We pass by rivers, creeks and lakes all the time – and sometimes swim in them – but we rarely notice what is swimming with us. Microscopic life teems in the freshwater our planet contains. Rarely has this better been shown than in the work of photographer Daniel Stoupin, who’s shared some of his amazing images of tiny water-dwelling organisms with us – while explaining some of the techniques he uses to photograph them.
The creatures in these images were all alive when their pictures were taken. Stoupin reckons it’s probably the most difficult issue in the microscopic photography. The first problem is simply that “the animals move,” Stoupin told us. “And when they die, they get really ugly and decay rapidly, losing the shape almost immediately.” You can actually see the internal organs in this water flea even though it is only half a millimeter in size.
Here’s a microscopic image of a mosquito larva. The white bands are muscles that move the creature’s mouthparts. Interestingly, to achieve images such as these, many pictures are actually taken, with the lens moved a little at a time. “Essentially, you need to move the lens towards the object (or in the opposite direction) and take pictures at every step,” explains Stoupin. The pictures are then stacked together using digital software to make a complete image.
The muscles in the larva’s head become visible in part due to polarized light. Stoupin explains how this technique, known as “polarized light microscopy”, works: “Our eyes cannot detect the difference in light polarization direction,” he says. “But using two polarizing filters can make some effects visible.”
"For example, muscles and other fibrillar structures in the body become brighter than the surrounding material,” Stoupin continues. “With some tweaks and illuminating objects from the sides, which is called dark-field microscopy, it's possible to use the muscles (which are bright) to actually enhance the illumination from inside the body, and this is clearly visible in pictures of copepods (pictured here) and mosquito larva."
The ostracod shown here is a freshwater crustacean whose entire body is sheathed in a shell. All of these invertebrates are vital to the ecosystem and food chain (though we might wonder a little about mosquito larvae!).
One the subjects of ecosystems, Stoupin explains: “Some of the animals pictured here feed on algae (which are producers in pounds), some of them feed on even smaller invertebrates, protists and bacteria (which are decomposers); so technically all of animals in the gallery can be classified as consumers and they are key components of the food chains.”
This predatory crustacean is a water flea. It looks like a swirl of colors – and is thus a wonderful addition world of microscopic photography in our eyes!
This technique in photography lends itself not just to pictures of whole microorganisms but also to tiny parts of them. Above is a water flea’s eye, with the minuscule internal components of the eye clearly visible.
Next, another freshwater copepod, a cyclops, photographed under polarized light. It’s a further example of what Daniel Stoupin calls “depth of field stacks, which means many pictures were combined to get sharp and clear details of whole objects.”
However, the images of hydras like this one were not taken as stacked pictures perhaps because these organisms are a little larger, an entire centimeter! Hydras often feed on water fleas and copepods and are predatory in nature.
Hydras are also fascinating creatures because they do not seem to age or die of old age. They can also regenerate tissue when they are injured or lose a tentacle.
Daniel Stoupin has given us an amazing glimpse at – and into – the bodies of these creatures, which so often go unnoticed. And when we asked him what sparked his interest in this field, he gave us the best answer ever: "They are really cool looking creatures and I always wanted to share my vision of these spectacular worlds.”
You can see more of his work on his website.