Of planets, particles, and plain old marbles

Marbles 002-117

One of my summer projects is pushing further with macro photos of Dave’s antique marbles.  Brohemus and I test drove this back in April with a cheap plastic lens taped to a BlackBerry.  Encouraged by the results, I picked up a barely-used second-hand Nikkor 105mm/f2.8 macro lens on Kijiji, built a rig to mount and light the marbles, and started shooting my Planets and Particles series.  Above, a sample. 

I *love* the scratches, nicks, and bubbles that become evident so close up.  I’m shooting this series in a timeslot between the confirmation of the Higgs boson particle and Curiosity’s exploration of the planet Mars.  Somewhere between those extremes of scale lie these marbles, and I think a lot about that as I develop the series.

Before I say a few more words, I’m looking for a venue/mechanism to show this series, so please reach out to me if you’re interested.  Hey, Perimeter Institute!  You’ve got an awesome set of Christie MicroTiles right there in your foyer.  We’re a perfect match!

Marbles 002-139

Along with the conceptual elements of this series, there are some interesting technical challenges.  The April test run showed a lot of light bleeding out of the marble and illuminating the supporting surface.  Of course we were just using a penlight behind the marble for that, but it wasn’t the effect I was shooting (ahem) for.  I wanted floating orbs.  So, in an all-night makerly binge, I built a rig to address this problem.  If you’re curious what that looks like, leave me a comment/email/RT and I’ll do a follow-up post.

Then there are exposure challenges like minimizing camera shake to get a sharper image.  On my D90, I used exposure delay (menu d10) to address vibration from mirror slap.  Also important to use a sturdy tripod and a remote to trip the shutter (I shot tethered to Lightroom) so you’re not physically touching the camera.  It’s critical to turn off any image stabilization on your lens, like Nikon’s VR, when on a tripod or you’ll actually *introduce* shake!  Finally, I made sure to set up my shoot in the basement on a concrete floor, reckoning that less stable wood floors can transmit vibration from refrigerators, HVAC, dishwashers, etc.  Just eliminating variables.

Depth of field was a challenge, too, as it’s a bit less than half the marble diameter at f22.  I shot a variety of apertures and shutters up to 90 seconds, all at ISO 100.  And a funny aside: at this range fingerprints are horribly obvious as is lint, so I cleaned the marbles the best I could with alcohol before shooting them.  Oh, and have you ever tried to focus on glass?


Tony Reinhart and I are putting together a show at The Communitech Hub called DISCONNECT for Culture Days in September.  We’re planning to use the deliciously awesome Christie MicroTile displays, so I dropped by the Hub for a little trial run with some material from my Looking Down series (shown above).  These tiles, side by each, will provide an awesomely configurable display, and the lit-from-behind glow is fantastic.  It fits the material, almost like a light table, or a surveillance camera display.  Fingers crossed to have 11 tiles available for the show.


I took the opportunity to try out some material from my Planets and Particles series while I was there, and the photo above doesn’t do it justice: it looks great, and again complements the subject.

Several other projects are on the go too, so to my friends who ask “where the hell have you been this summer?”, I say: making!


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