Throughout the pandemic, I have found myself connecting with nature through different means. Like many people who work in the conservation field, I find solace in the outdoors and that’s where I retreat when life is stressful and hard to handle. Lucky for me, through my current job, I live on a nature preserve and can escape whenever I need.
Hiking around the Platte River Prairies or finding somewhere to lay out a blanket and read a book has been a great way to spend my free time and decompress. While out hiking, I always bring a camera, and through that lens I have been able to connect and appreciate nature in a new way. I find that even more true when doing macrophotography, photography of small objects. When you take the time to slow down and notice the little things, a whole new world opens up.
When walking through a grassland, or any natural landscape, it’s easy to focus on the most obvious beauty, like the sunflower above. However, because I had the macro lens on my camera that day, my eye was focused on looking closer. As a result, I was able to capture a beautiful crab spider. Sure, I’ve noticed crab spiders before, but I don’t think I had fully appreciated them.
Before my fellowship, I had only used a DSLR camera in automatic mode and had a very rudimentary understanding of the different aspects of photography. Luckily, my supervisor, Chris Helzer, is a very talented photographer and I’ve learned a great deal from him. Like a lot of people during quarantine, putting energy into learning a new hobby or skill helped to lower my stress levels. I think I would’ve worked on photography skills during my fellowship no matter what, but having more free time because of the lack of other available activities amplified my curiosity.
There are a lot of great things about photography, but one that I appreciate about macro photography is that it can be done anywhere. Yes, I’m lucky and am surrounded by nature every day, but even in the city there are cool insects, flowers, and other things to find in backyards, gardens, and parks. People may not have a plains lubber, like the one above, right outside their door, but I’m sure that there are other grasshoppers. Before taking photos of these insects and taking the time to really look at them, I figured they all looked similar, but that’s not the case at all! They come in all kinds of sizes and colors.
Photography can also be great for creative expression. When I find something I want to take a photo of, there are endless ways to frame the image, use the light, and adjust depth of field. In the image above, I held the feather up to the sun so that it was backlit. This was the first time I had experimented with that, and I’m happy with how it turned out. The creativity is also incredibly personal. There could be 15 photographers that find the same object to photograph, and they could end up with 15 different photographs that are all strong. I’ve found it empowering that at the end of the day, the most important opinion of my photos is my own.
Like everyone, this time is different and stressful for me. However, going out and taking pictures helps ease my mind in a few ways. First, I find it comforting to be able to focus on something so small when there is something so huge happening in the world. Just for a second, I can think about how beautiful the color of a spiderwort flower is instead of the pandemic. I’m also humbled when I see the diversity of life that surrounds me. Even when I think there isn’t anything to take photos of, if I stay still and wait, usually something will come into the frame. Humans may be an important force on the Earth, but we are just one species in a complex web.
Learning photography during the pandemic has taught me to slow down, appreciate the little things, and find beauty where I may not have seen it before. These are valuable lessons that I’ll keep close for the rest of my life.