Photography At The Nano Level

Phenomena you can't always see with the naked eye.

Quantum Apple

How are you going to take a photograph of the weirdness of quantum mechanics? What we wanted to tell the reader is: “This is a world that is counterintuitive. You have to accept that.” And so I wanted to make a picture that really cannot be. At first glance at the image, it seems to be a fairly typical photograph of a glass sculpture of an apple. And then, on closer look, you notice that there’s something wrong with it: which is that the apple is casting a square shadow, which really cannot be. I made this by taking a photograph of the glass apple on a tabletop and then, later in Adobe Photoshop, adding the square shadow. It’s straight-up image editing, but it requires a close examination, that on looking closely shows you that is physically impossible. The metaphor is of something that is counterintuitive in our mind: the point was to make an image that could never exist, but looked as if it could exist.


With this image, we knew we wanted to talk about robotics. And this is a music box, which works like a robot—it’s binary. Those little prongs enable those rubber things to make a sound or not make a sound. There’s this problem of depth of field with macro photography, and there was no way I could get this all in focus. I used helicon, a stitching application—a friend of mine introduced me to it and it’s changed my life. This is a composite of 5 images. You take a series of pictures at various focal planes and the software stitches them all together and gives out a final image, which has the absolutely correct exposure. The lighting is all-natural. I just put it in front of a window. At the last minute I turned a light on, which is what created the pink cast. I took the music box apart and just photographed the mechanism.

Eleanor Rigby

We wanted to talk about how sound is translated, and the difference between analog and digital. This is a Beatles record, specifically the track “Eleanor Rigby,” which is one of my favorite songs. It was very hard to put it under the microscope. The part that’s readable is the brown part. You can see that it goes up and down in certain areas, which is how the needle reads the sound and translates it into music.

Lichen Colony

Image of Lichen Colony

Bacillus subtilis

Image of Bacillus subtilis.

Solar Cell

Image of a Solar Cell

Pin toy

Image of a Pin Toy.

Hornets’ Nest

Image of a Hornets’ Nest.


The subject of this image is a nanoskin on a drop of water. When you look at a droplet like this, you have to wonder, why is the drop forming? The molecules at the edges are somehow saying to each other, “Lets just keep this shape for awhile until gravity prevents it,” and then it falls down. Those molecules are making that drop of water, but the nanoskin is the drop. We decided we wanted a drop of water, so I knew that I had to somehow making it more interesting. During the process of making this book, which was about four years in the making, I began collecting things I had no idea whether I would ever use. One was a pastel palette, a cheap collection, a grid of five by five pastel colors in one-inch squares, which I used as a background for this photo. As a background it’s out of focus, If you look really hard in the drop, you can see the tiny reflection of it.


Image of Ferrofluid.
This is an eight-inch sea animal, scanned on a flatbed scanner. You can get some pretty amazing things when you use a decent scanner at a high resolution—it’s like contact printing on film, but you don’t have to go through the development. What you see is the skeleton of the animal, which is made out of silicon. Though it’s incredibly delicate-looking, it’s actually unbelievably strong. A lot of laboratories and engineers now are looking at structures similar to this in nature and trying to emulate them to construct similar materials. Photographically this is the easiest picture I’ve ever made. I put the skeleton on a scanner and then put a black velvet cloth over it, rather than closing the lid. Then I scanned it for 600 dpi. Felice Frankel