Where most see bugs, Darrell Gulin sees beauty. His macro portraits of beetles are studies in color and light. A respected nature photographer, Darrell’s approach is both scientific and artistic; he often places his subjects on mirrors to showcase their iridescent underbellies, or arranges the beetles in geometric patterns that recall stained glass windows. He spoke to us recently about lighting, patterns, and the best way to “soften” a beetle.
CORBIS: ARE BEETLES COOPERATIVE PHOTO SUBJECTS? HOW DO YOU ACCESS SO MANY DIFFERENT SPECIES?
DARRELL: The size, sheen, and accessibility of the subjects are the main challenges of beetle photography. I do lots of research on the Internet to acquire beetle specimens. I’ve found suppliers of beetles from Canada to Southeast Asia and Australia. I look for subjects with interesting patterns, colors, sizes, and shapes. Some beetles go for over a hundred dollars. The subjects I photograph are not endangered or else have CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) permits. They are all dead, but they must be imported and then placed in a “softing” box to form and shape their legs and antennae. They are placed in a tupperware type container between damp paper towels for at least five hours. Once they’re softened I use tweezers to position them.
CORBIS: WITH THEIR WHITE BACKGROUNDS AND GEOMETRIC ARRANGEMENTS, YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS SPOTLIGHT THE BEAUTY OF CREATURES MANY PEOPLE DISMISS AS “CREEPY CRAWLIES”. DO YOU HOPE TO CHANGE POPULAR PERCEPTIONS OF BEETLES WITH YOUR IMAGES?
DARRELL: I travel and speak for Canon as an Explorer of Light and I love showing the beetles and all of their colors and forms. I’m trying to show them in a totally different light from that of “creepy crawlies”, and often even the most timid people are truly taken with the beetle images.
CORBIS: YOUR NATURE IMAGES, ALONG WITH YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS OF BIRD FEATHERS AND TULIPS, SHOW A FASCINATION WITH PATTERNS IN NATURE. AS A NATURE PHOTOGRAPHER, WHAT DRAWS YOU TO THESE INTRICATE DETAILS AS OPPOSED TO, SAY, GRAND LANDSCAPES AND LARGE MAMMALS?
DARRELL: Since I first picked up a camera, I’ve had a real love for patterns in nature. Feathers and beetles have allowed me to develop and refine this even further.
CORBIS: TELL US ABOUT THE EQUIPMENT YOU USE.
DARRELL: I photograph with Canon cameras and lenses. My macro lens of choice is the Canon 180mm, which allows me to control the background and have a good working distance from the subject. Also, I use studio soft boxes to hold down on the shine from the beetles — a flash would just kick back too much light.
CORBIS: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO TRAVEL AND SHOOT?
DARRELL: I travel the world four or five months every year, and over the years I’ve found three areas that are my very favourite places to photograph: East Africa with the savannah and wildlife, South Georgia with all of the king penguins, and my backyard. I find that 40% of all my yearly sales come right from my backyard.
See more of Darrell’s intricate insects at Corbis.