With the digital camera revolution of the last ten years, photography has become ubiquitous. Everyone has a camera, it seems- anything from a smart phone to the crazy money draining Canon that I use and beyond.
And we seamlessly share thousands of those photos to an online presence. It's opened up a world of easily gained possibilities, now that everyone is a photographer.
Often, we don't aim that high. We choose to share the important things we're having for lunch. We take and enjoy cat photos and hundreds of snaps of babies in bizarre flower headbands, post constant selfies. Anyone would think that mediocrity has become our premier online visual language. It's the pile-em-high, sell-em-cheap style of photography. It's understandable, even useful sometimes, but in the rush to preserve and share the minutiae of our lives, we can lose sight of the satisfaction to be found from taking the time to carefully craft a decent single photograph.
Don't get me wrong, I love looking at thousands of tacky photos of flower-headbanded babies. Who doesn't enjoy laughing with comic horror at every new pastel indignity crammed on the head of every single baby human in your friends' photographs? But this blog post isn't really about that.
Digital technology is amazing. It defines most of our modern life, threading through it like a base-2 mycelium. And the speed of that revolution means that the recent past is repeatedly discarded and forgotten. When was the last time you thought about those bulky cathode ray tubed televisions, tape players, even CDs? Or missed the fish-pout selfies, marvelled at the countless Facebook baby photos from two years ago, so dated and unfashionable now with their slightly different flower headbands?
Cameras have followed the same steep arc of improving their technology. Even fifteen years ago, when digital cameras began to become truly popular, there was snobbery and distain from most serious photographers. Now, it's safe to say, digital can equal, sometimes surpass film and we're mostly won over. It's a wonderful time to be taking photographs.
I've been taking photos of small things for quite a long time now, though I only took it seriously for the last five years. Over that time, I've improved my equipment and techniques in a far shallower arc of improvement than the technology I use. I'm a slow learner.
For me, a digital camera has proved to be the best way for me to explore the tiny world. My set-up means I can achieve magnifications from x1 to x10 in the field, easily enough to capture the mesofauna that I love, without having to use a microscope. There's a wonderful satisfaction in looking at hard-gained photos on a computer. Zooming in, finding details you missed, discovering behaviour that your eye missed but the camera caught. I honestly think that digital technology is a better fit for macro and micro photography than nearly any other type of photography. And even though I can easily shoot over a thousand photos a day, it doesn't matter. I can delete every photo that doesn't make the grade. I've taken over 170,000 photos so far on my 5D Mark iii. Using film, this wouldn't have been possible.
At high magnifications, it's usual to be hand-focusing photos in increments less than 0.1mm. It's also dark down the viewfinder and you're chasing something under 1mm big with an arm-long camera set up weighing a few kgs.
Each photo is difficult. Extreme macro photography is hard to learn, hard to do and every photo is a micro struggle with nature, with lighting, exposure... It's easy to get stressed and frustrated, to feel like throwing your camera at a tree and never touching one again. Or find yourself wondering what it might be like to go on a walk without constantly thinking about what might be under a leaf or a log.
There are often hours spent walking, painful bites, aches, feeling clammy and hot, or cold and wet, uncomfortably kneeling for hours on end to see and record a world that few may care about. It's crazy. But it's the best feeling ever when it goes right.
So I encourage you to take the plunge. Remember, every day spent chasing invisible arthropods is a day not having to look at millions of photos of fake satin roses flopping on a grubby headband crammed on a wispy-haired, snot-faced child's head. So it's all good.