Looking through a Micro Lens is Both Overwhelming and Satisfying

Spiderwebs on a dead bee's wing, 48th Street. Taken with 15X Micro Phone Lens, Oakland, CA, 2016
Spiderwebs on a dead bee’s wing, 48th Street. Taken with 15X Micro Phone Lens, Oakland, CA, 2016

I have a small collection of unusual cameras that extend my senses.  In my last post, I wrote about my underwater camera. This week, I’m focusing on my Micro Phone Lens. It makes me feel like both a bug and a giant.

The lens is tiny and sticks on your phone’s lens

I got my Micro Phone Lens in 2015 from a Kickstarter campaign. It’s very small and comes in a carrying case, convenient enough to have earned permanent home in in my zipper-pouch wallet. Wallet-Lens

Despite literally carrying it everywhere with me for a year, I’d only barely scratched the surface of taking micro photos. For this post, I delve deeper into experimenting with the micro phone lens.

Lens in hand

Small and made of soft plastic, the lens sticks to the phone lens with a small amount of liquid.

It requires a great deal of patience to position the camera and hold it steady, and vigilance to ensure the tiny plastic lens doesn’t get lost when it falls off.  

How enlarged is its picture?

This animated GIF starts with the micro lens and zooms out to a normal view.

Animated GIF beginning with 15x Micro Lens, zooming out with 4X and 8X macro versions.
Animated GIF beginning with 15x Micro Lens, zooming out with 4X and 8X macro versions.

Micro photos in my life

My first experiences with extreme close-up photographs were in Games Magazine in a puzzle game feature called “Eyeball Benders”. The moment of recognition of an everyday object was always enjoyable. My first experience with how much scale matters in our perception of the world is the movie Powers of Ten, which remains one of my favorite films of all time. More recently, I have discovered the micro and stop motion work of Lauren Corden.

“There’s Nothing Here”

My perception adjusted quickly to the micro scale.

My first thought: “there’s nothing here”, then “there’s a spiderweb”, then “I think those tiny white dots are actually minuscule spiders”.

White spider standing on its web, 48th Street. Taken with 15X Micro Phone Lens, Oakland, CA, 2016
White spider standing on its web, 48th Street. Taken with 15X Micro Phone Lens, Oakland, CA, 2016

All of a sudden I saw spiderwebs between every fence post and on rose bushes and banana trees all around the neighborhood. All full of minuscule white spiders.

Ant battles in bottle brush needles

Beneath a bottle-brush tree lay a bed of red bottle brush needles. While photographing the needles, I noticed an ant, then dozens.  Most ran by my camera in a blur, but one stayed in one spot. It fought every ant that came by.

Two ants in bottle brush needles, 48th Street. Taken with 15X Micro Phone Lens, Oakland, CA, 2016
Two ants in bottle brush needles, 48th Street. Taken with 15X Micro Phone Lens, Oakland, CA, 2016

As ant after ant entered the fight, I realized just how many different kind of ants there were in this stretch of ordinary sidewalk, and how much expression there was: the movement of their heads, in their antennae and chomping jaw. If we could see, at their scale, what is “really going on” would we go crazy?Animated GIF showing three ants interacting beneath a bottle brush tree, 48th Street. Taken with 15X Micro Phone Lens, Oakland, CA, 2016

Animated GIF showing three ants interacting beneath a bottle brush tree, 48th Street. Taken with 15X Micro Phone Lens, Oakland, CA, 2016
Animated GIF showing three ants interacting beneath a bottle brush tree, 48th Street. Taken with 15X Micro Phone Lens, Oakland, CA, 2016

Different members of the colony looked quite distinct from each other, and their antics entertained me for, according to my camera’s time stamps, about 28 minutes.

Finding satisfaction amidst an onslaught of detail

My Escoda Sable Brush, Taken with 15X Micro Phone Lens, Oakland, CA, 2016
My Escoda sable paintbrush. Taken with 15X Micro Phone Lens, Oakland, CA, 2016Seeing through the lens also made me feel better. Capturing a good example of an astonishing image I’d previously overlooked was satisfying.

This feeling is connected to the staring at “things” that makes me spend a lot of time still life painting.

This connection between still life painting and micro photography made me curious to examine a painting under the micro lens.

Animated GIF showing two oil paintings.
Animated GIF showing details of two oil paintings: Galactic marble study, and Galactic Marble in Flashlight Beam.

Taking micro photos has forced me to slow to the crawl of a bug. To let the rest of the world disappear, and to find something where it seems like there’s nothing.

Minuscule pink metallic heart in a sidewalk crack behind the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, Shattuck Ave. Taken with 15X Micro Phone Lens, Oakland, CA, 2016
Minuscule pink metallic heart in a sidewalk crack behind the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, Shattuck Ave. Taken with 15X Micro Phone Lens, Oakland, CA, 2016

After a few days of focused microphotography, I began to get overwhelmed at the world’s detail. This is a problem I already had, and the micro phone lens made it both better and worse.

Looking through the lens made things worse because details were now easier to envision. I could picture more crevices, more insects with their microscopic moving parts: like uncharted territory or shooting stars on a cloudy night.

All photos and paintings by Emily Wick

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