Student Spotlight: Michael Krasnobrod

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What courses have you taken at CCSF?

Over the years I have taken the following classes: Photo 85a, Beg Lighting; Photo 90, Portraiture; Photo 60A, Beg Photoshop; Photo 60B, Intermediate Photoshop.

Tell us about these images.

The accompanying images of arthropods are from the collection of the California Academy of Science, Entomology Department. I volunteered there performing the duties of Biological Imaging Specialist. These images are to give the viewer the impression of infinite focus, of limitless depth-of-field. Meaning, looking at these creatures the tips of the antennae to the bottom of their feet , from one end to the other, from top to bottom is in focus. Historically at these magnifications, given the laws of optical physics, only a tiny sliver would be sharp with everything above or below out of focus. These images were not too valuable to scientists studying tiny creatures. Morphology is important to species identification. Such studies transcend entomology and move into fields of environmental science, geo-science….. politics…… If a researcher in a different state or nation wanted to study a given insect photos were not historically sufficient for identification purposes. A specimen was often sent on loan. Such loans would often result in lost, damaged, or “not returned”.

Technology has revolutionized close-up/macro photography. Currently through software such as Zeirene Software, Helicon, or Automontage, or more, can merge focus layers to digitally stitch together an image that appears to be in focus from end to end, or top to bottom. The accompanying photos may be the result of 50 plus separate images; each taken at a different focal plane. These planes or layers are merged through software to create a singular seemingly perfectly focused image.

These resultant ‘merged’ files are of tremendous value to scientists in residence and researchers across the globe. The size/magnification is noted on the image as a scale bar. One, can therefore engage in morphometric measurements, or visualize unique features. One species within a family can be accurately compared to another. If a researcher far away wants to identify a specimen, a file or files representing different views of a given creature can be simply emailed . The actual specimen is held safely in its collection vault. Some specimens are unique and worthy of such efforts.

Similar technologies are applied in bio-medical research, in microscopy when examining prepared samples, cell culture, tissue sections, the list is long and growing as equipment manufacturers refine instruments and incorporate their own software or adapt existing programs and cameras to perform similar functions.

What’s your experience in photography?

I started processing black and white film and paper as a pre-teen. My dad had a darkroom. He and I would go together to a local camera club. The club members were old guys who had knowledge of processing, chemistry, optics…… they held monthly competitions/critiques. all levels were welcome from novice/beginner to pro-salon. These were ‘pictorialists’. Their aim was to render accurately and aesthetically a given scene. I learned from them the concepts of composition, lighting, and processing of black and white photos.

From that time I evolved by enrolling in CCSF photo courses in the early 1970’s. I continued taking photo classes in university and earned a BA in Bio-Scientific Photography. This degree and all it encompassed earned me a position at UCSF Medical Center, Dept of Ophthalmology where I worked as Senior Medical Photographer. There I took clinical photos. Photos of patients in treatment. I took photos of surgery in process. I took photos through microscopes of bright field, dark field, fluorescence, phase contrast. Of stained and prepared specimens as well as live cell cultures. I took macro images of surgical specimens. I prepared slides for grand rounds, for medical seminars, and graphics for journal and book publication. I left the UCSF position to go into business. I had a photo lab with an onsite studio; there I photographed table-top, and portraits.

During those many years I attended workshops through the Biological Photographic Association to advance my skills as a medical photographer. For fun and recreation I attended workshops put on by the Friends of Photography. There I learned traditional techniques and compositional styles in nature photography, still life, and environmental portraiture.

Jump ahead a couple decades. I enrolled at CCSF in 2009 Photoshop classes. The software skills opened doors for me to take entomology images at the Cal Academy of Science.

More recently I take event photos, portraits, and chronicle events for a non-profit organization. All digital. All post production is executed through Adobe Bridge-Adobe Camera RAW- Photoshop.

My photographic interests beyond biological/medical must include nature/landscape. Again, I have made the complete conversion from film to digital. I love the accuracy, the control, the subtle adjustments to density, contrasts, color, the ability to dodge-burn. I have more control over image formation with the digital darkroom than I ever had in the historical wet -chem. darkroom.

What inspires you?

My favorite subjects are in nature. I am moved by light, how it shapes and forms objects. Light is what drives us photographers. Light can make a flower soft and delicate, or a rock hard and course. Light can make a tree dramatic and interesting, or just a tree. Years ago I photographed using Kodachrome, at first “25”, then the revolution of a faster version ASA “64”. In black and white I loved Plus-X, but often used filters which reduced light and shutter speeds by a stop or two; similar in effective speed to Kodachrome. I love the spontaneity of shooting hand held as I hiked along a trail. Close-up photography however required lens mounted flash. Irrespective of skill, those photos always looked like a flash shot lacking environmental context and softness.

Now, with technology, I can capture at extremely high ISO’s, in early morning light, in the evening, indoors using only ambient light. I see shadows cast, moving water, a dew drop on a fern frond and can capture it! The ability to get great image quality at high ISO’s is expanding my world. I can see and capture scenes now that would not have been possible in the good old days of slow film.

Any advice for students entering the Photography program?

My expertise and academic interest is in the sciences. Everything is photographed, imaged, digitized.

In the microscope, programs exist to image live cell cultures, the instruments run all night and capture live as experiments are in progress. The cell of interest is kept mid frame, focus is adjusted…… But scientists in any discipline are not photographers, they do not know how to get the best quality image; often data is compromised by less than good image quality. This observation is not limited to biological science but physical sciences too. Geology is a vast field of study for example.

I would advise science students to study photography, to learn studio lighting, to understand principles of optics, to master Photoshop. Whether one shoots an environmental portrait or a bug under a microscope, the same principles apply.

When I started in the world of bio-medical photography. Automatic cameras did not exist auto flash just started to come on the market. I as a photographer had value as I knew what no one else did.

Now, not just cameras have auto functions so do all sorts of microscopes. Yet it is still up to the operator to tell the devise what to do and how to do it to get the best image. Don’t settle for ‘good enough’.

I believe the better the image the better the data can be analyzed. The more value provided to research in all disciplines.

For the student with an art direction. Study math, physics, optics, learn light, lighting. Learn it all.

The more one knows, the broader ones knowledge the better the image because all the variables that contribute to image formation can be therefore controlled and manipulated to create the image you want to see. With knowledge the end product can be visualized and obtained at will and not by chance.

You may email Michael here:


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