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Magnified Peacock Feathers Look Like Pure Woven Magic

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PEACOCKS ARE RENOWNED for their beauty. But to truly appreciate them, take a look at Waldo Nell’s photographs.

His images show the feathers magnified up to 500 times what you would see. Every line and curve appears in luminous definition, the colors shifting from green to blue to gold. “From afar you only see the pattern of the eye,” Nellsays. “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.”

The South African photographer began shooting peacock feathers three years ago after seeing a photo of one and wondering what such remarkable feathers might look like through a microscope. He started buying plumes from his local craft store, cutting them into strips, and peering at them through a Canon Rebel T3i mounted on an Olympus BX53 microscope. Depending upon the level of magnification, he illuminated them from the sides with LEDs or from above with an X-Cite 120. “The barbules are highly reflective due to the iridescence, so getting lighting just right is very hard,” he says.

Nell took hundreds of photographs, shooting at different depths of field to get a perfectly crisp image. Then he then exported them all into Helicon Focus, a post-production software, to stack them. Then he spent hours adjusting the color and contrast and making other tweaks. The resulting photographs are a composite of 50 to 250 images.

You would think Nell loves peacocks. But he says the project grew from his fascination with the unseen world around us. “I basically put anything I think has potential under the microscope—some things pan out, others [don’t],” he says. “Peacock feathers were an awesome find.”