Can You do Photomicrography at Home?

By Humans Invent on at

You may not realise that photomicrography is something you can easily try for yourself at home. In fact, the chances are you’ve got all the equipment you need already – right in your pocket.

Here we take a look at some of the quick, simple and affordable setups for attempting your own photomicrography, whether you want to see the beauty of a feather up close or the fly you just swatted out of the sky.

4x magnification of Sand from Yanping Wang at the Beijing Planetarium.

Grab your slides, your camera and some empty washing up bottles (OK, maybe not the latter), and let’s get started.


Option 1: Make your own

Ingredients required: Microscope with extendable eye piece, a ruler, sellotape, kitchen foil cardboard tube
Pros: You can use your own camera
Cons: Fiddly, your camera needs to support video for moving image recording

If you’ve already got a microscope and just haven’t got round to taking photos of your samples up close, this is the way to go. While more complex setups use the microscope’s lens to focus the light for the camera sensor directly, there’s nothing stopping you from simply taking a photo through the eyepiece instead of looking directly. If you’ve got a relatively lightweight camera (compact, bridge or DSLR) it’s simply a case of pointing, focusing and shooting.

The challenge, of course, is doing this comfortably and effectively, and while there are clamps, stands and lens adaptors on the market – some work with specific models of microscope – there’s a more lo-fi solution available to you too. As the guide below shows, it’s simply a case of measuring the optimum distance for your shot from the lens piece with a ruler, then extending the eyepiece with a cardboard tube and taping the whole thing together. Messy? Sure. Flexible? Absolutely. Watch the video below to see how it’s done.


Option 2: Order in

Ingredients required: Credit card, a USB cable
Pros: Easy, cheap, direct feed to a computer
Cons: Won’t shoot in same resolution as a DSLR camera

If you really are just starting out and have no equipment to hand, even a camera, this is the way to go. Digital microscopes with phenomenal magnification skills (up to 500X) can be bought online nowadays for under £20. Not only are they small, affordable and easy to use, because they plug directly into your computer via USB, you can get a live view of the images it takes, and even video.

There are some drawbacks of course. You won’t get the image quality you might do compared with with the right set up on a DSLR or even a high end point-and-shoot. Or the image resolution: many of the entry level microscopes grab JPEGs with a resolution of 1024×768 or less. What you will get however is convenience, which is hard to argue with if you can find free delivery to go with it.


Option 3: Use your smartphone

Ingredients required: Smartphone, plexiglass, plywood, washers and bolts.
Pros: Cheap, uses the camera in your pocket
Cons: Requires a second lens for better magnification

You don’t even need a compact camera if you want to explore the amazing, unseen world of photomicrography. You already own all the equipment you need – you might even be using it to read this. Smartphone cameras may lack optical zooms, but they’re still remarkably powerful, and it only takes a few pounds' worth of material and 20 minutes of your time to create a special stand designed to make full use of them. A clever shelf to place the slide directly below the glass your phone rests on gets around any magnification issues too – though unsurprisingly, smartphone microscope attachments are inexpensive on Amazon if you’d rather take that route.


Prep Your Slides

Whatever kit you use, you’ll need to prep the slides for observation first. It’s fairly straightforward for dry/solid samples – just pop them on a flat glass slide and go. For liquids, you’ll need a depressed slide and a cover slip, plus a pipette or two. You may also need to stain them, if they’re translucent. We all remember dropping iodine on onion peel in science class to make out the cells, but there are plenty more pleasantly coloured (and smelling) options out there to get the job done. Our recommendation: methylene blue, which gives slides a wonderful topaz quality and costs just pennies online.


Vitamin C shot through photomicrography

 Humans Invent is an online space dedicated to celebrating innovation, craftsmanship and design fuelled by our most natural instinct – the pursuit of invention to help solve a human need. You can read their original article here.