Meet dalantech - Macro Photographer
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By AnnaKirsten   |   
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When I recently discovered the incredible macro photography of John Kimbler :icondalantech: I was immediately struck by how little real appreciation he seems to be getting for his work.  Of all the macro photographers of bees and other insects I have come across, I'd say he is amongst the very best.  Not only that, but he is very open with ideas for techniques, choosing equipment, choosing the subject and composition, as well as indicating things to watch out for.  A really helpful person with an enormous skill, I really would like to see him get far more attention, both to his informative journals and to his macro photography, which goes up to 4x life-size!

In light of this, I asked him if he would be willing to be interviewed, and I was delighted when he agreed.

The Interview

How long have you been doing photography, and who or what got you started?

I started shooting in 1989 while I was in Singapore (I was in the US Navy at the time). A friend of mine, Eddy Lorham, and I would hike all over the island nation taking photos. Eddy carried a medium format Hasenblad, a few lenses, a tripod, and a couple of film backs around all day and maybe take three images tops. Meanwhile I’d be firing my Minolta 35mm like a paparazzi, burning through a few rolls of print film and not having anything to show for it other than the receipt for the developing. One day I asked Eddy why he only took a few images a day and he said “I only take a shot when I see something worth shooting.” So I asked him to teach me and soon I was only taking a handful of photos.

Even though digital is “free” even today I only put the camera to my eye when I see something worth shooting –no sense in taking a photo that I’ll just end up deleting later. Eddy also got me to shooting color positive slide film back in the day and it paid off when I switched to shooting digital. Slide film reacts to under exposure in the same way that a digital sensor does –colors saturate. Everything that I learned while shooting with Fujichrome Velvia transferred right over to shooting with a digital camera.

Do you have any formal training as a photographer?

None at all. If I had the time and opportunity I’d love to take some classes, but here in Italy it’s not possible.

Is photography your means of earning a living?

I’m a network engineer. If I could pay the rent and support my family with photography I’d switch careers in a heartbeat! Unfortunately the kids would get hungry fast if I quit my day job.

Do you feel that any particular artists/photographers have influenced your work?

Hands down Professor Mark Plonsky has been my mentor. Not only has his work greatly influenced mine, but he would push me to think outside the box and to get closer to my subjects.

Its kinda funny: I’d feel really good about a shot that I took and when I’d bring Mark’s attention to it he’d say “Well, it looks good. But you could have gotten closer.” I’d take another look at the shot and mutter a few choice words under my breath because he was right. So I’d go back and re-shoot the same subject to get a higher magnification image. Even though he says I’ve passed him in skill I’ll always look up to him for all the help he gave me!

I also have to give a nod to Tom Hicks . His natural light close-up photography inspired my own. One thing to keep in mind though is that my technique for shooting macro and close-up photography is completely different than both Mark and Tom. It’s OK to get inspiration from someone, but you really have to take what other people are doing and find ways to adapt their style to your own. If you try to copy someone you’ll never get better than they are, and the chances are good that your photography won’t come close to what they are doing. For those reasons I always encourage people to take what they can from my images and my blog and adapt it to their own style of photography – make it their own. If you walk behind me you’ll always be in my shadow…

What sort of things inspire your photography?

Being able to show common things and creatures in an uncommon way, to display a part of the world that few people can see, draws me in like a magnet. I think I’m seriously addicted to the “wow factor” – the feeling I get when I see something new. It’s a huge reward that’s only topped by being able to share it with other people…

Do you have a preference for the type of things you like to photograph?

I think the more difficult a critter is to get close to the more I like to photograph it. As a kid I use to go hunting a lot and as an adult a camera has replaced a rifle.

Could you give a brief overview of the techniques you use, particularly in respect to your macro photography?

  • I keep my movements slow and even. Predators like snakes and lizards speed up as they get close, and if you get excited at the last second the critter will be gone. Most insects get into some very predictable patterns and if you study them it’s not too difficult to pick up on their habits. For example bees always feed in the same direction (either clockwise or counter clockwise depending on the species) so it’s easy to frame an image and simply wait for the bee to get where you want it.
  • Take advantage of bad weather –most insects are dependent on the heat of the sun to fuel their metabolism. Go shooting right before or after it rains, or any time there is a sudden drop in temperature, and you’ll find insects that can barely move.
  • Go out early – can’t stress that one enough! Most critters need to dry out from the previous night’s dew and warm up to get their metabolism going so catch them before they’ve had their first cup of coffee ;)
  • If an insect is feeding, mating, or cleaning itself then it doesn’t have much brain power left for predator (or photographer) avoidance so you can get close. If the critter isn’t doing anything then it is putting all of its attention into the environment and you won’t get anywhere near it. Don’t waste time trying to get close to subjects that are not occupied.
  • Go for the low hanging fruit: Subjects that are low to the ground, in areas where there is little wind, in places that make it easy for you to brace the camera are the ones you want to spend time trying to photograph. Don’t use up the time you have to shoot chasing insects that don’t want to sit still or that put you at a disadvantage.

Could you pick out 3 of your most favourite images from your gallery and explain why you particularly like them?

Miner Bee HDR by dalantech Miner Bee HDR

The framing and the bee’s wet fur make this shot one of my favorite Miner Bee images from this spring. Add to that the challenge of getting close enough to the critter to take the photo, and that I saw this composition in my head before I took it. Some of my best images don’t just happen (unfortunately) –I actually get the idea for the shot before I take it.

Violet Darter at Life Size 1 by dalantech Violet Darter at Life Size 1

Last March when I started a gallery on Flickr I uploaded what I thought were my best photos just to have some images in it. After reviewing about 18 months of photos I only came up with two dozen that I thought were “portfolio quality” (today I wouldn’t even keep those same images).

Only twenty four frames out of hundreds of images was pretty depressing, so I decided that I either needed to get serious about shooting macro or get out of it. I bought a Canon MPE-65mm macro lens and spent all of 2007 working on composition and lighting. That photo of a Violet Darter dragonfly is the result of all the hard work I put into photography. For that shot I’d move in, take a few frames, back off and chimp the images, adjust the flash heads on the MT-24EX or change the flash exposure compensation, move in again, take a few more frames, make a few more adjustments, etc. But I ended up with a life size photo of a dragonfly with no reflections in the wings…

Covered in Pumpkin Pollen by dalantech Covered in Pumpkin Pollen

Last year I was shooting honey bees that were feeding on the pumpkin flowers at my Mother in law’s farm with little success. They were too deep inside the flowers to properly light them, and they would exit them way too fast. I backed off to watch them feed, and to think of some other way to get the photos that I wanted, when I noticed one of the bees landing a few meters from the pumpkin patch. The bee had stopped to clean the pollen off of itself, and since it was occupied I managed to photograph it at twice life size. The pumpkin pollen is so large that in the original image you can see the barbs on it. That photo was published on the NASA Earth Observatory web site:…

What advice would you give for aspiring photographers?

Photoshop is a tool, so don’t use it as a crutch to compensate for poor technique. Do the majority of your post processing before you press the shutter release. The computer will never be able to recover data that you do not capture with the camera –it will never be that smart. There are a lot of resources available on the web, and you should read them, but there is no substitute for practice. Get to the point where you can view your own work as if it was taken by someone else and pick it apart. Be honest with yourself and comfortable with deleting images that don’t work once you’ve figured out what you did wrong. I read once that the difference between an amateur and a pro is that a pro keeps fewer images…

Is there anything else you'd like to add about what you do?

I maintain a blog about macro photography, , and I share all of my secrets there. I’m also pretty active on the Fred Miranda macro forum… since it’s one of the few places on the net where people go to learn and get constructive feedback on their images. I can’t stand “Barney forums” –I love you, you love me places where you can post an out of focus and centered image of a bee’s backside and someone will pat you on the back and tell you that you’re doing well. I wouldn’t be anywhere near the level I am today if people didn’t point out where I needed to improve, and I’m still learning…

Here is a selection from dalantech's Gallery

Doctor Doolittle Moment by dalantech   Violet Darter at 4x 1 by dalantech   Scarlet Darter at 2.5x by dalantech

Bee Mimic at Life Size 1 by dalantech   Carpenter Ant at 3x by dalantech   Wolf Spider at 3x by dalantech

In closing, I'd like to encourage you all to go and look at John's wonderful gallery, which he is in process of increasing at this time.

I am putting this news article up here under this account because at the moment here are most of my watchers.  However, it was via my :iconannaphotix: account that I came across John's photos, and this interview will be placed in my next journal on that account.

Finally, I have carried out a series of interviews here, all of which are available as links from my journals - please click on :iconannakirsten: to see the full list.

Here is a stamp which I would be very pleased for anyone who has been interviewed by me to use in their journal or shoutboard...

Interviewed Stamp by AnnaKirsten

Thank you :)
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MICHO910722's avatar
Very interesting~I enjoy looking at it~:XD:
Well done~
Callu's avatar
CalluHobbyist Photographer
Great! Love the interview. Extremely modest and concrete. Photography is always a domain of debate. :sprint:
dalantech's avatar
dalantechHobbyist Photographer
Thanks for the interview Anna!!

I'd use the "Affection" Mood gremlin to the left of the post box, but no matter how many times I click on it nothing happens, and I can't find the code for it. It's the little things that drive ya' crazy... ;)
dalantech's avatar
dalantechHobbyist Photographer

Nevermind... :)
TriciaS's avatar
What a lovely feature!..I have really enjoyed looking at such amazing photographs..........and finding out about the brilliant photographer!.....:wow:
dalantech's avatar
dalantechHobbyist Photographer
AmethystUnderwood's avatar
AmethystUnderwoodProfessional Photographer
Very entertaining and informative.. great interview! :clap:
bellchild's avatar
bellchildHobbyist Photographer
Wonderful interview. A great introduction to an amazing macro photographer. :nod::faint:
dalantech's avatar
dalantechHobbyist Photographer
Thanks :)

Anna was very kind to do the interview
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