Beautiful X-Ray Photos Reveal Nature in New Light

Michele Berger and Nicole Bonaccorso
Published: December 30, 2013

Physicist Arie van't Riet shot and colorized X-ray images of flowers, animals and insects, calling his works bioramas. He likes to recreate scenes that may be found in nature. (Arie van't Riet)

Arie van’t Riet wants to show you the natural world from a new perspective: Through an X-ray. For five years, the physicist-turned-artist has honed his X-ray craft not with human bones, but by taking images of plants and animals, then retouching them with a splash of color.

It’s looking at nature in a new light. “Don’t judge the animal by its color. Color is lost in X-rays,” van’t Riet told “Sometimes a beautiful bird with all kinds of colors in X-rays doesn’t look nice anymore.”

But then, however, it refocuses and the animal’s similarities to the human skeleton makes it beautiful, he said. “If I see my elbow, my knee, my eyes, my trachea, all the animals they have the same. We know it, of course, but it is surprising. You clearly see it in the images,” he added. “They are all the same inside.”

These unique photos came about organically. Someone asked van’t Riet to X-ray a painting. From there, he moved to thinner objects like flowers, then eventually added animals. He uses only dead animals — taxidermy, road kill (“traffic victims,” in van’t Riet’s words), those his cat literally dragged in — rather than live animals; he doesn’t think it’s justified to put animals through the risk of an X-ray simply for the sake of art. 

That said, he’s dreaming big, hoping to make bioramas — what he calls his natural scenes — that include alligators, flamingos, larger animals in their surroundings. He has done a monkey and a cat, but both were mummies. The only live animals he’s done so far were snails. That’s because they get exposed to very little radiation in the process and move so slowly.

Animals for this type of art would need to sit still, and van’t Riet says making that happen would be nigh on impossible. Just think about it: Imagine getting a monkey to stay put even just for a moment? To make these photos, van’t Riet sets the scene, determines whether he needs high- or low-energy X-rays and then takes his shot. It’s fast — but not fast enough for a wild beast.

After the fact, van’t Riet adds the color. It’s to help us see what he sees: “With our eyes, we only see the surface of an object, the outmost surface. And our eyes can see colors,” he said. “In X-rays, the surface is gone. The X-rays look inside. By coloring, I try to bring back some of the surface.” In doing so, van’t Riet shows us yet another way to see the world.

For more of van’t Riet’s work, visit his website

MORE: Todays Top Videos

Featured Blogs

Top Ten 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season Events; Paris Climate Talks Ramp Up

By Dr. Jeff Masters
December 1, 2015

The 2015 Atlantic hurricane season is officially over, and it will go into the books as the most memorable hurricane season to occur during a strong El Niño event. More than a week of tough negotiations lies ahead at the UN Climate Conference (COP21), but Monday--the opening day--more than 150 heads of state were on hand, and dozens of them gave speeches, acknowledging the gravity of human-produced climate change and the daunting task of turning it around.

Incredible November Warmth for Portions of the U.S., Europe and Beyond

By Christopher C. Burt
November 10, 2015

The first 10 days of November 2015 have seen record-breaking warmth for many locations in Florida and elsewhere in the U.S. while all-time November monthly national heat records have so far been broken in the U.K., Ireland, France, Estonia, Slovenia, and Finland. All-time record heat (for any month) was also observed in parts of Australia and French Guiana. Here is a brief summary.

An extraordinary meteorological event; was one of its results a 1000-year flood?

By Stu Ostro
October 5, 2015

The confluence of meteorological ingredients the first weekend in October 2015 resulted in an extraordinary weather event with severe impacts. Was one of them a 1000-year flood?

Why the Arrest of a Science-Loving 14-year-old Matters

By Shaun Tanner
September 16, 2015

By now, many of you have heard or read about the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old high school student from Irving, Texas. Ahmed was arrested because school officials called the police after he showed one of his teachers his homemade clock. Mistaken for a bomb, Ahmed was taken into custody, interrogated, shamed, suspended (still on suspension today, Wednesday), and reprimanded. All of this after it has been found that the "device" he brought to school was indeed, a homemade clock.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.