These are the tiny Zeiss and Leitz lenses with which I took macro pictures. These lenses can be attached to any camera with an adapter than can be cut out of cardboard (or made in a more sophisticated way if one wishes). I don’t know of anyone else who has used them this way for pictures of plant details, but someone somewhere has. I have taken thousands of pictures with them, often in remote areas of the world. The Zeiss lenses are to the left of the ruler, the Leitz lenses to the right of it. The two sets of lenses partially duplicate each other in focal lengths.
The Tegeticula moth spends its entire life in association with yucca plants. Here is a female Tegeticula that has rolled pollen into a ball and is depositing it on the stigma. It will then lay eggs in the ovary. The larvae will destroy only a part of the seeds, which would not exist without the pollination by the moth.
The stamens of Asimina reticulata, at high magnification, show release of pollen grains. Oiliness of the pollen surface permits them to adhere to flower parts and to surfaces of beetles. The pollen seen here is actually not single grains, but tetrads of grains; the tetrads have a globular outline.
Pollen grains of Oenothera as they are released from the stamens. The triangular shape of the pollen grains is evident. Each pollen grain bears threads, identical to the pollen grain wall chemically, which string grains together into cobwebby masses. These webs of pollen attach well to the heads of large moths that characteristically visit the white flowers of Oenothera.
The center of a flower of Calycanthus occidentalis. The stigmas are receptive at this stage. Each of the stamens bears an oily food body at its tip. These bodies are bribes to give beetles food and thereby distract them from chewing up pollen and stigmas during their visits.
The flowers of the avocado, Persea americana (Lauraceae) are very small. At this stage, the stamens hide the stigmas in the center of the flower. The anther sacs open by minute flaps, releasing pollen. Shiny yellow-orange nectaries occur at the stamen bases.
Margins of the filmy fern Trichomanes. The sporangia are borne on a vein-axis that grows out of the marginal cupule as the sporangia mature, and after discharging their spores, the sporangia fall from it.
A light photomicrograph of a tangential section of wood of Scaevola spinescens (Goodeniaceae). This photograph was taken in polarized light, which imparts colors to the refractive rhomboidal crystals in the ray cells in this species.
A druse in a ray of wood of the cycad Encephalartos altensteinii, as photographed with SEM. Some may wonder at the use of the term “photomicrograph” (which indicates the use of light) in connection with an electron microscope. When a Polaroid camera is attached to an SEM, the camera is actually photographing light on the raster of a cathode ray tube (much like a small television screen), not electrons: the CRT converts electrons to light, as with television. The photographing CRT duplicates the action of the observing CRT.
Ray cells of the wood of Tetrastigma vonierianum (Vitaceae). One of the cells contains a packet of raphides. These are needle-like calcium oxalate crystals, enclosed in a gelatinous sheath. A wood section photographed with SEM.
Crystals in wood of Pittosporum phillyreoides are large and rhomboidal in shape. The interesting point shown here is that each crystal is “encapsulated,” enclosed in secondary wall material that not only covers the crystal, but fills up the cell as well.
Trichomes on leaves and stems often have fine structure not well revealed with the light microscope. Here are portions of two adjacent hairs on the leaf of the silversword, Argyroxiphium sandwicense. The surfaces of these trichomes are prominently striate or finely grooved, and this appearance may cause the shiny, light-reflective characteristic of the leaves.
By way of showing that the rods around the stomata of Ephedra nevadensis are composed of wax rather than another kind of material, one can use a wax solvent; the stoma seen here was treated with xylene, which has removed the rods.
Both the body of the achene and the pappus bristles of Carlquistia muirii bear stiff bristles. This photograph of an achene in a bird feather is wishfully intended to suggest feathers as a possible means of dispersal over long distances—although no such event has been observed. Wind is very likely effective in dispersing achenes of this plant over shorter distances.
This section is designed to include photographs that have some special biological interest or some technical interest as photographs, or both. A sampling of photographs from my field work can seen elsewhere on this site. In case you are wondering, they were all done with a Hasselblad camera except for the scanning electron microscope (SEM) photographs, which were done with three different SEMs, from 1986 to the present.
I don’t pretend that the photographs maximize artistic values. They don’t. The attempt to present diagnostic features in good focus and at appropriate degrees of enlargement to show those diagnostic features almost always precludes criteria in the traditional artistic canon of values. Those who do art photos of plants, however, would be amazed to discover that in their search for patterns and compositions and tones, they sometimes reduce many elements of the natural world to unrecognizability, where informational value is all but lost, and usefulness in teaching is minimized. Can the two goals co-exist? Yes, sometimes. For a scientist, the time and care involved in getting to an optimal rendering of an object are really daunting. Scientific photographs are quite demanding, and the nature of their reproduction in journals (often as parts of plates that include other photographs) would not be a very good forum for art photos of plants in any case. In fact, many scientists, although skilled in interpretation, leave the task of imaging to others. I don’t. I admit to being very visually minded, and I have always loved photography. Please see the Acknowledgements section of this website for the story about Marion S. Cave.
Investing in equipment and techniques. I put many of my own photographs in the book “Island Life,” which appeared in 1965. They are 35 mm photographs, not notably skillful. The originals were color pictures, and I made transfers onto B/W film for purposes of the book. When that book appeared, the publishers, Doubleday, asked me to consider the idea of a book devoted to Hawaiian natural history. I didn’t find the idea very appealing at first, but one of the reasons for such a book was the opportunity to put into print images of many organisms that were not frequently photographed. Doubleday, while assuring me that the photos in “Island Life” were OK, suggested that I could do better, by using a camera with larger film size, and by taking photos intended for B/W reproduction. To me, that meant a Hasselblad, although there were a couple of rival cameras. A single-lens reflex camera is a necessity for closeup work, and ever so many natural objects do require that capability. I liked the idea that I could take B/W pictures for book and journal reproduction, and, by switching the film cartridge, take the same pictures in color for instructional purposes and for occasional color reproduction opportunities. It’s a bulkier and heavier camera than a 35 mm, but I was willing to carry it in a sturdy camera case in my backpack, where it had to coexist with plastic bags of plant specimens I collected, wood samples I sawed for research in wood anatomy, and the necessities of hiking. The Hasselblad is not be intended for the hiker/camper, it is usually seen as a camera used for fashion photography, portraiture, and less than aggressive use in natural history, but I decided to risk it. I’m not sorry. Ever since I acquired the camera system in 1965, I have put it to use in many ways. Although most photographers probably think in terms of finding a camera designed for their purposes, I took the opposite approach, of adapting the Hasselblad to my needs—its modular structure seemed to invite that. I did all of my own B/W film development and printing.
Going macro. In the laboratory at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden I found a small Zeiss 25 mm lens. It had the same diameter as microscope objective lenses, and the same threads. But it has an iris in it, obviously to increase the depth of focus. Such a lens can theoretically be used on a light microscope, but with difficulty. Nobody I knew had ever used such a lens or knew how it could be used. I wondered whether it could be used to make “macro” photographs with my Hasselblad. The answer was yes, when I created an adapter for it, and when I harnessed two strobes designed for use with a 35 mm camera to the setup—thereby creating various illumination possibilities. Focusing was by moving the object back and forth, not the camera. It worked so well that I bought the entire series of little Zeiss lenses and their Leitz counterparts. They weren’t very expensive. What they do is just amazing. Often I would spend daytime in the field, collecting plant materials and taking habit photos and some close-ups. At night, in hotel rooms, I set up the camera with its little macro lenses and the pair of strobes, and took pictures of the intricate structures that deserve special rendition. The macro lenses produce images 1:1 (ratio of size on film image to size of the actual object) up to 35:1. That range is difficult photographically, and is not well represented in natural history work. One can theoretically use a dissecting microscope, but a dissecting microscope has some serious disadvantages. I’m showing some macro pictures (mostly related to pollination) here, but elsewhere on the web site, there are numerous macro pictures (see New Species and a New Genus).
Going micro. Because frames on 120 size film have more than four times the area of frames on 35 mm film, 120 film ought to provide greater resolution, I thought. So why not use it on a microscope? Hasselblad made what they called a microscope shutter. It was just their standard 80 mm lens with the glass removed! Their engineers would doubtless have devised something more sophisticated if there had been a market for it—I’m surprised that they offered that item at all. However, Hasselblad offered something that was much more important to me than the shutter: the adapter. (When photographing with a light microscope, one uses the optics of the microscope, not a camera lens). In order to minimize vibration during exposures, I decided to use a shutter in the light beam of the microscope. With a double cable release, I could trigger the camera and then, a moment later, the shutter in the light beam. Works wonderfully, and I have taken thousands of pictures with this system. The resolution is better than with 35 mm film. One must remember that with a light microscope, resolution is not indefinite. Above about 500 times magnification, one is enlarging the image but not increasing the resolution. So having the greater resolution that a larger film size provides is not important at higher magnifications, but it is at lower magnifications.
Going really micro. The scanning electron microscope (SEM) produces images in the range of about 50 times to 25,000 times. The SEM is an amazing invention, and not as costly as one might think. There are many in use in the microchip industry, that’s what brings the price down. Today’s SEMs are digital, and take digital pictures, but one can still get Polaroid attachments for them and get Polaroid prints on paper, as one could with earlier SEMs in the pre-digital era. I like the Polaroid prints, because one can see immediately whether one has the contrast, brightness, and focus correct and one doesn’t have to process the pictures in a digital fashion (I put the SEM pictures onto this website with the aid of a scanner). Polaroid has as much resolution as digital where an SEM is concerned, for reasons that can be explained..
When shown an SEM, those who have not worked with them always ask about how high the magnification goes. Beyond a certain point, magnification is not important—for my work. The feature that is important is the amazing depth of focus of SEM images—something light microscopy just doesn’t have. Most of the SEM photos I have taken range between 1,000 and 5,000 times magnification.
Amazingly, very few botanists know how to use an SEM. To be sure, access to them is limited, and I have been extremely lucky to have had access to one or another since 1985. Many SEMs seem to have their own technicians, rather than observer-operators. I’m an observer-operator. Operating an SEM is not difficult in general terms. When one has found settings that work, one tends to stay with them! But after a few years, one feels at ease with all of the controls. Being able to explore materials with an SEM is important to me. Many unusual things can be found. Like those lamellate crystals in Atamisquea wood. I don’t know of other crystals like them, and they don’t even occur in Capparaceae other than Atamisquea, apparently. Unless one is an operator-observer, one can’t find things like that. Too often, those who want SEM pictures take their materials to an SEM and ask the technician who runs that machine to get them a picture of something they already know is there (or have relatively good suspicions about).
Those unacquainted with SEM don’t realize that the electron beam doesn’t go through the materials. Rather, the electrons are bounced off the surface. The light microscope permits one to look through cells, and focus at various levels within them. To see what’s in a wood cell with an SEM, one has to cut it open, section it in some way. Because people have traditionally used sliding microtomes to section wood, sections of wood cut on a sliding microtome are most frequently used today. However, since 2003, I have used freehand sections, cut with a single-edged razor blade. These actually have an advantage in that such sections are thick, and thick sections can be handled easily without damaging the delicate structures on them. A cut surface is all that one wants for SEM, contrary to the thin sections necessary for light microscopy (and extremely thin sections needed for transmission electron microscopy). Razor blade sections also have the great advantage of being applicable to soft materials that cannot be cut with a sliding microtome. For soft materials, razor blade sections are ideal. Cells that are likely to collapse when dried must be dried with a critical-point dryer before observation with SEM, but the secondary walls of xylem cells, the tough walls of pollen grains, and many plant hairs can be air dried without causing much artifact formation.
SEM photographs have to be in B/W rather than in color. There have been attempts to colorize them, but those are really so artificial……..Just because one can do something doesn’t mean one should do it.
Going digital? Having good optical equipment based on film (or in the case of the SEM, Polaroid prints), one tends to keep using it!