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Don Komarechka
1,334,043 followers -
Nature & Landscape Photographer, Teacher, gadget geek. :)
Nature & Landscape Photographer, Teacher, gadget geek. :)

1,334,043 followers
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Angel Wings
This image has a sad beginning. Out for a walk with my wife and daughter a few mornings ago, my wife spotted a Monarch Butterfly, upside down on the grass beside the sidewalk. It was dead from unknown causes, and hadn’t yet been found by many scavengers. A solitary Citronella Ant was quickly removed and we took the poor butterfly home. As a “mad scientist” photographer, I had an idea to make it “look” alive again.

The legs were still flexible and it was easily posed on top of an Echinacea flower where I intended to shoot it in ultraviolet fluorescence. Some insects glow to a shocking degree, but this Monarch and my chosen flower was dark and cold, feeling a little lifeless and sombre. It works, but it’s not the image I was after: http://donkom.ca/bts/DKP_0535.jpg

Some flowers fluoresce with brighter colours, but nothing at this time in our gardens fit the bill as a perch for this little butterfly. The wings of this butterfly didn’t glow, so they rely on the light reflected off of them to show their colours. Lucky for me, I had some orange fluorescing pigment powder in my studio for just such an occasion – you never know when it’s going to be needed for this kind of photography! Because the pigment is fluorescing in the band of colour that the wings reflect to give their orange colour, we can have the pigment nearing the brightest levels the camera can detect while giving enough light to the wings to have them come to life.

Applying the powder was tricky. I did this with a toothpick, dabbing and spreading it around the center of the flower as well as the forward petals, trying not to get any of it on the butterfly. Aside from a few small spots I was largely successful, and the powder gives enough light to make this butterfly glow once again.

This is a three-shot focus stack to give me extra depth, combined by hand with layer masks in Photoshop. I typically take a purely manual approach when I have five or fewer layers to put together. Beyond focus stacking, cropping and some basic brightness adjustments, there was almost nothing else done in post processing to get this image, except for one key ingredient: The background. The purplish glow of the background was there to some degree in the originals, but was placed in post to guide your eyes to the magic in the center of the frame. As subtle as it is, it makes a big difference on the overall composition. I’ve said before that the background can help define a macro photograph, and this is a great example.

I was on the fence about even creating this image, since unless I don’t you we found a dead butterfly you might mistake it for a living creature. It’s the only time I’ve used a dead insect for a photo like this, and I hope it doesn’t detract from the beauty of the image. Monarch Butterflies have been in a steady decline, and this one stays in a perpetual vigil over its brothers and sisters. I’m not sure if it starved on its journey or if there was other external factors, but climate, agriculture and destruction of habitat could all play a role. This was the first Monarch we’ve seen this year, and thankfully I’ve seen a half-dozen others since then, all alive and well. Consider this image as artwork that depicts the struggle of nature surrounded by the influences of man, if nothing else.
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Hey everyone, I need your help.

I have been rejected by the Canada Council for the Arts in being defined as a “visual artist” for the purposes of applying for artist grants. This is not only confusing, but incredibly frustrating as there are a number of exciting projects that I’d like to dedicate time and resources to completing and this is exactly what these grants are designed to provide.

In conversations with the person who rejected my application today, there is a very narrow window of criteria that can allow someone to be accepted as an artist – essentially, I need to have had my artwork selected to be displayed in curated art museums or galleries.

- My work being displayed this fall in the Canadian Science and Technology Museum doesn’t qualify, as it’s not an art institution.

- My work designing a coin for the Royal Canadian Mint doesn’t qualify, as apparently currency isn’t art.

- Being featured on an episode of The Nature of Things holds no weight.

- My accreditations with the Professional Photographers of Canada didn’t count, apparently as there are many photographers that are not considered to be creators of modern art.

- Awards I have won (or have been nominated for) are not directly from curators of art content.

- Having my images on the covers of books and magazines is also irrelevant.

- Presentations and workshops don’t qualify, as teaching photography is not synonymous with creating art.

- My work for documentary programs like Forces of Nature (BBC) and Mosquito (Discovery Channel) aren’t applicable, even though my artistic efforts in both of those projects ended up as the title card.

There is an incredibly narrow definition to be considered a visual artist, and it’s one I never pursued before because I have found significant success away from traditional venues such as art galleries. Not that I have anything against them (I routinely visit them), it just hasn’t been on my radar. Because of the incredibly persnickety focus on what determines someone to be a visual artist, I cannot apply for any grants.

So, how can you help?

If you have a gallery near you, or you know someone that can put me in touch with curators at any public art gallery in Canada, make that connection happen. It would be my honour to put on a display of snowflakes, water droplets, infrared, you name it – or just an assortment of my best portfolio pieces of “the unseen world”.

I’m NOT asking you to complain to the Canada Council for the Arts about their decision. They have their rules, and they are modeled in a very traditional mindset in terms of validating the definition of a “visual artist”. While I doubt any of you would consider me anything less than this, I didn’t walk a predictable path to get where I am and I don’t fit the model. They won’t change their rules for me, I simply need to fit their definition.

So, a note to gallery curators: my largest pieces are 70” x 40” and smallest are 8”x8”, either fine art photographic prints, stretched canvas, or metal. Many images have a “behind the scenes” narrative and supporting images to keep people thinking and admiring the work for longer than a quick glance.

Case in point – the image attached to this message is one of my favourite water droplet images to date, titled “Essence of Reverie”. It was made with a Prairie Smoke wildflower seed clamped in place just under the surface of water in a bowl, filled to the brim, on my kitchen table. In behind is placed a variety of Osteospermum, otherwise known as an African daisy. The flower makes the out of focus background, but pops into focus inside each of the water droplets because they act like lenses and refract an image of the flower.

This shot was a challenge for a number of reasons beyond what you might imagine. If any light from the flash hit the clamp, you’d see it in the shot; very careful positioning of the light is required to predominantly hit the flower in the background which then illuminates the scene. Prairie Smoke seeds also “animate” when they get wet – twisting and turning in interesting ways. This makes it impossible to predict where the flower will bend and the frame needs to be re-composed on the fly – which is one of the reasons why this 15-image focus stack is shot entirely handheld.

Not only was the camera handheld, but so was the flash. In a similar way to how a police officer might hold both a flashlight and a gun at the same time, my left arm goes underneath the camera for support and my left hand holds the flash on the right side of the camera. From there, it’s all in the wrist to get the proper angle!

Here’s a behind-the-scenes image to go along with this description: http://donkom.ca/bts/DKP_0414-BTS.jpg

If you think such material is fit for a curated gallery exhibition, my e-mail is don@komarechka.com – I look forward to hearing from you. :)
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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 – don@komarechka.com

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. :) https://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/mosquito/full-episodes/mosquito (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!

https://youtu.be/wkHbZgKb9_I

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!

https://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/mosquito/full-episodes/mosquito
(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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbBhUIgrM-o )

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: http://donkom.ca/bts/DKP_9421-VIS.jpg

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 maxmax.com ( https://www.maxmax.com/shopper/category/9187-filters ). 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: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Kyoei-Kuribayashi-T-Mount-Variant-35mm-F3-5-Lens-Filter-Set-UV-Photography/272557822799 - 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: http://donkom.ca/bts/DKP_9421-IR.jpg
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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: https://www.google.com/nikcollection/ ) 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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkom/11499384696/ - 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: http://www.kerbtier.de/Pages/Fotos/FotoLargeN/Curculionidae/Ceutorhynchus-assimilis-n.jpg - 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 don@komarechka.com if you’re interested. :)
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