Masters of MicroscopyMasters of Microscopy

Marek Miś on How to Make the Microworld Colorful

Welcome to Masters of Microscopy: The People Behind the Lens, where we showcase and celebrate the individuals who are the heart of the Nikon Small World competitions. They are scientists, artists, researchers, educators and everyday curious individuals who uncover the fascinating microscopic world around us.

Marek Miś

Marek Miś, whose work has been honored in multiple Nikon Small World competitions, is well-known for his unique style of photomicrography that captures rich color schemes in a three-dimensional format. He uses special techniques of illumination, leveraging polarization and dark field. Oftentimes, he’ll even use homemade accessories, such as custom compensators made of cellophane packaging from CDs and magazines. These approaches have created a signature style of color that may surprise some to learn started from black and white negatives.

His interest in microscopy and observing the microworlds began shortly after his father presented him with his first camera at age 12. This passion grew when hediscovered Paul de Kruif’s classic “Microbe Hunters” and was introduced to the work of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. He notes, “I wanted to discover new worlds… for myself, but also for others. I wanted to show others these hidden worlds.”

Miś’s first attempt to capture what was beneath the microscope was by hand, drawing everything he saw. In 1980, he began capturing his specimens with a Smiena 8M camera on black and white negatives. But it wasn’t until 2009 that Miś purchased a digital camera and truly began pursuing photomicrography. That very same year, he entered the Nikon Small World competition for the first time and had two images recognized. Since then, his work has been honored with five images of distinction, two honorable mentions and three top 20 images.

Original drawings of Miś’s early observations through the microscope.

“Photomicrography is a special type of photography, because I can show what is completely invisible to most people,” said Miś. “It allows others, even for a moment, to enter a completely different world accessible only to people equipped with microscopes.”

A biologist by education and an avid builder of field microscopes, Miś acknowledges that his background has played an important role in his current work. However, he views his approach to photographing as more artistic than scientific.

“Optical microscopy and the construction of microscopes was my first real passion,” said Miś’. His pieces are so intricate, in fact, that one of his custom made microscopes was presented by professor Brian Ford from the University of Cambridge at the annual meeting in Chicago in 2006 (Chicago Inter Micro).

For instance, when photographing one of his favorite subjects, microorganisms, he aims to make sure that they are not completely isolated, but that the photo will be with a bit of its natural environment. Similarly, when capturing various recrystallized substances, he is meticulous with the order of the frame, looking for both total abstractions and themes reminiscent of scenes we might see in “our normal, big world.” This creates unique, structured images that inspire viewers.

“It is fascinating how different microcrystalline systems of the same substance can differ from each other when created in different conditions,” said Miś. “It makes watching and photographing microcrystals a never-ending adventure.”

One of Miś’ favorite micrographs (which won 6th place in the 2012 Competition) - “I like this image because the algae Cosmarium looks like a spaceship orbiting over the Earth. The Earth is a small piece of Sphagnum (a kind of moss).” Micrograph taken in polarized light.

Micrograph is transversal cross-section of an apple tree stalk, taken in polarized light and dark field. “It reminds me of some impressionistic landscape with white clouds,” said Miś.

Recrystallized ascorbic acid in dark field and polarized light. The image resembles an odd city by night.

His imagery of microorganisms, plant tissues and microcrystals have been recognized internationally. In 2015, Miś’s unique images were selected for the worldwide photomicrography exhibition organized by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, entitled "Beyond the Bulb.” Today, apart from photographing microorganisms, microcrystals and plant tissues, he is focused on capturing other subjects like air bubbles and slightly larger invertebrate organisms or parts of their bodies and works closely with Science Photo Library, Science Source and Diomedia. In addition, he teaches photomicrography classes at a cultural center in his hometown of Suwałki, Poland.

“Through my work, I want to show the microworld in an interesting and slightly different way. I want to show that it can be very diverse, colorful and surprising,” said Miś. “Photomicrography can be treated as art, and not just a boring, documentary record of the structures and processes observed under the microscope.”

You can see more of Mis’s work on his website or at Nikon Small World.

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