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Behind the Image

“Usually, I can visualize a clear path to a solution when I take on a commission. Along the way I can often adapt old equipment, design, or build the widget I need to solve the problem.” 
 – Ted Kinsman


Electrophotography Discharge image of a Bee Balm Flower
Ted Kinsman

What was your concept when creating this image?

I have been interested in Kirlian or electrostatic plate photography for a long time. This technique is normally done with a specimen sandwiched next to a sheet of film and placed between two conductors. The electrostatic discharge is recorded on the film in different colors. I have experimented with digital techniques for achieving similar images with conductive windows. I did a series of images where plants were placed in a vacuum to increase the corona discharge, but in the end, I just placed the plant in the air and connected the stem to a high voltage tesla coil. The flower in this case is hung upside down. This keeps the wilting of the plant to a minimum during the shot. The new cameras that can operate at very high ISO with noise reduction and are able to image very low light levels. One image is taken for the corona discharge typically with a time of 20 seconds or more and combined digitally with a second image taken with a flash.

Tell us something about the creative process you use when coming up with a photographic solution to a problem/assignment.

I have dozens of notebooks full of ideas. This past month I returned to photograph one of my favorite topics – bioluminescent mushrooms, and ended up writing a short article for the photo blog petapixal.com about the process. I very much enjoy teaching and writing.

Usually, I can visualize a clear path to a solution when I take on a commission. Along the way I can often adapt old equipment, design, or build the widget I need to solve the problem. Many times, I end up collaborating with an expert on the topic. I try to convey the value of collaboration to my students. Often time you can accomplish more by collaborating than you can by yourself.

What technical issues did you have, or have to work out, to create this image?

I would say this image is still a work in progress. I would like to have better spark images from the flowers. I really like the idea of controlling the pressure of the atmosphere around the plant to get a better glow, but plants do not stand up in a vacuum very well and only last a few minutes. I have a few other ideas to tryout when I get the chance.

Tell us something about the subject of this photograph.

For many years my wife and I have grown all sorts of flowers in our garden. We have several different colors of bee balm (Monarda didyma). When I was working on the series of electric flowers I tried all the flowers that were blooming in the garden. The bee balm was just one of several photographed. I think the bee balm image turned out especially good.

What elements are important to you when you judge or critique your work or the work of other professional photographers?

Bright colors, meaningful subject, scientifically interesting, and well photographed.

Tell us something about yourself.

I grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York, and I continue to be amazed by the beauty and wonder of our Northern Forests. I have also recently written a book dedicated to the microscopic structure of the Cannabis plant. I just finished an article on micrometeorites.

What is your photographic background?

My background is in optics and physics. I worked at the Naval Research Labs growing synthetic diamonds in the late 80s before becoming a physics teacher. In 2013 I accepted a teaching position at RIT in the photographic sciences department where I teach high-speed imaging, scanning electron microscopy, and photo instrumentation. For the past 25 years I have been involved in creating scientific images for ScienceSource.com for editorial, textbooks, or anything science related. The photographic assignments sent my way often take my work in new and interesting directions. Recently, I published the book Cannabis: Marijuana under The Microscope (Schiffer publishing) which has gone viral on the internet.

Who are some of your favorite photographers?

Karl Blossfeldt, Doc Edgerton, Steven Dalton.

What photographers inspire or influence you?

Roy Dunn for his high-speed bird work. Linden Gladhill for his fun playful images from science. Alex Wild for his fantastic photography and speaking skills. Astronaut Don Pettit for his raw passion to shoot 10,000 plus images every day he is in space. Kenneth Libbrecht for is passion to not only photograph, but to understand, and teach about the formation of snowflakes.

Do you have any advice for photographers interested in a photography career in biomedical/life sciences?

Yes! Come to RIT and study. We have a 98% employment rate in the ophthalmic photography department and this past year we had companies contact us with a dozen jobs that we did not have graduating students for. If you are interested in biomedical photography this is one route to a for-sure job. RIT also has a Photography Technology program which places students at NASA, FBI, and many high technology companies associated with the testing and quality of digital images.

How has your membership in the BCA helped you?

I very much enjoy the meetings and interacting with members. The talks are wonderful and I have ended up collaborating with some of the members on projects.