A beautiful animal, or a beautiful photo
When I first started with macro photography, I didn’t want to photograph butterflies. Why not? Well, my thoughts back then were “butterflies are themselves beautiful, so it will always be a beautiful photograph.” Much later I came to the conclusion that this really isn’t true. But all too often, nature photographers think that the emotions they feel the moment the shutter clicks, are automatically reflected in the image. Let me explain.
Once, at a photo club meeting, a man showed a series of snapshots (I can’t think of better word to describe them) that he had made of alpine ibex. He started by telling us of the great effort and patience involved in photographing the animals, in the nature reserve Gran Paradiso, in Italy. The slides he showed us were not really that great, but the story was pretty exciting.
Years later, I had the opportunity to visit Gran Paradiso. I discovered that directly from the camp ground, you can walk about 1,000 meters along a very passable trail to where the ibex are. They are so tame, that you can practically shoot portraits of them with your 28mm lens. That is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but they are easily approachable without using a blind. If you calmly walk along with them, you’ll have plenty of chances to get some nice shots.
I tell you this story because it’s a trap we can all fall into from time to time. It has happened to me as well.
Photos of beautiful or rare animals, photos taken in an exotic land after a long expensive flight, or photos that required a great deal of effort to make, are not beautiful for those reason alone. There is a lot more to it than that.
If at home, you can’t take a good photo of your own cat, then the chance is great that in far-away-istan, you won’t get a good photo of a snow leopard. It doesn’t matter how much effort it takes, how expensive the guide, the translator, and the Land Rover is, or how difficult it was to negotiate the permits.
How many bird photographer aren’t there who are so proud of their kingfisher photo?
Of course this is a very beautiful bird, and sometimes there will be great photos of them. But why is a picture of a kingfisher by definition more interesting than a great shot of a house sparrow?
I was once asked by the editors of Grasduinen, a Dutch nature magazine, if I had any pictures of house sparrows. I was surprised that they would call me, since they knew that I wasn’t a bird specialist. The editors told me that they had approached several well known bird photographers, but they only had images of kingfishers, bluethroats, grey shrikes, and peregrine falcons, but nothing as common as the lowly sparrow.
To illustrate my point, I’ve selected pictures of two beautiful creatures.
The first photo of each is simply a record of the bug, but the second photo has more artistic value, in my opinion.
The top image is of a Banded Darter, a European species of dragonfly. In this picture, the bleached out reed on which it is perched creates a very distracting composition. A beautiful, and reasonably rare dragonfly, but a poor photo.
I am more pleased with the second photograph. The colors of the dragonfly are shown off well on the redshank blossom and the soft background colors.
The third image is simply a record of a bee beetle (Trichius fasciatus). There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this photo, it’s just not very exciting.
I’m much happier with the bottom photo. There are two beetles, which suggests action, and the background plays an important role. The buds of the blackberry frame the beetles, and the out-of-focus round leaf in the background provides the needed separation.