Science and Photography: Capturing the Natural World

Most people think of photography as something of an art form and, to a great extent, it is. Photography is about capturing the essence of a particular moment. There are many different branches and ways of practicing photography. Some of the most well-known are portrait photography and wedding photography — disciplines that capture a single event or image for an individual. Others are wildlife and landscape photography who take a much different extreme in capturing a larger “now” that will not change drastically over the course of the average person’s lifetime. There are also photojournalists, sports photographers, and others who, with the press of a button, preserve images of historical value so that future generations can see the events the same way that the rest of us have seen them.

Still, there is one branch of photography that is often overlooked even though it produces some of the most beautiful and unbelievable images. That branch is scientific photography. Scientific photographers seek to capture images of the world and its phenomena that most people wouldn’t even dream really existed. They use a variety of lenses and scopes to peer into the world down to the atomic scale or to gaze into the cosmos and see light-years across. They also make use of long exposures to create images of surprising beauty and complexity with simple household items.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll dive into some of the most interesting sights seen by scientific photographers. These will include things such as the waterbear that made the rounds on the Internet a few months ago to images from the Hubble and other deep space telescopes. However, today we’ll look into the photography of Caleb Charland. Caleb Charland loves to use long exposures and common items to demonstrate the rules of mathematics and physics. His collection, available here, was inspired by children’s books of science experiments. Charland enjoys creating his images the analogue way and only uses Photoshop to make slight color and tone adjustments — not to create the effects in any of his photos.

The most amazing image is probably the photo of the atomic model created using a drill and a lightpen held at various angles to create the illusion of the electron trails orbiting the nucleus. All of the images are wonderful and awe-inspiring but that one is my personal favorite. It’s well worth the time to head over and check out the collection and the interview over at My Modern Met.

— da Bird