Friday, October 12, 2012

Enhancing the Microcapture, Keeping the Science

Digital enhancement
Cynthia Beth Rubin (RISD)
Original captured image
Elizabeth Harvey (GSO).

Elizabeth Harvey, as a doctoral student researcher in the Menden-Deuer lab at the University of Rhode Island, captured an image under the microscope that told a ground-breaking story of the movements of plant-like plankton as they escape potential predators. 

Oceanographers were enthralled by her image, but for the rest of us who had not yet developed a loving relationship with plankton, the image was less dramatic.

Enhance and refine the captured image so that it would be readable and appealing to a broader public.

The process began by generating multiple color variations of the image. Working closely with the Oceanographer, Professor Susanne Menden-Deuer, we identified image variations which brought out the best qualities.

Discoveries and Discussion:
Slides under the microscope are an artificial environment.

Halos around the individual plankton and bubbles in the background had gone unnoticed, as experienced oceanographers go right to the scientific characteristics of their subjects, looking past the accidental artifacts of slide preparation. These were removed.

We engaged in a lively philosophical discussion about how much images can be enhanced while still maintaining a true representation.

My perspective is informed by experience and many influences, including:
Roland Barthes   Camera Lucida
Susan Sontag   On Photography

What can Artists Contribute?
Artists understand color relationships.  We can bring out features in images with even the slightest changes in color.

Artists also understand texture as a visual element.  In this case, simply removing the artificial noise of the slide helped to bring out the features of the plankton.  In the natural world, this visual noise would not exist.

Why does this Problem exist?
Scientific capturing systems do not use automatic color fixes. No automatic filter knows what features the observing scientist wants to stand out, and what details are actually "noise."

Automatic fixes are part of everyday imaging devices. The camera in your pocket and the scanner on your desk adjust colors automatically. Advertisements for these products tell you how wonderful color adjustment can be. Look carefully at the settings for the devices and you will see that they all allow the user to override the automatic fixes.

Scientific Information on the Image
read this post

Artistic Images based on Elizabeth Harvey's Capture
read this post

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