Peacocks are up there with nature’s most beautiful, dazzling, and extravagant-looking creatures. But to truly appreciate their good looks, you need to get up close.
Waldo Nell, a Canadian software engineer and photographer, captured the feathers of a peacock magnified over 500 times. Not least are they beautiful photographs, they also reveal some of the science behind the iridescent glow of a peacock's plumes.
From green to golden to blue and indigo, the photographs reveal the mix of colors that give peacocks their distinctive appearance. But the actual pigmentation of the feathers only plays a part in peacocks' coloring. Much of it comes from small nanostructures on their feathers' barbules, which give them an iridescent shimmer.
As the direction of light changes, these different facing barbules reflect the light at different angles, resulting in the feathers appearing to change color and shimmer as they move. You can also see this effect on butterfly wings, beetle shells and other birds such as hummingbirds.
While this effect of iridescence gives peacocks part of their dazzling looks, it does make them particularly hard to photograph up close. To capture the images, Nell used a Canon Rebel T3i mounted on an Olympus BX53 microscope and spent hours perfecting the lighting conditions. He then used a process called "focus stacking," which creates a composite image of many separate photographs taken from different depths of field. When these 50 to 250 single photos are placed together using editing software, they create the sense of depth you can see in these images.
Speaking to WIRED, Nell said: “From afar you only see the pattern of the eye. From up close you can see the bundles of barbules and coloration unique to each segment. There is a lot of beauty hidden that you can only see up close.”
Head over to Waldo Nell’s photo blog for more stunning macro photography of nature's smallest and most elusive creations.
All images credit: Waldo Nell