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.
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.