I almost didn’t pass high school biology because I refused to do a bug collection. I told the teacher that I didn’t see the point in killing bugs when there was a perfectly good collection in the front of the classroom. Instead of gathering specimens I wrote a report of my observations. We didn’t have digital cameras back then which I think would have been a better substitute for collecting specimens but oh well! Later I would also avoid dissecting frogs. I love biology but I prefer to photograph it.
It was much later when I realized you could pickup samples of beetles shortly after their lives had ended. Flying into Grand Forks North Dakota one summer I remember taking the rental car to a gas station and seeing all the carcasses of cicadas laying everywhere. You couldn’t walk anywhere without hearing the crunch of hardened shells.
As a kid in LA I understood what dinner and a movie with my parents really meant. We would come home from the movie and I would hear a crunch as one of my parents went into the darkened house to turn on the lights. Dinner and movie meant we had to be out of the house while they fumagated the house for cockroaches. There would be thousands of them laying about all over the house when we got back home.
I revisited these memories last week as I prepared to give a macro photography demonstration for one of my workshops. I find that most nature photography doesn’t really require microphotography. A closeup image is really about isolated an element of nature within the frame which can most often be accomplished with a 50mm lens. In order to take advantage of a true micro 1:1 ratio I thought a photograph of an insect would be interesting.
I asked my wife to get me in touch with the professor of entomology at the college who was kind enough to loan me some bugs. When asked what kind I just said I was looking for a bright and colorful beetle. I had no idea that Jewel Scarabs existed or that they are extremely collectible based upon their coloration. Some look just like pieces of gold and silver. This green one seems more affordable and was plenty handsome for my purposes. I wanted to place the beetle in an environment that may be plausible so I researched their range and found that they exists primarily in Central America and as far north as the southern tip of Arizona.
I went to my local grocery store and found a plant that is native to that environment and proceeded to give a demo on different approaches to macro photography. It felt like a tight rope walk since I had never done this kind of photography before but that is part of my objective as a teacher. I try to show students that it is okay to try something new.
In my prior years as a commercial product photography I had used macro photography techniques to photograph jewelry. I drew upon this experience to make this photograph of a jewel bug! I even used a small compact flash with a shoot through white umbrella to light the scene. Another lesson I try to convey to my students is that my goal is to only have to make one portfolio quality image at a time. One photo session and one portfolio image is a successful day. This turned out to be a good one!