The weird beauty of the tiny

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

Max Planck

When I decided to get a new toy, a small camera which is perfectly suitable for taking good macros in all weather, I did not realize that it would change what I saw. Quite by accident I saw that it takes sharp photos of things which are so small that I cannot see them clearly without a magnifying glass. As a result, I’ve taken to pointing it at things which I can barely see. The results are weird and wonderful. Here are some flowers which I would not have seen without this new tool. The four tiny pink petals of the flowers bursting out of their pod that you see in the featured photo is one such.

Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.

Werner Heisenberg

The Universe is not only queerer than we imagine—it is queerer than we can imagine.

J. B. S. Haldane

When I pointed the camera at these tiny white flowers on a bush, I hadn’t planned on getting anything but a clear photo. All I could see with the naked eye was a pentagon. The photo shows a compound flower, and each of the florets is so tiny that even my little tool is unable to see the petals. Is the universe nudging me to get a better camera? I will resist for a year at least.

When it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry.

Neils Bohr

A mat of vegetation covered the edge of the land around the lake behind the dam on Jawai. Bera is not quite a desert because of this river, but it is still dry enough that the mat did not clear my shoes. I bent to get a photo of these buds. Hairy, aren’t they? But these aren’t hair. At this scale our normal language fails. You can resort to the technical term, trichome, or give up on using language with precision. I will go with the metaphoric hairy. Merriam-Webster reminds me that hairy can also mean difficult to comprehend. This tiny world is certainly that.

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars- mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them too. But do I see less or more?

Richard Feynman

With my naked eye I could not really see these beautiful white flowers: the five petals surrounding a yellow center. A variation of colour in a flower is often a signpost to the nectar meant for pollinators. In this bare land what could possibly pollinate such a tiny flower? A bee would break the stem. An ant could crawl up, but would it find such a tiny bead of nectar worth its effort? My camera found a pollinator, just barely, stuck to the web a spider had woven. In this miniature landscape the savage logic of the savannah was repeated: plant, herbivore, predator. How beautiful!

Man has a fundamental urge to comprehend the world about him.

Hans Bethe

Several small plants were entangled in a patch of the ground hugging mat I was looking at. I should have done the tedious thing I’ve learnt: tease aside the strands and follow them by separating the leaves of different shapes. But being lazy, I took a simpler route. I pointed my camera at the different flowers that I saw and took photos. I can see three different plants. There may have been more, because some of the plants may not have had flowers that day. Still, I wanted some idea of the variety that there was, not an exact count. Another day, with another tool, I will spend more time on the task.

Bohr was inconsistent, unclear, willfully obscure and right. Einstein was consistent, clear, down-to-earth and wrong.

John Bell

Cornflower blue is not really a common colour in nature. So these flowers caught my eye while I was photographing the bush with white pentagonal flowers that you saw in one of the photos before. When I bent down further to look at them, I found another set of pentagons. Again, the flowers are a little too small for my camera to capture a sharper photo. Do I need a better lens or a larger sensor. Or should I invest in a good gorilla pod before jumping to conclusions? When you are looking at something so small, the tiniest movement of your hands can cause a blur.

Never underestimate the joy people derive from hearing something they already know.

Enrico Fermi

Enough of the tiny. Let me end with something easier to see: the false daisy (Eclipta prostrata). At almost a centimeter across, these white flowers are a giant compared to the ones I’ve shown you before. What you see here are a flower in bloom, and another which has gone to seed. Like its enormous cousin, the sunflower, this is a compound flower, many flowers joined together to seem like one. The wiry white petals of the ray flower look quite different from the darker polleny-yellow tubes of the disk flowers. So nice to be able to name at least one of the flowers that I photographed in our last morning in Bera.


Out with a water-resistant camera in the rain, I was bent over ankle-high plants, trying to photograph the monsoon up close. Some parts of the Khandala plateau are good for this.

There are flowers so small that my camera cannot see them clearly. I wonder how they are pollinated. Luckily the raindrops around them are visible.

I tried hard to get a closer look at such a flower. Instead I saw the water drop act as a lens, imaging the grass below. Serendipity!

Hairy leaves! These may serve the same purpose as anti-pigeon spikes on buildings. One reason they could be there is to prevent leaf-damaging insects from getting at them.

I usually cannot decide whether the colour photo works better than monochrome. But for spider webs I’m pretty sure the monochrome works well.

More spider webs. The continuous pinging of water drops on the web may be as tiring to spiders as sitting in a noisy bar is to people.

I think monochrome works better with this image too: the texture and shadows come out better. I’m not sure this arrangement of hair can deter insects.

Droplets hang in the air, drowning the flowers behind these spathes. These plants grow everywhere in the plateau. They must use the drops in some clever way. I wish I knew.

Another flower which is too small to figure in field guides! If you get a lens like this, be prepared to find flowers (and plants) which will be very hard to identify.

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