coscinodiscus and pinnularia, crushed

When you look at the photographs in her series Into the Umbra, photographer Julia Bennett wants you to think you’re looking at outer space. And then, just as your mind is struggling to expand to encompass the far reaches of the solar system where the image was captured, that’s when she wants you to realize that you’re looking at something you could find in any old liter of Sea Water.

Her images weren’t captured with a telescope peering into the heavens, but a microscope that peers into the micro worlds inside droplets of seawater.

This fascination with the world of plankton began in college when, during Marine Biology 101, she was blown away by just how beautiful the view through her microscope was.

“We were making drawings and recording numbers and doing all this science stuff, and I couldn’t get over how perfect and symmetrical and intricate they are,” she tells Wired. “I thought, ‘Why doesn’t everyone want to look at these?’”

Genesis, diatom: Various diatoms, preserved slide from 1919.

Genesis, diatom: Various diatoms, preserved slide from 1919.

Over the years that fascination never wavered, and thus was born a photo project that explores these little worlds through an abstract lens. When we spoke to her, she explained how these images come to be:

I am using a Leica microscope with a Canon 5D mounted to the lens. I light the samples from below and sometimes also above with LED spotlights, and don’t manipulate the images in any way other than some minor color correction and the mirroring effect that you see in a few of them. Other than that there is nothing fabricated, just the natural beauty of the sample.

The point of the images, and the reason she’s more than happy to let you confuse them for screenshots from Interstellar, is to start a conversation about our relationship with the delicate oceanic ecosystems.

“I think that many people are affected in a more emotional way by imagery [than scientific studies],” she tells us. “And so I hope that this work will perhaps inspire a new motivation in the public to treat the oceans with a newfound respect.”

Detritus: Various diatoms, preserved slide from 1919.

Detritus: Various diatoms, preserved slide from 1919.

Genesis, sea sapphire: Living Sapphirina (sea sapphire) copepod, which gets its color from structural differences in microscopic layers of crystals.

Genesis, sea sapphire: Living Sapphirina (sea sapphire) copepod, which gets its color from structural differences in microscopic layers of crystals.

Hubble II: Star-like Bacteriastrum as seen from above.

Hubble II: Star-like Bacteriastrum as seen from above.

Hubble: Various diatoms, preserved slide from 1919.

Hubble: Various diatoms, preserved slide from 1919.

Orbit: a planktonic worm larva “orbits” the perimeter of a glass slide.

Orbit: a planktonic worm larva “orbits” the perimeter of a glass slide.

Penumbra: Living bivalve larvae, collected in Moreton Bay, Australia.

Penumbra: Living bivalve larvae, collected in Moreton Bay, Australia.

Starspot: Cocconeis diatoms, preserved slide from 1919.

Starspot: Cocconeis diatoms, preserved slide from 1919.

Vessel I: Siphonophore, a close relative of the jellyfish.

Vessel I: Siphonophore, a close relative of the jellyfish.

To see more of Bennett’s work, or follow along as she continues adding to the Into the Umbra series, head over to her website by clicking here.


Image credits: Photographs by Julia Bennett and used with permission.

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