Shooting Insects For Science – Again

Following the popularity of David’s first interview, we probed some more about his fascinating art. We hope you enjoy this new selection of images, available from Clouds Hill Imaging for schools, laboratories or individuals to grace their walls with some amazing artwork.


DJ: Why did you choose macro photography over more well-known genres like landscapes or portraits?
DS: Too much competition!!! And not as interesting or challenging.

DJ: How do people tend to use your images? Do they study them to learn something new about movement or something, or do they tend to use them as illustrations in reports and articles?
DS: Both; images have illustrated articles and programmes for general public, but text books and learned journals have also published my images.

Bacterial patterns - Patterns of Paenibacillus bacteria on petri dish

DJ: How do you get the specimens you’re going to shoot?
DS: It varies. Tissues, bacteria, parasites are from academic institutions, others are supplied by companies like Rentokil and government labs. Otherwise we collect our own.

DJ: What has been your most challenging shoot?
DS: Moss and Liverwort fertilization video for Bellamy’s Backyard Safari. I couldn’t get the zoospores to swim into the ovary until we sorted out the biochemistry.

Psochid - small insects that infest birds nests and dried vegetable material

DJ: What has been your greatest professional moment so far?
DS: Election to Fellowship of Royal Photographic Society and winning a Royal Television Society Award

DJ: You mostly take the photographs in your studio, but where is the farthest you’ve had to travel to take a photograph?
DS: Kruger Park, South Africa or Monterey, California.

Butchers broom (Ruscus aculeatus) leaf skeleton

DJ: What does a typical day look like for you?
DS: A dark Studio unless I’m collecting or meeting clients or scientists.

DJ: What one thing would you change or improve in your photography?
DS: Depth of field, definition and composition with awkward specimens.

DJ: What is it about macro photography that drives you creatively?
DS: The  challenge of producing an aesthetically pleasing picture of a specimen most people would ignore.

Nomarski light microscopy of a spider web strand

DJ: What is the cheapest piece of equipment you use? What is the most expensive?
DS: You can buy a Micro Nikkor 55mm. F3.5 for £50; it is brilliant and is better than the new and expensive autofocus macro lenses.  To replace my Scanning Electron Microscope now would cost around £100k.

DJ: How do you process the images? Do you have to do something different from other forms of photography?
DS: Scanning Electron Microscope pictures are black and white so we colour them as naturally as possible (sometimes) with Photoshop. Macro and light microscope pictures are de-spotted and converted to Tiff files. Contrast and exposure is also adjusted.

False coloured scanning electron microscope image of mid stage tadpole

DJ: Do you have a macro photography hero? What makes his or her pictures so spectacular?
DS: My buddy Alastair MacEwen is an extraordinary wildlife cameraman, who works for BBC Natural History Unit as well as National Geographic. He has immense patience and determination as well as a great eye for the best shot.

DJ: What other areas of your life do your macro photography skills translate to?
DS: I suppose I have developed a steady hand and a critical sense of composition, so I pull out people’s splinters and appreciate classical art and architecture!!

E.coli Bacterial handprint using time-lapse photography in a heated humid chamber

All images are reproduced courtesy of David Spears © Clouds Hill Imaging Ltd. /CORBIS

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