One of the more common ants in eastern North America is, ostensibly, Dolichoderus. I’ve read that, while restricted to particular habitat types, within those bogs and pine forests they are supposed to be abundant. In theory.
Yet in my entire decades-long career as an ant guy, I have never once seen them alive in North America. Anywhere. It got to the point where I was embarassed to admit such a glaring failure.
Anyway. I broke down and finally begged Ant Guru James Trager to send me a few live workers, and James kindly took pity on me. Herewith, at last, photographs of our North American Dolichoderus:
I am extremely pleased to announce the 2016 BugShot Insect Photo Workshop! The event will be held for the first time in Austin, Texas, and will be instructed by Piotr Naskrecki, John Abbott, and myself. Our 3 1/2 day event will cover basic techniques in macrophotography in the field and in the studio, methods for working with live insects, and advanced techniques in focus-stacking and high-speed flash.
As usual, our location is a site of considerable natural beauty, with rustic lodging and classrooms on site, with nearby hotels for those who prefer more upscale accomodation. We will be at McKinney Roughs Nature Park, a 1,900 acre tract of woodlands, meadows, and canyons. These workshops are a real highlight of my year, not just for the nature and the photo nerdery, but for the community of wonderful people that has coalesced around the BugShot events. If you haven’t been yet, you should try to this year. We’d love to have you!
Last year’s California workshop sold out within a week, so if you’re thinking of attending, you may need to sign up quickly.
***Update (December 19, 2015): BugShot 2016 is sold out. Stay tuned for our next workshop!
In recognition of the season, I am pleased to announce a Halloween print sale! What does this mean? I have priced 30 images of arachnids, centipedes, and zombie fungi at 70% off, nearly at cost, until November 1. If you’d like to pick up an Arachtober surprise, have a look at the link below:
June 15-21 is Pollinator Week.
We should not have to designate a week for this. Coffee, chocolate, raspberries, almonds, melons, tequila, blueberries, and countless other delectables require floral visits by certain species of animals. Usually, insects. If you like any of these things, you should already appreciate the importance of healthy, diverse ecosystems.
But apparently not many people recognize where food comes from, or even that flowers only exist because of insects. So here we are: Pollinator Week.
The best way to celebrate Pollinator Week- while sipping coffee & enjoying raspberry-melon tart- is to draw up plans to rip out your boring lawn and replace it with pollinator-friendly native flowers. You may also write your congressperson (if you have moved on to tequila at this point, I wouldn’t blame you) to demand protection of the vanishing natural habitats where pollinators live.
Of lesser impact, I have priced my entire pollination gallery at near-cost sale rates for the week. If you’d like to pick up a 5×7″ print for as little as $3.99, have a look:
Anyway. Happy Pollinator Week. Get your hands dirty.
Our plan to produce public domain images at the University of Texas has drawn the ire of professional photographers, several of whom have emailed me privately or commented publicly expressing concern for how the project will affect the insect photo market. For example:
I’m an insect photographer as well. The market for my photographs will decline with ideas like this. Can you explain how this is going to benefit the photography market by giving out free images? Too many photographers these days are doing work for free just to try and build clients and now you have this plan to give away free high quality insect images? Well, I see that as a huge negative blow to all other insect photographers out there…
I do love your work by the way…but I never saw this coming. Help me open my mind a little. What am I not seeing? How is this going to be a benefit and not negatively impact all other insect photographers?
I wish I had time to write a proper response to these queries. As it is, UT has me briskly busy during the day and mini-Myrmecos, at 18 months, keeps me plenty occupied during off hours. But, here is a short version on why I doubt Insects Unlocked will be a net negative for commercial insect photographers.
Obviously, a basic reading of supply and demand suggests that increasing supply by adding a couple thousand free photos to the market would depress prices. But buyers aren’t looking for generic insect photos. Or rather, the buyers that matter aren’t. Those looking for generics already use .30 cent microstock images. That market long ago collapsed to the point of irrelevance for pro shooters.
Buyers that matter, buyers with money, are looking for specialty images. They want photos of Apis florea in flight with a forested backdrop, a close-up of a cutworm eating lettuce, or a third instar triatomine assassin bug photographed in dorsal view. Insects Unlocked may intrude somewhat into this market, but let’s be realistic about how much it will intrude: not much. Our planned 1,000 to 2,000 image output in the pilot year is barely going to make a dent in the face of overwhelming insect diversity. Even working our hardest, we’ll be lucky to image 0.01% of the world’s 10 million species. Hell, we’ll be lucky to manage .1% of the insect fauna of just Texas.
Buyers that matter are looking for rarity, too. I know this from interactions I’ve had over the years. Buyers commonly ask if I have unpublished photos, or photos that aren’t licensed very often. New, unseen images have special value. Public domain images do not. Nothing says “I’m nearly bankrupt” like a company splaying public domain images across their products. Even if the Insects Unlocked output is visually spectacular, most high-value buyers will still buy from copyrighted stock, as copyright ensures the coveted rarity.
Buyers in the print market- the ones with money- are similarly not looking for generic insect photographs. They’re looking for a Piotr Naskrecki or a Darlyne Murawski. Insects Unlocked does not plan on producing any of those.
This, particularly, is what frustrates me most about the notion that Insects Unlocked will weaken the market. The despair would make sense in a bland, uncreative world where the works of all insect photographers were interchangeable. But they are not. Each photographer has a unique style. I can pick, for example, a Laurie Knight photo from 100 meters out. We are not Laurie Knight, alas. We’re Insects Unlocked. The buyers who matter are discerning enough to tell us apart. If you think Insects Unlocked will weaken your market, what does that say about your photography?
Likewise, the professional photographer most likely to take a financial hit from Insects Unlocked is me. In spite of my new university position, I still earn a substantial proportion of my income from licensing images from my copyright-protected libraries, and from print sales. If buyers have a choice between a $250 copyrighted Alex Wild print from my galleries, or a public domain Alex Wild printed for $5 from Walmart, will they choose rarity over cost? If I am short-changing anyone with Insects Unlocked, it isn’t other photographers.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we rise and fall not as much on how we compete with each other, but on how our subject matter competes with other cultural concerns. If the general public’s entomological interests declines, we’re all screwed, public domain or no. If public interest doubles, we all do well. Rising tide, ships, you know the metaphor. To the extent that a small public domain image campaign buoys the public perception of insects, we all benefit.
And now, because I am exhausted and behind schedule on other projects, I am publishing this post without proofreading. Fair warning.
A while back I wrote a feature for Ars Technica on the dysfunctional online copyright landscape. The piece was personal. My photographs average around $50 each to make, mostly in time, equipment, and travel costs. These costs have traditionally been covered by commercial users who buy permissions, as copyright law requires.
Yet fewer than 10% of the online commercial users of my work have even asked permission, much less paid. Such low rates were not sustainable. What was remarkable about my situation, also, was precisely nothing. A great many professional photographers see similar exploitation. That is how it is, it is frustrating, and if we knew an easy solution, we would be doing it already.
Among the varied reactions to the Ars piece was a persistent suggestion that maybe I ought try a different approach, one that asks the community to pay the costs up front in exchange for open images. Like it or not, science and nature photographs online are most often treated as a public resource, not as a tradeable commodity, and perhaps their production should reflect that reality.
I can see the logic. Science images are informative about the world around us, they are data as well as art. Perhaps, with a shift in perspective, the photo-using community might be convinced to share the costs of a public resource, as we do with other public services. NASA and USGS, for example, already make fantastic public domain images from taxpayer support. Could crowdfunding similarly serve as a copyright-free foundation for science imagery?
I don’t see why not. Neither does my new employer, the University of Texas at Austin, which has generously thrown their support behind our new, crowdfunded public domain initiative called Insects Unlocked. Here’s the pitch:
We’ll be supporting a team of UT students as they produce thousands of public domain images, both of live animal behavior in the field and of detailed microscopic structures in preserved specimens. We hope you consider helping us as we create a stream of open science images, free for anyone to use.
If you’d like to pick up a print or a canvas wrap of one of my images, the Alex Wild Photography Spring Print Sale ends on 5/15 at midnight. I’m put 30 selected images at up to 70% off my usual rates:
Oddly, the top-seller so far isn’t even an insect! You really seem to like the Dictyostelium slime mold. I may have to start paying more attention to the non-metazoans around us.
For those of you in Lexington, I’ll be giving a talk this Thursday on two of my favorite subjects: entomology and photography. Here are the details:
How The Digital Photography Revolution Is Good For Entomology
update: video of the talk will be posted here: http://video.ca.uky.edu/videos/
Owing to a series of recent incidents where my photographs have been used in technical papers without my consent, without credit, and released under Creative Commons licenses, I am sorry to announce I am ending my policy of free use of photographs for scientific papers.
Future use of my work will require a paid licensing agreement, the same as for most professional uses of copyrighted content. There are two exceptions. First, if I have photographed captive animals in your laboratory, those laboratories are allowed use of the associated images without additional permission, as long as those uses don’t involve releasing the images under a Creative Commons license. Second, use of the photographs as primary data should be considered fair use and is allowable.
Use of my images in presentations and classroom lectures is still allowable if credit is given, but please be aware that uploads of presentation slides to the internet requires a photo credit be given next to the image to prevent the appearance of being orphaned.
I regret having to tighten my policy, but my photo business has been my primary source of income for the past few years, and I cannot continue to afford producing and hosting natural history images for the myrmecological community to use if my guidelines are routinely sidestepped.
Thanks for understanding,