Photomicrographer Captures the Stunning, Jagged Landscapes Inside Gemstones


There is beauty in imperfection. In fact, imperfection might be considered the subject within a subject that photomicrographer Danny Sanchez tirelessly seeks out to create his stunning photography.

Sanchez’s main subjects are gemstones, but the colorful, alien ‘landscapes’ he captures are made up of imperfections called ‘inclusions’ that actually make a gem less valuable. You might say that one gem merchant’s trash is a gem photographer’s treasure.

Sanchez travels to gem shows and digs through bins worth of the precious stones to find the ones that, ironically, nobody actually wants. The ones that have “The stuff inside them.”


Once he’s found the perfect gem, he sets to work putting his eight years of experience to use setting up and capturing his shot… which is, it turns out, extremely challenging because he’s working with razor-thin depth of field.

When we caught up with Sanchez to ask him about the photographs, he was kind enough to outline how one of these pictures comes together:

In microscopy there is little to no depth of field. For photomicrography, this presents tremendous difficulty. Luckily, there are some very helpful mechanisms to help with this problem.

  1. Before anything else – lighting, lighting, lighting. Three continuous light sources, each with their own dual fiber optic light pipes, give me 6 finely focused, intensely bright “light guides”.
  2. A motorized stepping rig. Macro photographers are familiar with linear focusing rigs – this is just a vertical version that can hold a lot more weight. With this, I move 0.025mm at a time and take a photo until I’ve covered the depth I’m looking for. That can be up to 150 photos but usually it’s around 80. Those of you who like math, 80 photos at 0.025mm steps is 2mm depth of field.
  3. Stacking software. Specialized software that will take these 80+ images and render depth. I use Helicon Focus, but there are several fantastic options.

And that description leaves out the prepping of the gem before the shoot, and the Lightroom/Photoshop work after. Make no mistake, each of these gorgeous shots is a labor of love:















To see more of Sanchez work, or if you’d like to see these shots in higher resolution — as you might imagine, the bigger you get the better with these photos… spectacular details just jump out at you — be sure to visit his website, where you can also buy prints.

Image credits: Photographs by Danny Sanchez and used with permission

  • Arctic-Winds

    Awesome work!

  • Fullstop


  • OtterMatt

    Freaking. Sweet.
    I love nature. Beauty at every scale.

  • Phillip Dobson

    I love it. As a kid, I was fascinated by John Koivula’s photomicrography of gemstones. (I was a strange kid.) It’s great to see more work in the field.

  • David Liang

    Some of those are truly breathtaking!

  • Valenten

    This is looking pretty nice !!

  • Toby Hawkins

    Fantastic photos, and really interesting hearing the amount of work that goes into them.

  • whoopn

    Absolutely incredible!

  • Tony

    Amazing stuff! And what a great idea!

  • Jason

    This is the type of post that keeps me coming back to Petapixel.

    Really beautiful work!

  • Edgar Allan Bro

    That is legitimately cool as hell.

  • DLCade

    We’ll try to do more of this then : ) Thanks for the feedback and for being a loyal reader!

  • daniel Ballard

    Wow you pulled me all the way into those gems. Fantastic subject. Do you polarize the light and the lens? I did to tune the specular light exactly when I shot gemstone rings. I now shoot gold and platinum as it is being made into jewelry and I have the opposite light issue. Too much from the subject! I wish I could light your gem for you with my platinum crucible, at 1900C it’s illuminates a whole room! Hmm I probably could from a perfectly safe distance of a couple yards.

  • docholliday666

    Finally, something on PP showing people who know their craft!

  • DLCade

    Did you miss this one? Incredible photographs from a truly talented street photographer: I’d say he knows his craft too…

  • Chang

    I wonder if he does commissioned work. A cheaper diamond for an engagement ring often has inclusions. If an inclusion could be photographed like this, it would be a fun way to add character to a less-than-flawless diamond selection.

  • Dan Tauro

    I agree awesome work!

  • Sir Stewart Wallace

    I particularly enjoy the shapes of the inclusions. From the octahedron to the one that kind of looks like a child’s inflatable horse. The kinds of things visible and their colors within the gemstones are rather interesting.

  • docholliday666

    I’m a MF/LF studio shooter, so street work isn’t my thing. Therefore, unlike some of the readers, I won’t comment on that field. I prefer stuff where the shooter shows meticulous control of their lighting, subjects, details. Big sensors, large sheets of film, 10KW of Bron lights…that’s the stuff I do. Street is a bit too messy for me.

  • mineralien

    hi and thanks (everyone). i polarize my lens when i’m shooting through material that is doubly refractive – quartz, topaz, corundum. that’s the only reason i do it because i need all the light i can get!