Macro Photography is a niche in the photography world that many feel is unattainable. It requires a certain amount of expensive equipment, patience and dedication. To many, the resultant photos – though awe inspiring – are not justification enough to spend hard earned cash and time to acquire. To others, like Chuck Wendig, it is just another medium in which to tell a story.
See, Chuck isn’t a photographer by trade. Like many of us, photography is a hobby. But there is no end to this chap’s wealth of creativity: Chuck’s vocation is writing – which is actually how I stumbled upon his work. Maybe creative people generally have more than one outlet. Or perhaps creative people are able to see things differently from the beginning. Whatever the reason, I believe that Chuck’s photography certainly benefits from his imagination that is clearly exhibited in his stories.
The first image you see here is called The Edge. I wanted to start with this one because it is, perhaps, more traditional of macro photography – an exploration of everyday objects that we should all be familiar with. Even without reading the description (or taking note of the title), many of you are able to clearly discern that this is a serrated knife. It’s always interesting to see something like this up close. We commonly think of the surface of the steel to be so smooth, when in actuality it is carved up and grooved as if we were looking at a country dirt road. But that’s the point of macro, to explore the world beneath our vision – a knife becomes a road, a wool sweater becomes a forest, and so on.
I believe that many people don’t attempt Macro Photography because they aren’t exactly sure how to go about shooting in macro. All the rules are certainly out the window, the depth of field is going to be incredibly small, setup alone requires patience and small precise tweaks. I think a lot of attention is spent on the setup and the technical aspects that many, in turn, forget the purpose of the shot. Mr. Wendig, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have that problem. Sure, many of his shots are simple explorations, like The Edge. But many of his photos tell stories; like his next photo, May I Help You?
May I Help You? is, on its surface, a simple macro shot of a mantis. But the angle is unusual for such an insect capture. Despite the insect’s alien form, you can almost pinpoint the insect’s emotions. Is she staring at you? Is she leaning away from you out of distrust? Or is she trying to embrace you in her long arms? And if she does, what will she do next – am I safe? Now of course, the interpretation of Chuck’s photo is certainly influenced by it’s title, May I Help You?, but that sort of leading is permitted. Seeing the title, you are influenced to believe that this mantis is helpful and friendly, and that changes your context and view of the photograph. But nearly every single one of Chuck’s photos are accompanied by some narrative explaining the context or story behind the shot – he is a writer, after all. I generally try to ignore descriptions until I made my own assessment of a photograph – then I’ll read the description to see if I came close. In this particular case, we are told a short little story of how Chuck was lamenting that he would not have seen another mantis before winter comes. But that same day, he was greeted by this lovely specimen, helping Chuck to get one last look before the end of the season.
So what makes this photo so unique? For starters, as I had already mentioned, this is an unusual angle for photographing any insect, even a large one like a Mantis. Head-on shots are not uncommon, but to shoot down the leg of an insect is not something you’ll see often in your science books. The second thing that stands out are the colors. I don’t know what is serving as a background, I do not know whether it is a backdrop placed there specifically for the shot, or if it was perhaps the natural backdrop for the insect at it’s location. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the background provides a contrasting color that compliments the mantis well, pulling color from around its eye and mandibles, but also serves to provide the full vibrance of the insect’s natural color. The framing/crop is important as well. It is framed up close, tight and personal. You don’t even see all of the insect’s antenna. It’s a beautiful shot, but as I said – not typical of a traditional macro shot. See I happen to know that Chuck has read his fair share of comic books, and May I Help You? exhibits more in common with a superhero in watercolor than a typical macro photo. Macro photographers tend to be very technically oriented individuals with scientific minds – still capturing beautiful scenes, of course, but shooting from calculated angles and precise framing. Their goals may be purely experimental and scientific. Chuck’s goal is to recreate the superhero through his lens. Influences can come from anywhere, and Chuck clearly demonstrates that with his friend, the mantis.
The last photo I would like to share with you is perhaps Chuck’s best macro-work, and my favorite from his gallery to date. The photo, The Spider’s Feather, is the ultimate example of just how beautiful the macro world can truly be. The subject is simply a feather in a spider web with tiny water droplets. Simple subjects and simple compositions: Two essential qualities of great macro photography. Title and description aside, this appears, to me, to be a shot of a 3d map of a solar system, or perhaps an intricate piece of machinery. After reading Chuck’s description, I realize that he and I have very different minds. Chuck believes that this is definitive proof that spiders can really fly (I wish photographer’s had a sense of humor). So I was wrong. But if the door prize for being so wrong still permits me to cast my eyes upon this photograph, I’ll take it. The Spider’s Feather is so captivating that every time I view it, I gain some new emotion from the photo. Sometimes, I am just calmed by the photo. Having been shot on a white background, the finished product is high key with only the most subtle details and changes in texture. The feather and water droplets certainly pop, but it appears to be more of a pattern or a cracking piece of ice and it sets my mind at ease. Other times, I look at the photo and my mind is sent into wonderment – dreaming about space, thoughts about the complexity of our universe, and the realization that we are really so small in the big scheme of things. But whatever feeling The Spider’s Feather invokes in you, you can’t deny it’s beauty.
I’m glad to have stumbled upon Chuck’s photostream and his collection. I believe that he has single-handedly renewed my desire to shoot in macro. All of the macro lenses and extension tubes got pushed to the top of my wish list. I would strongly encourage you to check out his photographic works at Flickr at your earliest convenience. You will be introduced to much more of his macro photography, but he has other inspiring works as well. If you are also a reader, I would also suggest you check out his personal website, Terribleminds. If satire (dosed with a healthy serving of British style humor) is your thing, make sure you check Shadowstories, a continuous story penned by Chuck and Martin C. Henley – both talented and humorous writers.
And no, I can’t imagine when Chuck Wendig actually sleeps.