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Don Komarechka
Nature & Landscape Photographer, Teacher, gadget geek. :)
Nature & Landscape Photographer, Teacher, gadget geek. :)

Don Komarechka's posts

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Dragon Mosaic
Today was the day. I was able to capture something I had been hoping for since the beginning of summer – a dragonfly glowing under ultraviolet fluorescence… and here she is. Read on!

This female Twelve-spotted Skimmer was in my garden. I recently purchased a large bug net to try and get one of these beauties to cooperate, as they decidedly wanted nothing to do with me. A quick swing of the net and she was mine. I was hoping she would be more cooperative, but I didn’t want to hurt her, so a quick dip into the freezer for 3-4 minutes made cooperation much easier. I’ve done this with other insects before to put them into a temporary “hibernation”, which gives just enough time to setup and take the photograph before normal activity resumes. I hate to do it, but this shot required a controlled studio environment that I wouldn’t get any other way.

When she awoke, I placed her on a Bee Balm flower – one that she had been hunting nearby outside. I knew from previous experience that these flowers would glow red, and it was my hopes that the wings here would glow blue in contrast. Like winning the lottery I was right – bam! I’m still a little giddy from the moment I first saw the results.

Some insects have wings that will fluoresce under UV light, but this is drastically in the minority. The only other insect I’ve seen this with is the cicada. Based on its larger size, I also tried to shoot bumblebees and damselflies in UV but their wings are still completely transparent. So are honeybees, house flies, hoverflies, and wasps – at least the species I’ve tested. Even a smaller species of dragonfly I looked at later in the day had non-fluorescing wings. You never know what you’re going to get until it jumps out at you!

This image was shot in nearly complete darkness so that there is no visible light that makes any impact on the image. Everything you see here is light that has entered the visible spectrum from the ultraviolet spectrum – fluorescence. This is a view of nature rarely seen and never seen outside of “laboratory environments”… yet it can be so incredibly beautiful. Of particular note is the pattern in the wings – like lighter blue tiles were chosen in the mosaic to radiate in curving lines away from the wing muscles, captivating patterns emerge.

My best guess on these patterns has to do with cell thickness – these lines would be thicker and offer support through the wing structure, similar to the frame of an airplane. It might have something to do with “fueling” the wings like human muscles have a blood supply, but I don’t think the wings are the active component here. I’m not an entomologist, but I’d like to hear from them on this!

This is a three image focus stack, which is very difficult to do in UV fluorescence due to the recycle time of the flashes. 2-3 seconds between shots in the dark? I took about 10 shots just to be sure, but the dragonfly was moving after the first few – thankfully I got what I needed to get wing sharpness from tip to tip. This in my top 5 of UVIVF (ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence) images so far, with more to come I’m sure!

This kind of photography is an incredible small niche and required very specific custom-made equipment that… isn’t cheap. I’m happy to do one-on-one workshops with my gear however – if you want to learn this, just send me an e-mail –

If you want to see more of my work in action, check out the documentary film “Mosquito” on Discovery. If you see any fluorescing insects, that’s me. :) (content is US region locked, sorry everyone in Canada and elsewhere!)

Epilogue: Shortly after I took the image, this girl started to get really active and I quickly put her outside. She flew away, and is hopefully roaming the gardens again – unless I scared her off!

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Check out my “mad scientist” setup while shooting for the Discovery documentary “Mosquito” with this behind-the-scenes video dedicated exclusively to my ultraviolet fluorescence work for the film!

If you’ve ever been curious how my UV fluorescence work is produced, this little “bonus feature” will give you some insight into the process. Thrilled to be featured in this segment!

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Watch “Mosquito” on Discovery and catch some of my best photographic work with insects!
(documentary can be watched in full if you live in the United States. For everyone else, you might find it available on your regional Discovery website or you can watch a trailer for the documentary here: )

I’m credited as the “Macro Photographer” on this documentary, though all of the photographic stills taken are played out cinematically via focus pulls or rotations. It was a complicated project to work on, but I got to wear my geek hat through the entire process and do things that haven’t been done before.

I shot ultraviolet fluorescing imagery of the insects featured in the documentary as well as the rotating specimens on pins that are featured throughout the film. I’m honoured to have my efforts on this documentary film used as the title card and heavily in the title sequence, as well as throughout the film.

Canadian Premiere of this documentary to be announced soon!

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Invisible Attraction
This image is a fun example of “ultraviolet reflectance”, which is different than the “ultraviolet fluorescence” images I’ve been posting lately. At first glance it might not be as transformative as the fluorescing images but take a look at what this looks like in ordinary light:

This is the sort of vision that insects might see. To further that, it was shot in natural sunlight to mimic the right amount of ultraviolet light. Insect vision is far more complex than this, but we’re peeking being the curtain here in some interesting ways. Some flowers, like this dandelion and these forget-me-nots, change their reflectivity characteristic in UV in a substantial way from what we would normally see. Patterns arise that are normally invisible to us, but what if we could see them? That dandelion has a bulls-eye target in the center!

The Forget-me-nots are equally interesting, as some flowers are brightly reflecting UV light while the neighbouring flowers absorb all of it. This almost checkered pattern could be an insect attractant as well, and whole I’ve never studied insect behaviour I believe these patterns exist to bring pollinators to the table.

I’m sure many of you are asking an important question: how can the camera capture this? It starts with modifying the camera to “full spectrum”. This removes filters in front of the sensor that block infrared and ultraviolet light and limits the camera to the range of light that human eyes can see. Once the full range is opened up, we need to limit things down to just the spectrum we want, in this case UV. There are two filters that I use here to be completely certain that all visible and infrared light is blocked, but that UV light passes through: The XNite 330C and the XNite BP1 available from ( ). It’s important that you have full blockage of the infrared spectrum, as even 1% of IR light can equal that of the UV light that reaches the camera and that would seriously contaminate your results.

The next thing to consider is lens choice. I found that my Canon 50mm F/1.4 lens is a great choice because it has fewer lens elements and a simpler optical formula. The glass and coatings will block or reflect UV light, so simpler lenses tend to be better choices for this kind of photography. If you are able to find a lens dedicated to UV work it’ll likely have quartz elements instead of glass, but expect to pay upwards of $6000 for the gear. I went the less expensive route. There are also some vendors that sell lenses known for their UV transmission and are sold for VERY cheap on eBay: - worth the purchase if you’re considering this kind of work, it’s the cheapest part of the equation!

I’ll be honest – most flowers are uninteresting in UV reflectance. Some flowers have exceptional patterns, but it’s a bit of a guessing game. The process of finding the right flowers can be enjoyable though, and getting a good combination of unusual UV characteristics can make for an interesting image – like this one.

Bonus round: here’s what the same scene looks like in infrared:

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Unseen Mountains
In the middle of the Yukon Wilderness, you’ll likely encounter sights like this. Further north and more inland than the Rockies, the Yukon is covered with mountains that create a rich and textured landscape. Few people get to see these, and even fewer capture them in infrared light. View large!

This image was taken during an expedition in 2014 where I was traveling with a group of hunters, and I didn’t give it much attention at the time – I just rediscovered it spent the time today to edit it. For those of you that enjoyed yesterday’s snowflake photograph during a heat wave, this one might help a bit more!

Much of the image is in shadow which makes the classic infrared “glow” of foliage a little less obvious, even more so with an evergreen forest in the background (deciduous trees tend to reflect more infrared light). The reason for shooting this image in infrared was more to do with how the sky would turn out. The nature of infrared photography pushes clear skies darker while the clouds brighter, effectively amplifying the contrast when you have a nice play between those two elements in the frame. The choice to shoot this in infrared is what gives the image its depth!

The colours here are “false”, in the sense that infrared light isn’t mapped to any colours that we can perceive with our own eyes and minds. As with most of my infrared work, I try to re-map these colours into something familiar – a blue sky. This involves swapping the red and blue colour channels in Photoshop as well as some hue/saturation shifts, but the process is fairly straightforward and mostly automated.

One of the key techniques that I’ve been using lately for my landscape work has been to run a version of the image through Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 (free software: ) which does a great job at creature “structure” in black & white images. This monochrome version of the image is added back to the original image in Photoshop as a layer with its blending mode set to “Luminosity” which allows the colour to be added back into the enhanced monochrome image. It’s a shame that Google has stopped updating the Nik Software Collection, but for now – it still works like a charm!

I haven’t shared any infrared work in a while – I need to get some of these off of my archive storage and finally edited and shared!

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Happy Independence Day!
To all of my friends, family and colleagues in the United States of America – have an excellent Independence Day! I chose to dig through my unedited snowflakes from last winter to find this gem, almost like a frozen firework. View large!

Originally photographed February 15th of this year, this was one of many snowflakes that I just couldn’t edit over the winter months for lack of time. It has a few unusual features in the center, but it’s largely what many people would consider a “classic” snowflake for a classic celebration.

The center of this crystal is interesting on three levels. If we look at the very center, you’ll notice that this crystal began as a column that grew plate-like crystals from each side – the evidence for this is the tiny hexagon shape seen through the ice. This little hexagon is a smaller plate on the opposite side of the crystal that stayed small while the other side grew, probably because it was facing the direction of incoming water vapour. That scenario is common; I’ve seen many dozens of snowflakes with similar features. What sets this snowflake apart is that it is also a “split plate”.

A split plate is when two plates complete for water vapour and some corners on one side “win”, while the remaining corners grow out from the other plate. As soon as one corner of a plate is larger than its parallel competition, the battle is over – the larger footprint gathers more water vapour and it grows exponentially. This in itself is also very common. What I don’t think I’ve ever seen before is a “jewel-like” plate on one side and a split plate on the other, because it would require three plates at the origin and a column would typically only have two ends.

Typically, of course. On rare occasions I have seen plate-like growths start to form in the center of a column, sometimes due to collisions with super-cooled water droplets that freeze on impact and create a new nucleation point. Here’s an example of this: - we also see small dark circles on the surface of today’s snowflake that indicate collisions with these same droplets (called “rime” when they accumulate in greater numbers).

A secondary plate may have formed to make this little snowflake extra confusing, but the magic for me is that it remains balanced. The beginnings may have been unusual and somewhat asymmetric, but the final snowflake feels like there is equal weight distributed on each branch. They fit together nicely, even though the branches are certainly not symmetrical. A thing of beauty no matter how you look at it!

Notice how I kept politics out of this write-up? I’d like to keep it that way in the comments, even though the word “snowflake” has taken on political meanings recently. Let’s just celebrate a great historical event and enjoy a fun macro photograph. Cheers to you, USA. Happy 241st Birthday!

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Midnight Dancer
I couldn’t make it out to photograph the Canada Day fireworks this year due to a scheduling conflict, but I found something even better in my own backyard. These fluorescing flowers feel almost magical, and the icing on the cake is the spider. View large!

Can anyone guess what kind of flower this is? It’s beautiful and mostly white/yellow in regular light with a half-globe starburst flower. One of the joys of having such beautiful gardens when we bought our house is these little surprises – I don’t know what it’s called, but it comes back every year. Periodically I’ll walk around our yard at night with an ultraviolet light to see what fluoresces in interesting ways, making a list of the most interesting finds and shooting them when the conditions are right.

My wife was helping me by holding a UV light over the subject while I positioned three flashes modified for exclusive UV output around the subject. After a few test shots, I noticed the spider. He (or she?) was originally on the underside of a flower, but with a small amount of convincing I was able to get it to walk around to the front to pose for the shot. With a slightly green glow that rivals the brightness of the fluorescing flower, the two make a great pair.

Subjects like this are tricky to shoot for many technical reasons. Highest on the list is the amount of light that actually bounces back in the visible spectrum. With so little light, I know that I can’t shoot with a small aperture for greater depth, but there are other ways around that. This image was made with my Canon EF 24mm F/1.4L II lens at its closest focusing distance and cropped in for the composition. Wider angle lenses tend to have a greater depth of field at any given aperture, so this worked in my favour here to get the main flower and the spider both sharp in a single frame. Even shooting at F/10 with a wide-angle lens, the flowers furthest from the camera are still soft – it makes for an interesting balance.

Keep in mind that this is NOT what some insects would see. Many insects (bees, etc.) can see into the ultraviolet spectrum, but they would see this light directly reflected alongside all of the visible light. Patterns in flowers appear in UV reflectance that we can’t see with our own eyes, but this image is different. Nothing can see this way. There is no natural light source that emits only UV light and no visible light, which is required to see this dim fluorescence so brightly. No creature in nature has a view quite like this, and that makes it even more interesting to explore.

You never know what will look interesting with this technique until you give it a shot. Waiting for my editing time is a snail, edelweiss flower, hosta flower and some interesting patterns in my mulberry leaves. It has turned into a fun series of work this summer!

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Weevil in Wonderland

It’s amazing how transformative ultraviolet fluorescence can be. This is a black weevil sitting on a white daisy to our eyes, but when photographed with intense ultraviolet light, the fluorescing light bouncing off is magical. View large and read on!

I was out for a walk with my daughter yesterday and along the road was a small patch of daisies. I was going to pick one for her, but I realized she had already fallen asleep. I still went to pluck one for later, but noticed a very tiny weevil resting in the center. This quickly became MY flower, and while my daughter slept in her stroller I hurried back home to get this weevil unto my UV studio setup.

For reference, this is likely the species of weevil that is in my image: - the Cabbage Seed Pod Weevil.

Weevils are generally cooperative insects, and this one was also sluggish from a colder night. I could gently poke it’s backside to get him to move in the direction I wanted, towards the outer edge of the petals. He was still somewhat unpredictable, but eventually this pose happened and I thought it was more dynamic “hanging off” than just a static resting position. Shortly after the image was taken, he warmed up and became quite active and I was unable to get the same level of cooperation. That’s quite alright – I already got the shot I was after.

The flashes I’m using only emit ultraviolet light, which the camera cannot directly see. If UV light bounced back to the camera, we’d get a black image. The visible light that bounces off the subject has fluoresced from the UV spectrum to give us what you’re looking at. UVIVF or UltraViolet-Induced Visible Fluorescence is the physics at work here – nothing special about the camera, it’s unmodified – it’s all about getting a purely UV-only light source.

Most things fluoresce, but to such a small degree that we would never know it. I’ve modified Yongnuo 685 flashes to remove a UV blocking filter and then adding two 77mm filters to the front of the flash head: a MidOpt BP365 and a Hoya U340. Each of these block the visible spectrum almost entirely, but each one bleeds a bit on opposite ends of visible (one red, the other purple). Combined, the isolate UV very nicely. They’re not cheap, however! In order to get enough light for this image to be made, I need three of these flashes at point-blank range at full power.

Even with that much UV light, this image required ISO 8000. While the depth of field is very shallow, F/8 was used to get as much in focus as possible at roughly 2:1 magnification and cropped in heavily from there. Technically speaking this image is just barely possible to be made – it pushes limits. Visually, we end up with something out of this world – a white flower with a black beetle become something enchanting.

While I can’t explore UV photography with large groups, I most certainly run private workshops in this area! Just send a note to if you’re interested. :)

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Maple Leaf Refraction
A fun twist on my “Maple Leaf Flag” image that I thought I’d share today as well! This image consists of a spider web that is sprayed with water, and a print of the image placed in behind, upside-down. When light refracts through a lens it flips, so the upside-down image returns to the camera in the correct orientation. Each water droplet acts like a little lens, showing us the image in behind!

Thinking the number of droplets might be close to 150, I counted them – almost exactly 200. A little room to grow is never a bad thing! Like the past 150 years, some droplets have had more impact and are more noticeable than others but all of them make up the web of our history.

To create an image like this, the flash is placed off camera at a fairly perpendicular angle to the lens – this keeps the catch-light from the flash off of the fronts of the droplets. The red background is actually the out-of-focus center leaf from the image. Usually when I create refraction images with flowers, the center of the flower – and any colour it possesses, becomes the background.

I tried to get the web to be parallel to the focal plane of the camera, but it’s hard to get everything perfectly aligned. A few frames were “focus stacked” to get most of the web nice and sharp, but a little fall-off in the bottom left corner helps give the image a little bit of visual direction. This was one of my first attempts at focus stacking and my first experiment using something other than a flower from a refraction; so much was learned when creating this image!

If you’re going to use an image as a background and refraction object, a size of around 6” x 6” tends to work nicely. Square formats work best so that you get the refraction filled as completely as possible but without losing anything off the edges that you might have wanted inside the droplets. If you see the edges of the print, just move it closer to the droplets.

These are incredible fun images to make and I teach workshops that give you the tools and skills required to make them:

Wishing everyone a continued Happy Canada Day!


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Happy Canada Day!
Today is a great day to be reminded of what it means to be Canadian, 150 years after confederation. It’s hard to define Canada by this number however, as the first treaty signed between the French and the First Nations was in 1701, and Newfoundland only joined Canada in 1949 to create the country we know today. Still, this is a big day - and one we should all celebrate!

I share this image every Canada Day, not only because it’s the best image I have for such an occasion but because it marks the beginning my exploration of photography, art, and visual storytelling. It was an idea that took many months to execute, combining bright red maple leaves with freshly fallen snow. We don’t reliably have the right kind of snow early enough in the year to expect these conditions to fall in my lap, so the leaves needed to be preserved.

Imagine this: Still living at home with my mom and stepdad, I head out to gather red maple leaves and begin ironing them between sheets of wax paper – “for a project” – at age 23. There was some concern for me at the time, but my actions were justified a few months later in the heart of winter when the right kind of snow arrived. Laying out the leaves in a way to represent our flag, the concept was a huge success. It was just the beginning of my crazy ideas that would define my career – it all began with this image.

This image also happens to be my most stolen image of all time. Imitation is one thing – many people have copied this concept in different ways for their own work… but if you see this image floating around the internet today, there’s a good chance that it was used without permission, credit, or compensation… it’s a strange world we live in. In previous years I’ve written this post as a sort of PSA on how to defend your work from such misuse. On one hand it’s a compliment that people enjoy the work enough to share it, but for an artist making a living from their work, this can be a huge problem. It’s one thing to get compliments, but what if the image isn’t credited? Photography is an art form that stands somewhat apart from the artist that created it. Unlike music where you know the artist without anyone telling you, the creator of an image (or any visual art) quickly becomes lost.

That said, PLEASE share this post! Google+ gives the proper attribution back to me and if you enjoy my work I’d greatly appreciate it. :)

Canada is a young nation no matter how you look at it, and our culture continues to grow with each new generation and each new idea. As a society, we should foster the creative endeavours of those around us. We are a diverse nation, and an inclusive one. We strive for the greater good at home and abroad, where our armed forces are known for their exceptional work in winnings battles, but also preventing them and keeping peace. Our politicians aren’t perfect (hah – there isn’t such a thing) but in the big picture it could be much worse. We have more open space and natural beauty than you could explore in a lifetime. I’m proud to be Canadian, and happy to be doing my part to make this country an even better place. Wishing every Canadian reading this post a Happy Canada Day!

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