©Jan Van IJken

Life Source

Wonderful. Delicate. Bizarrely shaped. Often transparent, revealing their inner workings. Plankton has intrigued Jan Van IJken since he first witnessed it under a microscope. “I find it fascinating that very few people are aware about all this abundant beauty,” he says. His photo series and short film “Planktonium” reveals the allure of these stunning organisms.

Equipment: He used an Olympus stereomicroscope and a Leica DM Trinocular light microscope with darkfield illumination to create a dark background. For photographing, he uses Sony a7, a7S II, and a7R III cameras.

Process: With a specialized net, he collected plankton from different water sources in the Netherlands—freshwater ponds, forest lakes, sea water. With his stereomicroscope, he investigated what he’d retrieved, then made selections of the organisms and removed them from the water with a pipette. He then prepped a sample on an object glass covered with a cover slip. He used focus stacking to make the images.  

The challenge: Keeping the organisms alive during the photography was difficult because plankton are sensitive to heat and the pressure of the cover slip. “It takes a long time of practicing and endless tweaking to get good results,” he says.

The result: Capturing the stunning colors and details of such minute organisms with an enlargement 200 times their size on average is nothing short of a triumph. 

Amanda Arnold is a senior editor.