MIC Q&A-2018 March

Photo 1.jpg

(Photos by Matt Cashore) Matt Cashore is Senior University Photographer Notre Dame. Matt’s photo “Discovery” was voted Best In Show in the March 2018 Monthly Image Competition. 

How the image came about:

I crave feedback which challenges me to think harder about my work.  I don’t mean social media “likes” or other applause. While that is important in many ways, I want relevant and candid feedback from experts. That’s surprisingly hard to come by. 

In a meeting shortly after Christmas, a couple of our web and print designers briefly mentioned some general frustration in finding images. I pressed them for more and one designer sent me an email with a ‘wish list’ of several concepts and terms. He used the phrase “the thrill of discovery” which stuck in my brain. I thought, “What does ‘discovery’ look like?” and almost immediately I pre-visualized this exact image.

Coincidentally I was assigned by our University magazine to do a series of environmental photos of researchers in labs.  I decided to bring along my old-n-trusty 105mm AIS macro lens and extension tube if an opportunity presented itself to photograph an eyeball at a microscope.

Photo 2.jpg

Nikkor 105mm f2.8 AIS lens and PN-11 extension tube-purchased used from Roberts!

The tech stuff:

The last of the labs I visited in the series had the perfect microscope for the job. After we finished the environmental portraits I asked two graduate students in the lab if they were interested in helping with a quick extra & I briefly explained my concept. They were both enthusiastic about the idea.  The hardest part was getting the beam of light coming through the eyepiece to be the right size and placement on the model’s eyeball.  And handheld macro work with a manual focus lens means even breathing can move the critical point of focus away from where I need it. 

I knew after the first test exposure that the idea was a winner.  I showed it to the model and that helped the general understanding and enthusiasm for the idea. After a few more test frames I grabbed a speedlight and pointed it at the wall in front of the microscope to give a little soft fill.  No other lighting was necessary and I got lucky with critical focus—my first few attempts were nice and sharp.  I shot photos with both grad students but the best image was the second one I made after the test frames.  A smidge of a crop and a little tweak of brightness & contrast was all the post-processing necessary.

Later on I checked the time stamps of my images and the total extra time invested in this image was 11 minutes.  The image will be useful for years. 

Photo 3.jpg

Photographic veggies eaten, time for dessert!

On the MIC’s influence day-to-day:

Legendary photo editor Jimmy Colton said something to the effect of: “I never hired anyone because they won a contest.” Point well-taken, but seeing everyone else’s 6 best images each month is just plain fun, and it definitely motivates me to raise my own bar and perhaps to put a little more energy into situations where it would be perfectly acceptable to phone it in. Also, Notre Dame has a University-wide performance management process that requires employees to come up with an annual set of goals—the more numerically measureable the better—that create the measuring stick so to speak for our annual review.  One of my goals is to score well in the MIC standings, so I’m formally reminded of that by HR on a regular basis!

Alternate career:

Photo 4.JPG

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking”


“What’s a tree’s least favorite month? SeptTIMMBERRRRR!!.” (My 6-year-old daughter told me that one!) Blog stories/ideas welcome any time, email editor Matt Cashore at mcashore@nd.edu