It's Not a Bug! How 5 Eyes, Hairy Legs and Wings Changed My Life

Unexpected adventures in macro photography

Change can lead to finding your niche when you are least expecting it.

It was late summer in 2014. I was going through a rough personal patch, and the need for an artistic change was upon me. 

I had been looking at getting back into types of photography where I could be creative in more controlled locations. So, I took the gear I already possessed and went about photographing the caterpillars I had seen in my garden. It took very few frames to make me realize that 1) I had no clue how to photograph them and do their beauty any justice, and 2) I had no idea what other insects were in my garden.

So I did what I do when I find myself in that position of not knowing: I immersed myself in the subject matter and delved into the world of all things macro. Little did I know the path I was embarking on would lead to the convergence of my varied personas, the photographer and artist, the gardener and lover of science, the maker and craftsman. 

As summer turned to fall and my garden grew quiet, my learning turned toward the more technical aspects of this new craft. I started building my first DIY flash diffuser, as each macro photographer tends to build their own diffusers to get the style of light they desire. Research, read, build and then tear it apart to start over again. Tests, trials and continuing refinements. (For the record, I am on build 13 now. I think. Honestly, I've lost count.)

When spring arrived and I snapped the first few frames outside, I was hooked. I photographed a small flying insect on my hydrangea bush which I had not been aware of before and was enthralled.

At only 1x magnification I could see pollen flying off the flower it was feeding on. Behold, that small flying insect turned out to be a sweat bee—a Lasioglossum, to be exact—and they were everywhere. I just had not really noticed them before. 

Google searches after photography sessions were my friend, field ID books my new travel companion, and finding more to see and photograph my new drive.

In the act of getting my images I have found a solid connection, a moving mediation. 

Even with a pot of coffee in the morning coursing through my bloodstream, I can slow myself down and just exist in the middle of wherever I am photographing. I get excited when I see someone (any small creature) I want to photograph, and even more so when I see someone new, and I'm totally elated when I can capture a few good frames of them. Missing a shot is still better than not having seen them at all.

Daily shooting and honing my new passion led to getting a gig filming partula snails for an exhibit at the Detroit Zoo, an ongoing collaboration on projects and research with Jamieson Biodiversity Lab at Oakland University, and having exhibitions on the walls of the Belle Isle Nature Center.

I set upon this journey with the goal of only shooting handheld—no tripods or such—and a firm ethical standard of doing no harm to my subjects and only photographing them in their own environment. In the beginning, people who knew me for some of my old work kept asking, "So what are you going to DO with all these insect photos?" I'd respond, "I don't know," and I really did not. But I am having fun, and for the first time in years, I am in love with photography again.

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Joseph Ferraro
Joseph Ferraro is a senior art director/developer at Campbell Ewald.

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