After sharing on this topic at Hillcrest Camera Club in June, I thought it might be nice to publish something here – in a few installments. It’s a big topic. I’ll start with what I would call ‘philosophy’, then follow it up with technical considerations and general tips and tricks.
Arguably the most important consideration in any form of photography is the content. If the photo ‘tells a story’, all other photographic ‘laws’ and ‘guidelines’ may be relaxed. In extreme cases a photo may even break the number one cardinal rule – “subject must be in focus” – (many would disagree, and I admit I’m a bit squeamish about this one). As long as it is worth looking at. And that happens when the photo has something worthwhile to say.
In insect photography, I would say ‘telling a story’ means showing exactly what insect look like (detail/structure), where and how they live (context) and the amazing things they do (action). If the photo can replace or illustrate a paragraph of words, it tells a story.
If an insect has unique mouth parts, or specially adapted abdominal gadgets, that have a special purpose, then a photo showing these clearly, tells a story. If the insect does something special, then a photo showing it, tells a story. If they live in a particular place, or survive in a particular way, then … you get the idea. For me insect photography is about illustrating the fascinating things I have discovered about insects.
Not all my photos (by far!) manage to tell a story. Many are just ‘records’ of insects I saw. ‘Story photos’ can take time, planning, fore-thought, and of course luck. ‘Recording photos’ can become ‘story photos’ if you know what an insect’s distinguishing characteristics are, where they are supposed to live, what they supposed to be doing, and making sure you capture these in the photo.
The cover photo on my book is a good example of good context, action, even better interaction between species, details of anatomy, even drama.
Sometimes it is necessary to do a proper ‘studio session’ with an insect. Some actions or contexts are not possible to capture in the natural (if you are not a BBC photographer with fantastic equipment, working on some documentary). These sessions, like all studio work, are carefully planned, set up and take a while.