One of the challenges with taking pictures through the microscope is the instrument’s limited field of view. At low magnification, I can see the vastness of the crystals but not their fine detail. When I switch to a higher magnification, the crystals’ detail shows but at the expense of seeing less crystals. Frequently, I like both the large crystal picture and their fine detail. How to have my cake and eat it too? One way is to take a series of photographs moving the microscope slide ever so slightly with each shot and then later try to “stitch” the multiple images together on my computer to create a large expansive single art piece.
I used the word “try” because the crystals’ color and brightness is determined by the angle they are illuminated by the polarized light. Even when I slightly move the slide over to take a picture of the adjacent crystals, the light is now striking the crystals from a different angle and the colors, brightness and intensity change. This has frustrated me to no end. I’d love the image if only I could expand it to include the crystals to the right and the left.
And there is another problem. When I take photographs, in order to stitch two images together I need to include some of the same portion in both images so they overlap. But the appearance and color of the crystal structures can also change when I move the slide and the position of the crystals in respect to the light source changes. This means that most times, two adjacent images will not align perfectly when one is laid on top of the other at the point where they overlap. Multiply this problem by the number of consecutive images I want to stitch together and I have a major task on my hands.
If this isn’t enough, the difficulty is further increased when the group of images I want to photograph on the slide are not always along a straight horizontal or vertical axis. Since my microscope’s stage moves only two directions, I need to move the slide using a combination of horizontal and vertical movements to get to the next part I want to photograph. This process also causes an offset so once I stitch two images together I don’t have a complete horizontal image but a stepped version with vacant space filling in the resulting combined image. And of course the time spent due to this problem can increase by the number of consecutive images I want to stitch together.
There is also another problem I must overcome. None of the crystals I photograph are 100% flat and smooth. They all have mountains and valleys and slopes in between. In order to be able to capture the crystals’ fine detail, I need to focus and photograph each crystal image at multiple depths, called focus stacking, to get the best resulting image. Each series tends to be between 10 and 15 images. I merge them together using special software and then stitch these resulting images together to result in a very large image. Although I have found it challenging and a lot of fun, creating micro-crystal art from multiple images has been hard work.
For a long time I didn’t have an adequate stitching software to handle the multiple images and put them together. So I would do it myself manually. This would be a multi-day process to put together three or four images. With the new Photoshop software release, the stitching process can take 10 minutes with some clean up work afterwords. I still have to photograph everything and focus stack each group of images but once I have everything ready for stitching, the process is reduced from days to minutes. The more images I “stitch” together and the less automatically they align, the more clean up work I need to do. That can still take a day or so but most likely no one would have noticed if I had done the clean-up work or not other than me. Once i see I spot I should clean up, I don’t eve seem to unsee it.
I kind of miss the manual process of making decisions on how to stitch each pixel at the overlap locations, yet I do love the “instant,” relatively no hassle results.
Artist, Carol Roullard Art
Designer, Crystal Art Outfitters