Nikon’s Best Microscopic Photos Of 2013
November 4, 2013

Nikon’s Best Microscopic Photos Of 2013

It is art and science all in one shot. With photomicrography, we get to see and understand tiny things that we are not able to with the naked eye, and admire some stunning images at the same time.

Nikon has held a photomicrography competition since 1975, which, in their words, is the “leading forum for showcasing the beauty and complexity of life as seen through the light microscope.” The winner of this year’s Nikon Small World contest is Wim van Egmond, for his extraordinary image of a colonial plankton organism, also known as a diatom. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a diatom is “a single-celled alga which has a cell wall of silica. Many kinds are planktonic, and extensive fossil deposits have been found.”

If you would prefer some quirky descriptions with the photos, here is a selection of some of the top entries from National Geographic.

Incidentally, one of the comments on National Geographic asks why the term isn’t ‘microphotography,’ seeing as that is easier to pronounce. The answer is that microphotography is producing a very small photograph, which is obviously completely different to photographing something small, or the very small detail within something.

The winner of the prestigious Nikon Small World competition, Wim van Egmond, is a freelance photographer from The Netherlands. He came third in 2007 and 2002, and has now been rewarded for his efforts with first prize. Van Egmond says that he sees photographing the complexities of nature in the same way that portrait photographers see their human subjects. “The same way you look at a person and try to capture their personality, I observe an organism and try to capture it as honestly and realistically as possible,” he is quoted as saying in National Geographic.

The techniques employed in the winning image were “differential interference contrast” and “image stacking.” For those not up on photography jargon, another way to describe what went on is that van Egmond used a series of images (so actually it’s not just one photograph) to create a 3D effect, and accentuated the yellow of the diatom by putting against the blue background.

My personal favourite was in sixth place, an embryo of a veiled chameleon, which displays bone in red and cartilage in blue. That one was by Dorit Hockman.  Fifth placed “Hippocampal neuron receiving excitatory contacts” by Dr. Kieran Boyle was also pretty incredible. I can’t claim to properly understand that description, but it is a great image nonetheless.

Nikon also holds a Small World In Motion competition for microscopic movies or time-lapse photographs. This is separate to the photography competition and has its own prizes. The 2013 winners don’t appear to have been announced yet, but I was just looking at the 2012 winner and it’s wonderfully hypnotic. It is the “Recruitment of neutrophils to the site of laser damage in mouse inguinal lymph node” by Dr Olena Kamenyeva. That title is pretty hypnotic as well.

Image Credit: Wim van Egmond via

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John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, and his travel book, Following Football, are currently available on

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