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Jason Kirk is the winner of Nikon’s Small World competition

Celebrating 47 years of images captured by the light microscope: Nikon’s Small World is regarded as the leading forum for showcasing the beauty and complexity of life as seen through the light microscope. The Photomicrography Competition is open to anyone with an interest in microscopy and photography. The video competition, entitled Small World In Motion encompasses any movie or digital time-lapse photography taken through the microscope.

© Jason Kirk

This year’s first place winner first dabbled in microscopy in the mid-90s, when digital photography was still in it’s infancy. Technology has since progressed, as has Jason Kirk's career in microscopy, and the professional imager now works as the core director for Baylor College of Medicine’s Optical Imaging & Vital Microscopy Core.

Jason won for his striking image of a southern live oak leaf’s trichomes, stomata and vessels. Using various lighting techniques and design tools, Jason’s final image is a masterful example of the dynamic relationship between imaging technology and artistic creativity. Using a custom-made microscope system that combines color filtered transmitted light with diffused reflected light, Jason captured around 200 individual images of the leaf and stacked them together to create the stunning image.

Prominently featured in his photo in white are trichomes, which are fine outgrowths that protect a plant against extreme weather and insects. In purple, Jason highlights the stomata, small pores that regulate the flow of gases in a plant. Colored in cyan are the vessels that transport water throughout the leaf. All three are essential to plant life.

“The lighting side of it was complicated,” said Jason. “Microscope objectives are small and have a very shallow depth of focus. I couldn’t just stick a giant light next to the microscope and have the lighting be directional. It would be like trying to light the head of a pin with a light source that's the size of your head.” Jason edited the color temperature and hue in post-production to better illustrate the various elements pictured.

“I've learned a lot from the scientific community, having spent 20 plus years in this field, but I've also learned a lot from the people in the hobbyist environment,” said Jason, “Small World is a great combination of the two groups, and you don't often get an opportunity to see that.”

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