Beautiful Magnetism

©Zac Henderson

Searching to find his voice in photography, editorial and fine art photographer Zac Henderson turned to his love of science. “I was intrigued by the idea of a fundamental force that is completely invisible to us except through its gravitational effects and wondered if I could pay homage to that fascination with my work,” he explains. He settled on magnetism, calling his photo series “Dark Matter.”

Subject matter: To create his “sculptures,” Henderson suspends ceramic magnets on fishing line then exposes them to iron fillings. The iron takes shape based on its surrounding magnetic field and can also be manipulated by hand to alter the sculpture. Once he’s satisfied with the magnetic art, he starts making photographs.

©Zac Henderson

Color forward: For the most recent iteration of his “Dark Matter” series, Henderson wanted to incorporate color, so he used color changing lightbulbs. They were effective but dim compared to most studio lights, so he used long exposure times—20 seconds or so, depending on the color and intensity he wanted to capture.

Process: The images were made in his home studio, and since each sculpture is about eight inches tall, the images require focus stacking of as many as 30 to 40 images.

Equipment: Henderson used a Phase One XF 150MP with a Blue Ring Schneider Kreuznach 120mm LS f/4.0 macro lens, which is excellent at capturing texture and fine detail, he says. “The focus stacking tool the XF provides makes placing depth of field extremely simple.”

©Zac Henderson

Challenges: Though the magnets are strong, they sometimes were overcome by the weight of the iron, toppling the sculpture. When the shape of a sculpture wasn’t quite right even after reshaping it, Henderson would go back to the drawing board and start over.

Successes: “I love the texture of these images,” he says. “Each grain of iron reflects light slightly differently. When I look at these photos, I can almost feel the iron on my fingertips and the magnetism affecting the iron through my hands at a distance. Conceptually I think they’re an appropriate manifestation of the awe of the natural world that inspired them in the first place.” 

Amanda Arnold is a senior editor.