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Behind the Image

“I don't think it's enough to simply learn the mechanics of photography, you need to sharpen both your craft and your eye.” 
 – Chip Hedgcock


Male Western Hercules Beetle, Dynastes granti
Chip Hedgcock

Tell us something about the creative process you use when coming up with a photographic solution to a problem/assignment.

I try to think of these small, living subjects as a surface rather than just an insect. I like to light them in a way that shows off their beautiful form. it is also important that the props used for the image be selected carefully to create a pleasing and appropriate background in the studio.

What technical issues did you have, or have to work out, to create this image?

This is a very large and handsome animal. I wanted to create an image that would be aesthetically pleasing as well as biologically informative. I often photograph animals in the studio- which to me simply means a controlled space. That space can be anything from a truck tailgate to my dining room table. In this instance, it was the floor of my home office. When working with live animals in the studio, it is important to handle them carefully. I need to prevent them from escaping while also keeping their safety in mind; they can be surprisingly fragile subjects. Lighting is always a technical concern. It needs to be simple yet help show the subject's form and texture.

To photograph living subjects in the studio, everything must be set up prior to the subject being brought in. The lighting must be decided upon, the angel of view for photographing, the background and various props must be collected and put in place. I need to keep in mind the subjects behavior and preferences; will it run? Will it want to hide under something? Is it afraid of being in the open? Will it want to fly? I try to use the subjects natural behavior, if possible, to my advantage.

Tell us something about the subject of this photograph.

This image is of a male Western Hercules Beetle, Dynastes grantii. It is found in much of the South Western United States as well as parts of Mexico. The Dynastinae are among the largest beetles worldwide. The males are famous for their unusual horns, that they use for fighting during mating season. They may look pretty ferocious but, like most insects, they are harmless to humans.

What elements are important to you when you judge or critique your work or the work of other professional photographers?

That the animal appears in a natural and healthy state, that the background is natural looking, uncluttered, and accurate. The image should also be aesthetically pleasing to look at.

What is your photographic background?

I have been interested in photography since high school where I took every photography class my school offered. I also volunteered for the school yearbook. After high school, I bumped around in various collage photography programs and finally completed a degree in Commercial Photography at Brooks Institute.

I have worked as a medical photographer and as a photographer/graphics person for the Department of Neuroscience, and now for the Department of Entomology, at the University of Arizona. I participate as a volunteer citizen scientist for international biological surveys in Northern Mexico. I also do fine art photography with digital, silver gelatin, and alternative processes.

Who are some of your favorite photographers?

Edward Weston is probably my favorite photographer. I'm also heavily influenced by Karl Blossfeldt, Frederick Sommer, and John Sexton.

What photographers inspire or influence you?

All of the photographers mentioned previously have inspired and influenced me. I also find inspiration in the various photographers that submit their wonderful work to the BioImages Salon each year. On occasion I have had the great fortune of being one of the judges for the BioImages Salon. I really looked forward to seeing the images that were submitted each year. There is so much wonderful photography and Illustration submitted, it's hard not to get excited and inspired when looking at it.

Do you have any advice for photographers interested in a photography career in biomedical/life sciences?

There are many paths to a career in Biocommunications. For me I think my background in commercial photography and interest in natural history served me very well. So, I would suggest a solid technical background in photography, including lighting and studio photography. Additional coursework in biological and scientific photography, as well as scientific illustration would all be useful. Training in one's field of interest, such as human anatomy, entomology, herpetology, general biology and/or botany, would also be helpful. Classes in anything to help you know more about your subject. But I don't think it's enough to simply learn the mechanics of photography, you need to sharpen both your craft and your eye.

The French photographer Gaspard-Felix Tournachon, known as "Nadar", had some pretty great thoughts on the subject:

“The theory of photography can be taught in an hour; the technique in a day. What can’t be taught is the feeling for light; … it’s the understanding of this effect which requires artistic perception. What is taught even less is the immediate understanding of your subject … that enables you to make not just a dreary cardboard copy typical of the merest hack in a darkroom, but a likeness of the most intimate and happy kind.” – Nadar

How has your membership in the BCA helped you?

I have found my membership in the BCA to be extremely valuable. I have met and engaged with the membership online and in person to discuss and discover photographic techniques and creative ideas. The membership is a friendly and knowledgeable resource for all things photographic, as well as those things that apply particularly to the field of BioCommunications.