Magnetic Dark Matter Photo Set Looks Like CGI But It’s Not – PetaPixel | Ad On Picture

In an artful blend of science and photography, Zac Henderson’s series of abstract photographs showcases Dark Matter III features mixed textures, vibrant colors and intriguing angles.

Reminiscent of computer-generated imagery (CGI) and inspired by particle physics, the photographer’s images aim not only to playfully trick the eye, but to stimulate the imagination.

Magnets and metallic grains create an unknown structure with a pink and light blue background

Magnets and metallic grains form a box-like structure with a dark orange and light blue background

“I wanted to create an abstract representation of something that is by definition impossible to photograph: dark matter, a theoretical form of matter that does not interact with the visible spectrum and cannot be directly detected, but is responsible for galaxies like our own Milky Way, held together by their gravity. Now in its third iteration, Dark matter begins to exceed its original purpose,” says Henderson.

Born at the height of a creative drought for the photographer, the idea for the Dark matter Series came about when Henderson decided to focus on passions off the field. Hoping to unite two interests and inspire inspiration, Henderson explored his reverence for nature and science.

Magnets and metallic grains in blood orange and teal illumination

“I started reading and studying subjects that I didn’t understand at all but found engaging. I think I became addicted to the awe and wonder that came from contemplating strange but fundamental aspects of nature. I wanted to try to create something that would connect photography to this wonder of the universe.” Anderson says in an interview with PetaPixels.

Magnets and metallic grains create a structure with teal and red accents and a neon blue background

“I have chosen to focus on dark matter, which is believed to hold galaxies together due to its gravity but is itself completely invisible to us. An invisible form of matter is open to broad interpretation, but magnetism is an invisible force that has visible effects, which seemed like a good place to start.”

Using magnets and metallic grains, he shapes the materials into a crystallized display of intriguing structures, illuminated with complementary fluorescent lighting. Henderson’s recordings are made in a small home studio in a process that has proven to be just as fascinating as the finished work itself, as shown in the video below.

“Magnets are hung from fishing lines and then grains of iron are introduced into the magnetic field. Sometimes I make sketches of what I want the structures to roughly resemble. Sometimes I manipulate the magnets and grains until I find an interesting shape and then slide it along. With some intention and patience, the sculptures can take on some really interesting properties,” he explains.

After the sculptures are completed, they are illuminated and dozens of shots are taken at different focal points, which are then layered into a single composite.

Magnets and metallic grains create a twisted structure with a vibrant dark orange and orange background

Magnets and metallic grains create a vibrant, cavernous texture with teal highlights and a neon pink background, dark teal shadows in the center of the texture

“Final post-processing is done in Photoshop, including removing the fishing line and any other small fibers that find their way onto the structures. Aside from stacking and light retouching, the post-production process is minimal,” he adds.

This method gives each composition its own distinctive space-cyberpunk-esque aesthetic while emphasizing its unique texture and detail. Viewers oscillate between a wealth of visual intrigue and are rewarded with subtlety and close inspection.

Magnets and metallic grains creating and framing with a light green background with teal parts in the upper left corner

Magnets and metallic grains forming a structure with a neon pink background with a little green in the corner

Henderson has enjoyed the fact that the structures continue to evolve into new forms in this latest iteration of the series.

“Although the inspiration hasn’t changed, the shapes I now force the grains into have begun to take on aspects of various imagined objects. Sometimes I see the sculptures as microscopic life held together by magnetism in the microgravity of space. In other cases, their ambiguous size can resemble giant extraterrestrial structures floating in nebulae. I enjoy finding new ways to look at them and roughly informing them of the shape of the structure.”

Magnets and metallic grains in orange and blue-green illumination

Henderson also wanted color to be a key element in this latest shoot, which proved a challenge given his minimalist approach at his studio.

“I don’t own a lot of studio gear, so I settled with what I had and experimented with some color-changing lightbulbs. They proved very effective, if not particularly bright. Because of this, the exposures were quite long, especially for a studio setting. Each exposure would last between 20 and 40 seconds depending on the color and intensity of the lights. Additionally, the images are focused at 30-40 frames, so each final piece would take a little over 25 minutes of exposure time overall,” says Anderson.

Magnets and metallic grains form a structure with a blue and peach background

Magnets and metallic grains gather above a gray boxy structure with a dark gray shadow below

As for the gear he uses, the photographer expresses his affinity for tools that deliver texture and high resolution with gusto.

“I’m a texture fanatic, and these magnetic sculptures are exceptionally textured, so it’s important to me to render that texture with as much accuracy and resolution as possible. For this reason, the series is shot with a Phase One XF IQ4 150 MP medium format camera […] together with a Schneider Kreuznach 120mm LS BR f/4 macro lens. I connect to Capture One and use the magnified Live View on the MacBook Pro to make fine adjustments from the camera perspective.”

Magnets and Metallic Grains Zac Henderson Dark Matter 3: Magnets and metallic grains that create a vibrant tower-like structure with bright red on one side and a tiny lime green on the other.  with dark yellow background

through the Dark matter series, Henderson has noted that the project continues to raise more questions than answers and tugs at our shared insatiable curiosity.

“To me, a good photo evokes a question or arouses curiosity while presenting an interesting or unique aesthetic. It’s hard to describe and easier to recognize when you see it. It doesn’t have to tell a story, but it does have to make you want more, be it more pictures or information […] I’m not a scientist, but if I can stimulate conversation or spark someone’s curiosity about science, I feel like I’ve contributed, in a microscopic way, to this very human project of exploring the wonderful and strange situation we find ourselves in .”

Magnets and metallic grains create a coral reef-like texture with electric blue and red highlights and an orange background

Magnets and metallic grains form a structure with a yellow and lime green background

Despite the few unique emails, feedback on Henderson’s work has been positive,

“I am very grateful for that. I received a 1,998 word email (no joke) trying to convince me that dark matter doesn’t exist, which made me chuckle, but not because the author denies the existence of dark matter, since it does has not yet been technically proven. Dark matter is believed by many to be the best explanation we have for what we observe in the universe, but whether it exists as we envision it is still a question. If the work leads to conversations, especially about science, I consider it successful.”

Magnets and metallic grains forming a structure with a dark orange-pink background

For more information from Henderson, visit his website and Instagram


Photo credit: Zac Henderson

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