Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday 5: Hazards in insect photography

This Friday, tribulations I've suffered because of my incessant need to photograph bugs.

I'm smart enough to avoid rattlesnake and black widow bites, to almost always use sunscreen, and I'm never without water. I'm also pretty photography-savvy. There are real issues with photography, like legal considerations; and very real hazards involved with wilderness activities, like wildlife safety and dehydration. These aren't those things.

1. Bites

Bug bites, mosquito bites, bee stings, ant bites, ant bites, ant bites, and - oh yeah - ant bites. I've had them all. A necrotic bite that got all gooey and whitish. So many mosquito bites that they glommed together in a big amoeba-like mass and impeded my vision. I currently have two socks of ant bites, acquired after I got away from the anthill. Apparently they diverted their path just to snack on me.One of the most frequently Googled terms on this computer is "treatment for [name an insect] bites." All of this, while they're leaving my husband and son totally alone.

2. Trespassing

And going off the tour path. And creeping out playground patrons. I'm a huge follower of "Leave No Trace." I never trample off-trail wilderness. And I would never purposely trespass -- not much, anyway. However, I have no such qualms about wandering away from a tour group without warning, lying on the ground, walking over to a park bench (while it's occupied) to stare at its underside, or maybe sort of inching into what might be someone's property. In every case there's no evident reason for my actions, unless others also notice the tiny damselfly or spider clinging to my target. Usually, people probably just think I'm nuts.

3. Stupid-looking sunburn

I'm pasty white. I live in the desert, with something like 350 sunny days a year. You'd think I'd put two and two together by now. But no; at least once a year I forget the sunscreen and end up burned in the most ridiculous patterns. The worst part is, it always looks so dumb. I'm never lying out or even walking upright, so it's not an even tan burn. Camera-strap line is a given. Once I had the silhouette of a butterfly net memory-burned in my thigh. Last time, I not only had a farmer's tan, I had candy-stripe arms from the folds in my skin, as I'd crouched for hours holding my camera out under a harsh sun and over a reflective pond. Real smart.

4. Foot leeches, hair spiders, eyeball gnats, and more

I'm absolutely myopic when I'm photographing insects. I think it's one of my favorite things about the practice -- the full-scale world shrinks down to a single inches-long red damselfly, perched on a blade of marsh grass. It gazes down the length of the blade at me, and if I angle myself just right, it looks like a massive green path leading up to some big beautiful alien. Or the hairs on a dragonfly make a silver forest, shooting up from a powdery blue terrain. I'm so close I actually have to shift my focus to see the giant compound eye, all thirty thousand facets slowly turning my way. And then, in a second, the whole scene vanishes.

I'm so focused on this hidden world that I tend to forget the real one still at work around me. Ironically, it's usually other parts of the microcosm that get me. One time, I'd been crouched in the lake so long, my feet buried in the silky mud, that I had to uproot them with a wet, sucking, vacuum-release sound when my husband finally dragged me to the shore. I sat down to put on my shoes, and realized that the bits of "mud" all over my feet were actually dozens and dozens of tiny leeches, busy hooking themselves into my feet.

Another time I was focused on a dragonfly a few feet away, and failed to notice the network of spiderwebs inches away. There were probably twenty spiders in the huge web, most of which went for a brief but exciting ride as I danced around and flung them from my hair. (Evidently I have a talent for this sort of thing.) The other night, two gnats landed on my eyeball. Prying my eyelid open only seemed to work them even deeper in. I fished around with my finger for some time and extracted part of a carcass. So there's still a gnat body in my skull somewhere.

It's never the really big things -- I never lose track of my son, I remember to drink water occasionally, and I've yet to wander off a cliff. I guess my brain has a fail safe in there somewhere.

5. Having people think I'm totally insane

I've been mistaken for a Dumpster diver (flies), someone abnormally interested in the variety of drugstore condoms (camera waterproofing), a night-stalking weirdo (moths), a loiterer (parking lot lights have the best bugs), or just generally a crazy person, as I crawl around, pockets bulged out with insect paraphernalia, sometimes through the mud or dirt, sometimes at night, often in front of others. I've had to explain why I wanted the thin-lidded food containers (air holes!), why the middle of summer in Arizona rocks (dragonflies!), or why, again, no. I just heard they make good, inexpensive water proofers, OK? Also, I actually considered a fanny pack once. I think that cinches it.

Why do I go to such ridiculous lengths? Because these guys are ridiculously gorgeous. If there aren't many other takers then, sure, I'll muck around and show off the results. And! Come see me tomorrow at Veteran's Oasis Park for their second annual Dragonfly Day. I'll have some photos, and there should be a lot of other cool dragonfly-themed goodies, crafts, and (if you come early) walks. The festivities run from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., and the last walk departs at 9.

I'll hog insect loving if I must. But you should get out there too. Dragonflies are still in season, and they're great "gateway" insects!

I'll even help with de-leeching, de-spidering, or drugstore visits if you want.


Mary said... Best Blogger Tips

I love that you go to such lengths for your work. The results are just beautiful. I think you've found your calling.

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

Ha ha! I've experienced all of these. My favorite stupid tan line occurred when I was actually wearing sunscreen, but I was wearing a skimpy tank top and had put the sunscreen on myself. I evidently missed a large L shaped patch on my back because it was VERY red when I got back home after several hours to bug collecting in the sun. It then turned into a very tan L on my back and lasted about 6 months. Fun! I have also gotten gnats in my eye. They can REALLY hurt too, especially if you accidentally squish one. And any adult who's ever carried a bug net has definitely gotten the long stares from other adults wondering if the person carrying the net is doing something legitimate or just plain nuts. On the other hand, if you want to be left alone at a park, all you have to do is bring a bug net with you and occasionally run around with the net over your head yelling, "AAAAAHHHHHHHHH!" as you go and EVERYONE will give you a wide berth. Well, everyone over the age of 10 at least. :)

mike3k said... Best Blogger Tips

What lens do you use for those close-ups?

Barbara said... Best Blogger Tips

They truly are beautiful - thank you for going to such lengths to show them to us!!

Thérèse said... Best Blogger Tips

Wonderful wonderful pics! Have you tried to eat garlic every day against mosquito bites??

Kim Hosey said... Best Blogger Tips

Mary: Thanks! I think so too.

DFW: Ha; I'm sure you can more than identify with all of these! I've been down the missed-a-patch route as well. And gnats in the eye ... just, ugh!

mike3k: Just the kit lens that came with the camera for most of these. (The hairy blue dasher was a rented macro lens.) I'm far too poor to buy a heavy-duty macro.

Barbara: Thank you very much! I'm glad the effort pays off now and then.

Thérèse: It's a wive's tale, sadly, I'm pretty sure. I do in fact eat lots of garlic, but it only drives away humans. :-)

Hamlet's Lair said... Best Blogger Tips

oh boy, you make me like insects! :) awesome images! i'm not sure if i'm in love with the subject, the camera, or the photographer! lol! amazing job!

Mischievous Angel said... Best Blogger Tips

This is absolutely beautiful. Definitely sharing on my facebook.