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


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:

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,


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:


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 are now geotagged


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:


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


2. Pollen-filled comb, without bees


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






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.


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:


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.

The Holiday Print Sale Returns!

Dasymutilla occidentalis velvet ant; 12×18″ print on a 3/4″ standout mount. Sale price $15.99/$42.99 unmounted/mounted. (Regular $60/$120)


I am pleased to announce the return of the holiday print sale! This year’s selection features 30 favorite photographs reduced up to 70% off regular pricing. Have a look:


Holiday Print Sale- Alex Wild’s Insect Photographs

Pieces are printed by the professional Bay Photo labs using high-quality papers and archival photo inks. These are not simple posters! Bay Photo will also custom mount, mat & frame images if you choose “add frames & more” when you check out.

Why the sale? I know a portion of my photos go to biology students looking for something buggy to hang on their walls, and to parents of budding young entomologists, and these folks are not in the demographic that typically plays in the fine art market. So I’ve assembled an affordable gallery of some of my best known and biologically informative natural history images priced near cost. An 8×12″ print, for example, is just $9.99. I hope you enjoy them!

Toxomerus hover fly feeding from spiderwort, 16×24″ print on a 3/4″ standout mount. ($45.99/$88.99 unmounted/mounted; Regular price $150/$250).


Sale prices extend to January 1st. If you’d like your prints to arrive by Christmas under a 3-5 day shipping option, order by December 12th.

Drosophila melanogaster white-eyed mutant, 12×18″ print on a 3/4″ standout mount. ($15.99/$42.99 unmounted/mounted; Regular price $60/$120).

How to order my photographs on museum-quality standout mounts

Many of you at the Entomological Society of America Meeting in Austin this week inquired about the simple black standout mounts on display in my booth. Here is how to order them through my website.

1. Choose a photograph. Click on the image you want and it will open large on your screen. At the lower right you will see an “Add to Cart” button. Click it, and choose “this photo”.



2. Choose your paper type and size. I prefer “lustre” for most prints, although “metallic” is zingier for subjects like metallic beetles with a naturally reflective sheen. The prints on display at ESA in Austin were 16×24″ on lustre paper. Click “checkout” when you are ready.


3. Add the mount. In the next page, you choose from a variety of mats, frames, and mounts.


The 3/4″ standout mounts can be found in the “mounting” tab. I also always add the protective coating from the 3rd tab.



4. Proceed to checkout! Click “save” to move to the page where you add your shipping address and payment information.

If you’d like a signed print, email me (alwild [at] and I’ll put in the order to ship to me so I can sign it before sending it along to you. Signing entails an extra shipping charge, depending on where in the world you live.