photography

National Pollinator Week Print Sale

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All prints from Alex Wild Photography’s pollination gallery are up to 70% off during Pollinator Week.

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.

garden
The prairie garden I begrudgingly left behind when moving from Illinois to Texas. We did take the cat, though.

 

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:

Alex Wild Photography 2015 Pollinator Week Print Sale

Anyway. Happy Pollinator Week. Get your hands dirty.

 

Will The Insects Unlocked Project Damage The Commercial Insect Photo Market?

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.

Announcing Insects Unlocked

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:

Insects Unlocked

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.

[Video expertly shot by Ian Wright and adeptly edited by Adrian Smith]

Public Talk, University of Kentucky: How The Digital Photography Revolution Is Good For Entomology

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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

Alex Wild

Thursday, April 24, 2014
3:30 pm
Cameron Williams Auditorium
Plant Sciences Building
University of Kentucky

update: video of the talk will be posted here: http://video.ca.uky.edu/videos/

Sorry Guys: No More Free Images for Scientific Papers

Dear scientists,

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,

Alex

A Photographic Redo: Fungus-Growing Ants 7 Years Later

I first visited Ulrich Mueller’s lab at the University of Texas in 2007, where I took this photo in one of his lab colonies of Mycocepurus smithii:

smithi10

 
The photo shows a worker on a strand of fungus that grows in ant nests. The fungus eats bits of detritus that the ants gather from around the forest, while the ants eat the fungus. It’s a true agricultural system. Plenty has already been written about these fungus farms, so I won’t bore you with further detail.

Since I was back in Austin a couple weeks ago, I figured I’d have another go at shooting the ants. Have a look.

Mycocepurus smithii

 
I used the same lens & an upgraded camera back, but this time I was armed with two more significant weapons: a pair of remote flashes that I could position freely, and seven additional years of experience to guide where I put those flashes. This time I arranged a diffused side light at left, and a diffused back light at the right, with nothing but empty laboratory space behind. The effect, I hope you will agree, gives a bit more zest than my first go.


photo details:
Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon EOS 20D (top) or 7D (bottom)
ISO 100, f/13, 1/2oo sec (top)
ISO 400, f/11, 1/200 sec (bottom)
Diffuse macro twin flash (top)
Two diffuse off-camera strobes (bottom)

 

Photographs at Alexanderwild.com are now geotagged

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Want to know the precise coordinates of natural history photos at my gallery site? Thanks to recent improvements at my web host, Smugmug, if the photographs have geography metadata you may now click on a globe icon in the nav bar to view a zoomable map:

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Not all photographs are geotagged yet- bear with me as I work through them. This welcome improvement should add considerable information value to the site, though.

Last Day of the Holiday Print Sale!

A reminder that the great holiday print sale of 2013 comes to a close at midnight EST tonight, January 1st. The next sale is not for a few months and will cover a different set of photographs. If anything in the gallery catches your eye, today is your last chance to pick something up at the discounted rate!

Alex Wild’s 2013 Holiday Insect Print Sale

Prints of all photos have sold, but the top movers have been:

1. Bees on pollen-filled comb

Apis91a

2. Pollen-filled comb, without bees

Apis88a

3. (tie) Mating Hyalophorus moths; Toxomerus hover fly on spider wort


Hyalophora6a

Toxomerus1a

 

 

 

Behind the Photo: Dueling Dung Beetles

Onthophagus taurus
Male dung beetles, Onthophagus taurus, vary in size and horn development.

 

The next series of posts- Behind the Photo– will feature the stories behind images I’ve included in this year’s print sale. First up: the brutish male dung beetles in this 2009 creation.

These insects were given to me by biologist Emilie Snell-Rood, who at the time was working in Armin’s Moczek’s Evo-Devo lab, with the hope that I might photograph live animals of different shapes and sizes for use in Moczek lab papers, web pages, and talks. Live photos make compelling stories, after all, and Onthopagus taurus has an especially interesting one. It’s about how new body parts evolve.

white_box

Males of this species employ varying strategies to reach females. The larger ones sport horns and fight over mates, while the smaller hornless ones bear a striking enough resemblance to females to slip past their rivals unrecognized as males. Since beetles that are otherwise genetically identical either sprout horns as they develop or don’t, they’ve become a fantastic model for questions about why and how new structures form. Biologists can watch the horns grow, or not grow, all within a single sex of a single species. They can also examine the process in related beetles, and make comparisons that allow inferences about how ecology interacts with genomes to produce new horns. If you’re intrigued, you can catch up with the research here.

My photograph of the dueling male beetles is not a natural scene, of course. Wild beetles fight in underground tunnels, face-to-face, not in the gleaming open air of a photography studio, so this scene is less documentation of real world behavior that a stylized illustration of male variation.

The challenge of taking this photograph was two-fold. First, dung beetles are shiny. To capture the subtleties of texture on such a reflective animal, I needed extremely soft lighting. So I fired an upward-facing flash off in a white box. A white box is what it sounds like- a box that’s all white on the inside. The box I used for the above photo is pictured at left, an old toilet paper box with printer paper taped to the inside.

The second challenge was the hyperactivity of the beetles themselves. Getting two feisty insects to perform for a well-composed shot took a long time and a lot of attempts. Here is a sample of mostly throwaways from the session:

beetle_session

If you’d like to purchase a print, the dueling beetles photograph is one of 30 I’ve included in the Holiday Print Sale, running until January 1. I have reprocessed the image up from the original RAW file just for this event.


photo details:
Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens on a Canon EOS 20D.
ISO 200, f/14, 1/125 sec
Off-camera flash, manual mode.