Collaboration with Katy (Did) and Stephane (De Greef).
Having glanced at the 52 Frames list of themes for the year in January I knew immediately that week 38 was going to be a collaboration with some serious insect flavour.
Meet Your Neighbours (MYN) is a fascinating project where wildlife lovers and photographers from around the globe record the beauty of the often unseen forms of life, your miniature neighbours, things that you may step on without knowing while walking in your own garden or picking up groceries. Some of them may be in your groceries, better not think about that too much though.
There is a trick to MYN – only the highest quality photographs make it through the selection and are showcased. They are no ordinary photographs either. These images are more a study of the subjects, every single detail accentuated by the fact that these “neighbours” are being photographed on white background, without the visual distraction of their natural habitat. They are treated well, kept alive and carefully released back where they were collected. Let me tell you, after viewing some of those photographs you realise that Science Fiction invented absolutely nothing. Mother Nature had it all before and more.
It's a photography/nature project which, admittedly, is only executable with certain specialised camera gear and a lot of improvisation on the grass root level – you needn't excuse the pun, it was intended! Apart from the gear issue there is also something called skill. Skill in capturing and taming your subject, skill in producing a technically outstanding photograph and skill in setting up the whole studio including some inventive strategies for home made diffusing systems – be it indoors or out in the open.
Stephane has been “neighbourising” anything and everything in the bug world, from different species of ants to amazing torpedo-like moths, snails, frogs, crickets, flies, wasps and many other creatures I lack vocabulary for. I have no intention to break into the MYN world with all its intricacies and need for fancy gear but I am fascinated by nature and often do macro photography in the critters' natural environment with a very basic set up.
And so it was settled. We would collaborate trying to recreate a shot worthy the Meet Your Neighbours project.
Let's have a look at the list of ingredients I had for my shoot – all borrowed from Stephane, the grand bug master and a seasoned MYN shooter:
Studio / support equipment:
Katydids are sometimes also called bush crickets and indeed fall into the confusing pot of grasshoppers, katydids and crickets. What is the difference? Well, grasshoppers have short antennae, simple as that and of course those impressive thighs enabling them to leap into great heights. Katydids have long antennae and their wings are folded on their backs in an upside down V whereas crickets, also with long antennae, have their wings folded fashionably flat. Here you have it, you have (maybe) learned something new, just like I did.
Our model, let's call her Katy, came to the office with us, settled in the tupperware box, all anxieties aside. I think she knew she was going to serve the greater good and eventually also become famous.
The pure white background is achieved by placing the subject on a semi-transparent white perspex plastic sheet which is suspended in the air with the help of whatever stabiliser you can find or make up. We used two chairs and balanced the sheet on the edge (see photo of set up). The crucial key to getting your subject float in the negative white space is backlighting synchronised with fill flash as well. So here we are going to start the story of the Master and the Slave (flash). The master twin flash was mounted on the camera with appropriate diffusion and the slave flash was placed under the subject facing directly upward – that's the reason our perspex had to be suspended, with enough space underneath for the slave to fit and do its job. Both master and slave were set on ¼ of their full power. The camera settings were managed manually at f/13 to achieve as much detail as possible, 1/180 sec to eliminate any shake or movement of the subject and ISO, after couple of tests, was set on 250. Speaking of tests, with any live subject it's a risky business that they actually don't like the lime light and try to escape. Hence you, the photographer, must have all settings correctly in place and be ready to shoot. It's a matter of a simple test on an object similar in colour and size to the real deal – in our case a leaf and a blade of grass.
When happy with the settings the model is finally placed in the middle of the white perspex and shooting may begin. With the Image Stabiliser on and Manual Focus selected it's a matter of focusing on the eyes, making sure that the subject is wholly surrounded by the white space and all its body parts are in the frame. Now, of course we can take things a little more artistically and get really up close and personal but MYN is really about showing the whole creature from all angles – from top, profile and sometimes even upside down. Various body parts and markings will help scientists identify the species. Something to note for those willing to give this photo shoot a go: when you shoot the bug the DOF is very shallow, so the best approach is to be perpendicular to the axis of the creature, so that it's all in focus from “head to toe”.
Apart from all the technicalities and set up challenges, may I say that the whole apparatus is very heavy and after a few minutes of shooting my arms were aching. One has to shoot with confidence yet with calm and not disturb the animal too much, work efficiently and fast. Each shot should be reviewed before one gets carried away. It's worth checking all the settings and tweak all details in camera as much as possible to ensure that only basic processing tricks are applied. In the eyes of science there is little space for games with colour, saturation or vibrance. The final result should be as close to what the eye sees as possible, otherwise, with your finger on the saturation slider you could easily create a new species! Exciting but no, don't do it. Don't play with the emotions of the entomologists out there, they harness special powers and could send harm your way.
Some of you may ask what is the whole point of MYN? I have gone to the source and asked the master himself. What he said was this:
“Meet Your Neighbours (MYN) is a worldwide photographic initiative created in 2009 by Niall Benvie (UK) and Clay Bolt (USA). The project is dedicated to reconnecting people with the wildlife on their own doorsteps: common species, both plants and animals, are photographed in their natural ecosystem, but using a field studio with a white background. The resulting images are very artistic and highlight details usually missed on classic nature photography.
This project borrows techniques designed for fashion shoot, with backlighting and softboxes, and applies them to Nature photography. But instead of bringing the models in, you bring the studio out! Photographers usually design their own field studio, and bring it to the natural environment where the bugs are normally encountered. It allows taking professional shots of the subject before releasing it, unharmed, in the exact same place.”
And so there you have it. When did you last look “closer”? Also, I hope you like what I did with my katydid.
Photowalking is the act of walking with a camera for the main purpose of taking pictures of things that the photographer may find interesting.
It is often a communal activity organised by camera clubs, online forums or commercial organisations, sometimes in the form of a walking tour. Often the aim is to practice and improve one's own photography skills rather than a specific focus on documentary photography.
While the camera need not be a digital camera, in practice the low cost of digital photography and the ease of digital photo processing and online photo sharing allow a casual approach in photowalking.
While related to street photography, photowalking is differentiated by its impetus to photograph things of interest rather than people specifically. As with any walking that may go a few miles or kilometers, photowalking can also promote physical fitness.
…. the thing is, there is so much more to Siem Reap than “just” the temples. Trust me, I am a photographer. It doesn't matter if you just arrived or have lived here for half a decade. The lively streets of our little town provide countless source of entertainment – at least for me. How long have I wanted to get a picture of pigs bellies up on the back of a moto? Or other weird and wonderful methods of transportation for that matter.... It's all there, on two, three or more wheels, carrying variable loads and countless passengers. My collection is growing steadily ever since I got inspired by a wonderful book called Carrying Cambodia still for sale today (Monument Books for those who are interested). But it all requires a bit of patience, being in the right place at the right time and being ready with your camera or phone.
People photography can be daunting and so can venturing into a local market armed only with your limited two-word Khmer vocabulary and your camera. There is safety in numbers though and with the right approach and attitude there is a possibility to capture real local gems. From the gory meat section not suitable for vegetarians nor the faint hearted via the fish quarters one can wander past nail and hair salons all the way to the cooked food court and with a bit of courage try some of the items on offer. I always go for the puffy spongy pancakes sold by 10 for just over 50c.
Then we have our colourful pagodas. Local knowledge claims one of them to be at least 400 years old and that is OLD. One would think that after five years in the kingdom of wonder I would be immune to the sight of orange clad monks but no, I'm still clicking away. And the same goes for conical hats bobbing up and down with rice harvest....I can't help it, it just spells Asia.
Now, with our riverfront so nice and green and kept it's actually a pleasure to stroll in the early morning hours when the temperature is still relatively cool and local happenings are in full swing. Taking photographs in a new, exotic place is almost always easy – everything is new and photo-worthy. But what if I was to drag you out of your snuggly bed on a Sunday morning and take you on a short photo walk through the town you have called home for some time? Would you come? Come on, you know you want to! No big bulky equipment is necessary, your phone or pocket compact camera will do a perfectly good job - wait a minute, YOU will do a good job of it. With a few hints and tips on composition and possibly discovering what all these buttons do, you can create amazing images.
My photo walks will run on selected Sundays through the streets of Siem Reap with variable routes and topics. Next one will be Siem Reap in monochrome. In the pipelines I also have some evening walks focusing on low light photography, use of tripod, playing with shutter speed and all that jazz. Locals and visitors alike are welcome so I'm looking forward to seeing you there!
anna bella betts
Never still, always on the move, looking for the perfect capture... Cambodia is currently my home, presenting endless opportunities....
In this blog you will find no profound wisdom.
Just accounts of daily life, sometimes about photography, often about wine, occasionally about travel adventures and sometimes about nothing at all.