Matt Albanese's handmade nature photos

All photos: Matthew Albanese

When I first saw Matthew Albanese's art, it really struck me as beautiful on the first degree, like a well-composed nature photograph that tells a story and reveals the charms of nature (as if Mother Earth had put on her best evening gown and jewels — fair trade and conflict free, of course). But then, when you find out how Albanese creates his pieces, there's a second degree of cool; his work is all about tromple l'oeil optical illusions. The amount of detail in his work, including small light effects and reflections to fool our brains, is impressive.

I hope you'll enjoy his work, as well as the behind-the-scenes photos that show a little bit how the magic happens. (In this case, I feel like knowing the tricks enhances the appreciation.)

Matthew Albanese lightning

Albanese adjusts the lighting for lightning shot

A bit of background on Albanese, the artist who created these, and who you can see above: "Matthew Albanese’s fascination with film, special effects and movie magic — and the mechanics behind these illusions — began early. Born in northern New Jersey in 1983, Albanese spent a peripatetic childhood moving between New Jersey and upstate New York. An only child, Albanese enjoyed imaginative, solitary play. He loved miniatures and created scenarios intricately set with household objects and his extensive collection of action figures."

A New Life by Matt Albanese

This piece is titled "A new Life #1."

Behind the scenes of

This is a behind-the-scenes look at "A New Life #1."

Paradise by Matt Albanese

Doesn't it look like the kind of place where you'd want to spend some time? Maybe with a good book, toes in the sand...

Behind the scenes of Paradise

The clouds were made with cotton balls from the drug store.

This one is titled "How to Breathe Underwater." Matthew describes it like this: "Diorama made out of walnuts, poured and cast candle wax, wire, glitter, peanut shells, flock, plaster, wire, dyed starfish, compressed moss, jellybeans (anemones), sponges, wax coated seashells, toothpaste, clay, figs, feathers, Q-tips, nonpareils."

Behind the scenes of

And here's the scoop behind the scenes: "Surface of the water was created using vinyl shower curtain, plexiglass and clear epoxy. The reflected sunlight effect was created using a video projector through fake fog. The white balance was set for tungsten allowing the sunlight to appear bright and clear while the strobes provided a deep blue shift in the fill light regions. The lens was covered with a piece of blue stretch wrap which created subtle distortions throughout the image. A total of 11 light sources were used including the projector."

How did he get the waterfall to look like that? The title of the piece, "Salt Falls," provides a big hint.

Behind the scenes of

Says Albanese: "The waterfall was created from a time exposure of falling table salt."

Tornado in minature

The weather's turning nasty on Matthew's tabletop.


And how did he make it? It's a "Diorama made of steel wool, cotton, ground parsley and moss."

This is a dynamic and colorful forest fire scene titled "Wildfire." I love those reflections in the water.

Behind the scenes of

Albanese's description: "Diorama made from wood, moss, yellow glitter, clear garbage bags, cooked sugar, scotch-brite pot scrubbers, bottle brushes, clipping from a bush in bloom (white flowers) clear thread, sand, tile grout (coloring), wire, paper and alternating yellow, red and orange party bulbs."

Matt Albanese with his book, Strange Worlds

If you like Matthew's work, you can follow him on Facebook and check out his book, "Strange Worlds," which is described on the book jacket this way:

"There is more than what meets the eye in Matthew Albanese’s captivating photographs. From an erupting volcano to a sweeping tornado to the landing on the moon, nothing is quite what it appears to be. Welcome to the extra-ordinary world of Matthew Albanese, where glaciers are not made of ice but of sugar, salt, egg whites, food coloring, flour and, light.

"Albanese meticulously fabricates and then photographs small-scale models of complex panoramic vistas, such as wind-blown willows on stormy rivers and raging forest fires, using humble materials including cotton batting, boiled sugar candy, sand, and feathers. By masterly manipulating the scale, depth of field, balance and lighting, he alters the appearance of the materials to create dramatic and emotionally evocative landscapes.

"This beautifully designed book brings together for the first time all the photographs in the 'Strange World' series, including a new work made especially for the publication. The book features an engaging essay by David Revere McFadden, behind-the-scenes images of the miniature worlds, and insightful text by the artist on the process of his work."

All images reproduced with permission. Many thanks to Matthew Albanese!

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Michael Graham Richard ( @Michael_GR ) Michael writes for MNN and TreeHugger about science, space and technology and more.

Experience Mother Nature, in miniature
When you see Matt Albanese's landscapes, you won't believe they're not real. What's even more wild is how he makes them.