Small is beautiful, as winners of this Nikon International Small World competition prove.

First prize in the 2019 Photomicrography Competition went to a picture of a fluorescent turtle embryo taken by Teri Zgoda and Teresa Kugler from New York. The pair used a technique called image stitching to make a composite from hundreds of images.

Fluorescent turtle embryo, Stereomicroscopy, Fluorescence
The winning picture
Image: Teri Zgoda and Teresa Kugler/Nikon Small World

“We are inspired by the beautiful images we see through the microscope,” Zgoda said. “It’s humbling and deeply fulfilling to be able to share that science with other people.”

Second prize went to Dr Igor Siwanowicz for his “depth-colour coded projections of three stentors (single-cell freshwater protozoans)”. Stentors, also known as trumpet animalcules, are filter-feeding ciliates – creatures with hair-like appendages called cilia. Although they are undoubtedly tiny, at around two millimetres in length, these stentors are some of the largest single-cell organisms.

Depth-color coded projections of three stentors (single-cell freshwater protozoans)
Depth-color coded projections of three stentors (single-cell freshwater protozoans)
Image: Dr Igor Siwanowicz/Nikon Small World

Third place went to Daniel Smith Paredes and Dr Bhart-Anjan S Bhullar. Their photograph of an alligator embryo shows the creature’s skeleton and nerves forming.

Alligator embryo developing nerves and skeleton
An alligator embryo developing nerves and skeleton
Image: Daniel Smith Paredes and Dr Bhart-Anjan S Bhullar/Nikon Small World

If you’ve ever had the feeling that someone is watching you, the sixth-placed photo might unnerve you. It shows a small white hair spider in stunning close-up.

Small white hair spider
A small white hair spider
Image: Javier Rupérez/Nikon Small World

Or this extreme close-up of the eye of a housefly.

Housefly compound eye pattern
A housefly's compound eye pattern
Image: Dr Razvan Cornel Constantin/Nikon Small World

This photo might look like something on a cosmic scale, but is actually the stamen of a flower.

Chinese red carnation stamen
A Chinese red carnation stamen
Image: Dr Guillermo López/Nikon Small World

If you like the magic of the microscopic, you’ll probably appreciate this photo of a frozen droplet of water.

Frozen water droplet
A frozen water droplet
Image: Garzon Christian/Nikon Small World

Or perhaps this architectural-looking close-up of some cuprite — copper oxide.

Cuprite (mineral composed of copper oxide)
Cuprite, a mineral composed of copper oxide.
Image: Dr Emilio Carabajal Márquez/Nikon Small World

The top 20 are exhibited at museums and science centers across North America.