Macro Photography, Staying Centered, and Removing the Insect Eww-Factor with Joseph Ferraro
Focusing on the tiny things living all around him bring this conservation photographer a sense of calm, clarity, and purpose in his creativity.
If there's one realm of photography that gets me to stop scrolling every single time without fail, it's macro.
Macro has this inherent magic to it. It gets you to see the world in ways that you never would have or could have seen it. It gets you to see beauty in places that you don't expect to see beauty.
Macro photography is miraculous, and I think the world of macro photographers who are really good at their craft. And one of the folks who I absolutely love following because he is so good at his craft is Joseph Ferraro.
An advertising creative in his day job, he spends his off hours creating fine art level photography of insects living in his yard.
If you're not already a fan of macro photography, my guess is you'll have a craving to explore this niche by the end of the episode!
- what it's meant for him to delve into macro photography
- how he became an accidental naturalist
- what macro means for him as a coping mechanism through difficult situations, from COVID to grief
- what it means to get work out in front of audiences and help them see insects in a new way
Episode 082: Macro Photography, Staying Centered, and Removing the Insect Eww-Factor with Joseph Ferraro
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
0:00:00.3 Jaymi Heimbuch: If there's one realm of photography, one kind of genre of photography, that gets me to stop scrolling every single time without fail, it's macro. I absolutely adore macro photography, it has this inherent magic to it, it gets you to see the world in ways that you never would have or could have seen it, if it weren't kind of blown up for you and put right in front of your face. It gets you to see beauty in places that you don't expect to see beauty. It gets you to look a little bit closer at the miracles of nature that we typically overlook, just because it's too little for us to see most of the time. Macro photography is miraculous, and I think the world of macro photographers who are really good at their craft. And one of the folks who I absolutely love following because he is so good at his craft is Joseph Ferraro.
0:01:01.5 JH: Joseph Ferraro is someone who creates almost studio fine art level photography of insects living in his yard. And not only is his work beautiful to look at, but it's fun to listen to him talk about his work. So, I brought him on the podcast. Joseph is joining us today to talk about what it's meant for him to get into macro photography and to really get into insects and other invertebrates. He talks about what it's meant for him as sort of a coping mechanism through difficult situations, from COVID to grief. We talk about what it means to get work out in front of audiences and help them see insects in a new way. There's a ton in this conversation, and I can't wait for you to meet Joseph. So let's go ahead and dive in.
0:01:56.7 JH: Welcome to Impact: The Conservation Photography podcast, I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place. From conservation to creativity, from business to marketing, and everything in between. This podcast is for you, the conservation visual storyteller who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in.
0:02:28.4 JH: Joseph, welcome to Impact: The Conservation Photography podcast. It is sheer joy to have you on the show, finally, as one of my favorite macro photographers out there today.
0:02:40.5 Joseph Ferraro: Oh, thank you. It is an honor, and I do feel like I've arrived to be on the podcast, like, "I've arrived!" I'm here, I'm... [chuckle] It's like when the new phonebook comes and you're in the phonebook, "I've arrived, I'm somebody!"
0:03:00.3 JH: Well, it's funny because I admire you so much as a professional who is just creating truly exceptional work, and it's been just wonderful to get to know you. So I know you, but for anyone who's never met you, who is Joseph Ferraro?
0:03:26.1 JF: I did... Actually did not expect that I was going to talk about myself. Joseph Ferraro is... He's a macro photographer now. Now, I'm a macro photographer. So this journey two... It starts somewhere around 2014, when I'm looking for this new creative outlook or outlet, the work I'd been building and making... The dialogue for me was kind of like wearing thin, and I was going through a whole bunch of stuff in my life and I needed something new and different. And way back when I bought my Mark II, I had... Past Joseph was smart and bought 100 millimeter macro, so I had that. So I was, Oh, and I did it back in the film days, and I still have my bells, I should go out in the yard and do some photography work. I should get back into macro to see where it would lead me. And that's kind of origin story, where it all started, as this like looking for something new and not realizing I was gonna probably find the thing that is what I would like wanted to just keep doing no matter what.
0:04:29.6 JH: Oh, it's not your creative... You're a creative, basically 24/7, but your day job is in a different area of creativity, right?
0:04:37.5 JF: It is. I'm primarily... I work at an art agency, and I'm primarily right now a print guy. I make magazines and I do color work, and I make magazines actually print. So I do all that prep work for it and pre-press work, and I do some animation and After Effects work, and that kind of compositing work as well. But so that's my... That's the day job that funds my other creative passion. That's what keeps this going.
0:05:05.3 JH: In 2014, I feel like that's relatively recent, for just the caliber of work that you do as a macro photographer. I feel like that's a relatively recent origin story. So how did you get so into... 'Cause some of the things that I wanna talk about with you also is you're kind of a master at devising your own lighting situations and experimenting. So from when you said, "Oh hey, I have this camera and a 100 millimeter macro, I'm gonna go wander out in the yard." What does that path been like? How did that evolve for you?
0:05:35.0 JF: Oh god, I'm like crazy, because I tend to... When I get go into something, I tend to dive in full bore, and I just kind of realized I knew nothing about... I knew nothing about anything. I had done work, but realized in my past work, I realized I didn't really know lighting, I didn't know how flash really worked, hell, I didn't know most insects, what they actually were. So I dove just totally into it and just experimented. And okay, this is you decide what I wanna do. Okay, I have my 100 millimeter, I'm looking around on the web how to light it, because I knew you kind of have to use flash. And I kind of like the twins, some of the twin flash guys, but I kind of liked the modified lighting. So found a used Canon Twin Flash, bought it used and started making crazy amounts of modifiers that go with it. So this test, fail, repeat, test, fail, repeat, test, fail, repeat, go out in the yard, test, see the results I would get and just would build iteration after iteration, after iteration of flash modifiers. And just test, repeat, test... Just kind of, I don't wanna say like obsessively testing or repeating, but just doing that. And I do that until I feel like I know what I'm doing, and I never feel like I know what I'm doing, so I'm constantly doing that.
0:07:02.1 JF: So it continues on even today, of just like modifying and trying to make it better, like always chasing the light.
0:07:08.9 JH: And I think that's one of the things that I love about your work too, because so often in macro... So you focus in primarily on insects and invertebrates, and you do a ton that has to do with bees and pollinators. But one of the things that I love about your work is the lighting is just so even and gentle. And it's difficult to get to that point. Because when you're messing with light, I think that starting point is always overly harsh, overly hot, not really wrapping the subject, not being very careful, or, I mean, a lot of thought goes into lighting, but not necessarily skill or finesse. And so I think that there's that test, repeat, fail, test, repeat, fail, test, repeat, fail, leads you to that finesse that you have now, which is it's just so beautifully, evenly, softly, artfully lit.
0:08:02.1 JF: Thank you, thank you.
0:08:03.6 JH: You're welcome.
0:08:05.1 JF: I'm very sensitive about my lighting. And I have been since the start. And it's, like I said, chasing the light, like I always feel like it could be better. Even now today, I'm like, "Alright, I'm pretty happy with my 2021 modifier that I built this year, I'm pretty happy with it, it could be better." I'm already thinking of mods in my head that I can do to it to kind of make the light spread out more and make it a little bit softer. Or a lot of times I want to use less flash power, I want my flash duration to be as short as possible to freeze the motion as much as possible. And I do things the most difficult way possible. Most people have gone to a single big wraparound diffuser, and they are shooting like with 100 millimeter lens or something like that. And I love my MP-E, which isn't an easy lens, wasn't an easy lens to learn at first. And I like the twin flash, which again, most people shy away from because it's a little bit harder to manipulate. But I like it's become my style it's sort of like a signature look a little bit.
0:09:10.5 JH: So you wander out into the yard, you figure out lighting, but another thing that's been part of your journey is you've become a total bug nerd. So how did the evolution of you becoming knowledgeable about insects and an advocate for insects? How did that factor in?
0:09:43.8 JF: When I started, it was just, like I was doing this for fun, I was having fun. When I switched from my other body of work, which was still photography, but it was like this build assemblage kind of bit, I'm doing this insect work. And people are like, "Why are you doing this?" I'm like, "Because I'm having fun. Can't I have fun? I wanna have fun." And it helped me fall back actually in love with photography. But along the way, I didn't know what the insect was. So I had to do some work. And I had to do some research. And then I started working with a biologist friend of mine. And so I had to learn more because I wanna have these intellectual conversations. I don't wanna seem like I don't know what I'm doing. And the work went from just being taking pretty photos of insects and invertebrates to learning about them. And the more you learn about them, the more you wanna learn about them. So it's kind of like you keep going down these rabbit holes of just like wanting to know more and more information. I love eating up information like that.
0:10:37.8 JF: So I think it just... I didn't realize it had happened at the time. But my biologist friend, she was like, "You've kind of like become a naturalist." And you're becoming a naturalist because you're understanding the nature of what you're actually studying. So I think that's just how it happened. It wasn't like a conscious decision of, "Oh, I'm gonna do this and I'm going to be a macro photographer, study invertebrates, study native bees, and become a naturalist about them." It just one thing led to another, led to another, led to another and five, six years down the road. Oh, actually I kind of know what I'm talking about, a little bit. Still a lot more to learn. But that's kind of the meandering road.
0:11:20.0 JH: Yeah. But I mean, that's kind of what we all do is have that meandering road because so many of us pick up our camera because we feel like it, and then we kind of just let it guide us where we intuitively wanna go. And luckily for us, it took you down the path of insects because you're bringing so much attention to insects in your area, you've done some pretty cool conservation-focused awareness projects. Can you tell us a little bit about what you've done recently with pollinator awareness using your photography?
0:11:51.4 JF: Recently, there are art exhibits. So my latest one, which no one got to saw, because of COVID, it was up for a month and then the shutdowns happened was at The Ohio Nature Center. And it was shut down. Previously before that, there was another one, I did pollinator portraits exhibit and so which is fun, because then I get to talk to people about it. And I've done other local exhibits as well around the city. So it's like through artwork and having these exhibits up, I get to talk to people when we actually can be in person. Otherwise the conversations are a little bit more diluted, but it helps. I mean the art on the wall can help people...
0:12:34.0 JF: Kind of like a common denominator where people appreciate artwork, but also if they're afraid of something, like they're afraid of a spider or a bee or a wasp, you give it to them and present it to them in this safe manner, where they are afraid of it but it's not gonna hurt them. So the photo itself isn't going to hurt them, and if you talk about the benefits of what this insect is actually doing and sort of its behaviors as well, that sometimes can help alleviate that fear and help them have this subtle little shift of, "Well, I'm afraid of spiders, but, man, that jumping spider is so darn cute, maybe I could like that spider, maybe that spider won't cause so much fear in me."
0:13:15.9 JH: With COVID, even though the exhibit was fairly shut down, you did sort of an online version of it with the Zoom presentation. What was that experience like for you?
0:13:26.9 JF: The experience of doing an online presentation or...
0:13:29.1 JH: Mm-hmm.
0:13:30.0 JF: It was fun, it was actually... It's good because again, it opens up that dialogue for people and people wanna know more about my art and process, 'cause I'm printing on wood and I'm doing that whole thing myself and making all that work myself. So they wanna know about that a little bit, but then they also wanna know how I'm getting the shot. What am I doing? People wanna know if it's staged, which it's not. Have I ever been stung? And I'm like, "Not yet." It's fun talking, and I, as you know from talking to me, I just tend to ramble and I tend to go off a little bit, and I have my little soapboxes I go on for people as well, but it's fun being able to share information from my perspective, because I don't think it's anything remarkable. It's just, I'm sitting in a patch of flowers or weeds or wherever, looking at a tree or a small portion of it and capturing these beautiful little creatures. Really, it's attainable.
0:14:25.3 JF: People can do it, you just have to do it. I guess it just would take practice, but it's attainable for people, but most people have this fear of insects, so it's kind of nice, and I didn't think I'd become this insect advocate. In 2014, I never would have thought like, oh, I'd be talking about native pollinators or saving jumping spiders, leave them around the house or even having them just be roaming around my house at any given point in time, and it's fine. The old person, the old me probably would have been, oh, shooing it out or trying to dispatch it, where now I'm, "No, they're fine. They're cool there." And you explain to people what they're doing and trying to have these shifts, these shifts in people's presumption, perceptions and their fears.
0:15:07.0 JH: That is really, really wonderful. And you did one exhibit that was out in your housing association, like outdoor exhibit. Tell us a little bit about that.
0:15:17.6 JF: That one, that the outside, the ambush bug, that one was done... It was a program called [0:15:22.1] ____, and there were a bunch of artworks, 5 foot by 4 foot artworks of different things that were out in downtown, I think it was Milford is where it was located. So they were just public art exhibition, and mine happened, and they wanted to use one of my works. I'm gonna put an ambush bug 'cause I like ambush bugs, and you know they loved it. I think it still might be up. I think the businesses, 'cause every business kind of adapted a piece of artwork if I'm correct, in how they formulated it, but I think all the businesses liked having the artwork up so much that they didn't want it to come down yet, so that's been still ongoing.
0:16:00.2 JH: That's awesome. Well, so as a macro photographer who most of your artwork comes from laying in a small patch of grass or flowers for hours on end, when COVID hit, how did that affect you as a photographer, as a macro photographer?
0:16:16.0 JF: It's kind of weird because as the gravity of COVID existed, it didn't change much for my photography practices once I realized when the shelter in place, "Alright, we can go out. We just have to be isolated from people," because I like to be isolated from people anyhow, partially when I'm purposely shooting with a friend or a colleague. It's a solo endeavor. Working from home, you know, my job, we were working from, still working from home, so it gave me a little bit more access to my yard at different times of the day, which I may not have had access to when I was going into the office.
0:16:52.7 JF: So that was kind of nice to be able to take a break in the middle of the day and go either to the backyard or the frontyard and see visiting right now. And there were some observations that I saw last year that I may have missed just due to timing. And it gave me nice little breaks too, because when you're working from home or doing something like that, you wanna take a break. For me, picking up my camera, going outside for lunch is the perfect break, so it gave me a little bit more time, but then going and doing... It impacted some of my field research just because of isolation and keeping separated from one another, but we still managed to navigate around that as well. And then I would just do little solo, little solo jobs by myself to sites that I knew that I wanted to capture certain behaviors or just to see who was where and making sure that I kept away from people as well.
0:17:45.1 JH: Did it help you at all to, because you were focused so much in your yard, did that mean that you were going out and traveling less than you normally did? Did you ever travel very much for your macro work or did you stay pretty local?
0:18:00.8 JF: I stayed local. It's so weird because people always see photos... I taught quite a number of years ago, I think they were like third, fourth and fifth graders, and I showed them all this macro work and I made them guess where in the world I was, thinking I was... And I was totally was leading them on this little wild goose chase. And I'm like, "You don't need to travel far in the macro realm to see these exotic-looking insects. They're really in your backyard, around in your neighborhood." So no, I actually really don't travel, I'm not really a traveler. I'm kind of a homebody, in some ways. I will travel, I like to and when I'm out, I enjoy it, but if you would say, "Let's go shooting somewhere for macro," there's so much life that I haven't explored in my own little area that traveling to far off exotic places to find these insects, as fun as it would be, I haven't just... No, so I guess no, I haven't traveled. That's the answer you're looking for. No, no, Jaymi, I have not traveled.
0:19:04.0 JH: I love the fact that you don't enjoy travel helped in some ways for you to see how much life is just right outside your door to explore, 'cause so often, I will take photographs... And this happened to me literally three or four days ago. I was photographing of certain plant species and thought I was doing this really rad job, and oh, it's in beautiful light, dadada. I came home and got it on the computer and realized that there was this adorable little red mite on it, and I was so mad at myself for not noticing that in the moment because I would have loved to have focused in and photograph that. I actually thought of you when I saw that. And I never even noticed it while I was photographing this plant. It was only when I got the computers on there and really looked in. So I think that the macro work that you do, you personally but as well as anyone who's curious about getting a macro, I feel like it compels you to see more of what's right in front of your face.
0:20:04.2 JF: It does. It does. So it's funny because when I see flowers and plants, I'm always looking for insects. And I love flowers, I love... I absolutely adore blooming things, but when I look at plants or anything out in the wild, I'm constantly looking for the insect life or invertebrates that are actually inhabiting or visiting particular flowers. People see this flower, and I'm like, "I'd be looking for the mites or the thrips or anything else living on the flower or feeding in it versus the actual flower itself." That's the backdrop. That's the stage for me.
0:20:41.3 JH: Well, so macro work has been something that's helped you as a creative outlet. It's helped you really get to know the insects that are in your area, and recently it's become sort of a therapy for you in dealing with rough situations. It's something that we talked about a bit today, where it helps to be a cathartic moment. Can you talk a little bit about how it's helped you, or how you utilize it to kind of work through your own tough situations?
0:21:10.9 JF: I realized when I'm photographing, when I pick up the camera, it's like being at my studio when I put on my apron. It's time to work. When I pick up my camera, it's the same thing, except in this moment, I kinda like, "Pff", everything drops away. Everything I'm feeling, everything I'm doing, I'm not talking on the phone, I'm not doing anything. It's my calm, it's my Zen, it's my focus. And I'm not a person where... I realize about myself like I'm not good at sitting and meditating. I'm a very much... I'm an active, active meditator. I have to be in motion, and so that helps me. It just helps me burn everything away because while I'm photographing, I can't worry about anything else but what's in front of me, because the moment my mind strays from what's in front of me, I bumped the plant, I move, I move radically, I chase something away. It's like I have to be present in the moment. And it sounds like New Age-ish and stuff like that to say it, but it really does... That's how I have to work. It's like, I have to be in a moment. And I know when I'm slipping out of those moments, and I have to bring my focus back to what's in front of me 'cause that's really... It's all that matters.
0:22:30.3 JF: And that's over the years, and it's like I didn't realize it probably at first that I was doing this, and it's one of those practice things like you build up, and you realize, "Oh, when I get out there, I'm at peace," and it's like, it doesn't matter if I'm sitting in my yard, in the front yard, a patch of weeds, it doesn't matter where I'm at. It's just like "Hah," I let everything go and just enjoy wherever I'm at. Whether I get the shot or not, is irrelevant, but it's being in that moment, experiencing and seeing things because... It's just happened. I don't know.
0:23:04.2 JH: Yeah. Well, and when you take the time to zero in on being really present in the moment and being mindful of what exists now currently in front of your face, at this exact moment of time, and you have a chance to just experience that, how does that impact the rest of your day?
0:23:24.2 JF: It helps. God, it helps. I know if I haven't had my camera in my hand for a while, ooh, am I... [laughter] I notice I'm little ornery, little grumpy. I realize I haven't relaxed. I haven't done this thing. So, if I start my morning, and I actually started this morning out that way, it was like, alright, I grab my coffee, went outside and camera in hand, and I'm like, "I wanna see who's visiting," moving around. It was supposed to rain today. It did. Glad I got out. It does make the rest of my day so much better because it's just... It's peace. It's peace, and it's fun. It doesn't feel like work, and it is work because it's amassing information in a body of work to be used for something, but it never feels like... It doesn't feel like work.
0:24:20.6 JH: I'm curious if the same feeling applies to when you are doing your print work because as you mentioned before, you do these extraordinary prints on wood, and you are very precision-oriented. So, is it the same experience when you're creating prints as when you're actually photographing, or is it different?
0:24:39.5 JF: There's much more swearing. There's much, much, much more swearing involved. The prints have been an interesting endeavor because it's made me bend to the material. I'm printing directly on these wood panels myself, so it does what it wants to do, and there's imperfections that are there that I can't control, so I've had to give in to that a little bit. Part of it because it is that Zen process of between coding the panels and printing on the panels and doing that stuff, and even doing the wood work of building that. It's... You have to be very mindful when you're working with the table saw and all that work as well, so you don't lose limbs and such, but you have to be very... You have to be mindful, then, too. You can't let yourself stray. So there is some of that being present in the moment, but it's a different... Building something is a different satisfaction than working out in the field 'cause that's just...
0:25:37.5 JF: There's probably an overlap, like if I really examined it, now that you've mentioned it, I think I'm gonna go back in my head and keep that there. So I think there's some overlap, but they are two different processes because one's very... Building frames, so it's very precision detailed, and it's not as fluid, maybe, as like being out in the yard, 'cause that changes moment to moment, I don't have any control over what the insects are really doing, but I do have control when I'm working in the studio like that's working to my will, where I'm actually bending more to the insects. The insects will and behavior, I kinda have to follow that lead.
0:26:23.8 JH: Well, so speaking of following the lead of the insect, you are really stringent about ethics, it's one of the things that I love about you and your photography work, is because you talk about trying not to startle an insect or change behavior, what are some of the things that insects do that you follow their lead on as a photographer, that you stay really aware of as a photographer?
0:26:48.8 JF: Feeding most of the time. Like something feeding like spiders, spiders are feeding. I try and be very careful if I am photographing them to make them not drop their prey, there are some insects like they're not gonna drop their prey like a robber fly is gonna be pretty... It's hanging on to that meal, and it's not really worried about you. Not damaging like if you find an egg clutch or again, like a spider protecting her eggs. You're not damaging this and ruining the webbing or her [0:27:18.3] ____ nest, to try and get a better shot or angle. We talked about in the lab like bumbles where bumbles stick out that middle leg, and they're kinda saying that like back off, they're just kind of like... They're there, they're mobile, they're... Either their metabolism has kinda tanked a little bit and they're semi-motionless but they're still giving me that little warning of like, "Yeah, I don't want you that close." Mostly the other insects will actually just leave, the smaller sweat bees will fly away, the wasps, again depending what they're doing or what they're feeding, you kinda know like, "I can get close to you because you're feeding on nectar, or if you're actually hunting prey, you might be a little bit more aggressive because you're actually looking for food to take home," so that like aggression factor comes in versus when you're just feeding on nectar to refuel to fly away.
0:28:11.5 JH: Did you learn that type of understanding behavior and understanding what an insect is up to as a result of photographing it or as a result of reading about it and then recognizing it as you're photographing it?
0:28:25.0 JF: More through observation, like repeated observation. It's like that's I think our power as a photographer, is like that whole observation, we learn patterns, behaviors, and that helps us predict those animals that we're photographing. So that's kind of it. I can tell you how the small, like sweat bees are acting reacting, which ones I can get close to, which ones I can't get close to, which ones I can grab a stem to actually hold and steady the shot. And something like a Nomada cuckoo bee, which aren't really gonna let me get too close because they're kind of suspicious characters to begin with, because they're invading nests and they have great vision, and they don't let me get near and they are my white whale of insects. I get some shots, but it's like, "Argh," so it's observation and you kinda build up this mental database, through some notes, I'm not as good with my note-taking as I should be, and saying this in public for everyone to hold me accountable, but knowing this as well, so it's like just observation and you keep observing and learning and seeing repeated patterns and go like, "Oh, that makes sense."
0:29:35.5 JH: Well, so the cuckoo bee is your white whale, what are your favorite insects or invertebrates, arachnids to photograph?
0:29:43.6 JF: No particular order, but I'd have to say the smaller sweat bees like a Lasioglossum. One, it's just a fun thing to say, seriously. So my early insects to photograph I was like, "What! That's a bee. What! Was that a hydrangea? What! That's... " and this is only with a 100 millimeter, so it's not even like that... It's one-to one, but not really, and I'm like, "What! That's pollen coming off. What... " I love any of the small sweat bees, the Lasios, any of them, like [0:30:12.1] ____, 'cause they're so pretty and they have such pretty eyes.
0:30:15.5 JH: I will be going into my field guide books after this and looking up...
0:30:19.1 JF: Like the bicolored sweat bees, Ceratinas are the like the small Carpenter bees, they're small green, really common, they're common bees. Most of these are fairly common to our area, Michigan, South East Michigan, but I love them, 'cause that's where I started, but they're so... Their behaviors are so beautiful, I love watching their tongues, 'cause a lot of them are longer tongues feeding, nectaring on flowers and then watching them collect pollen, it's just... You in the podcast world can't see me, but they dig in, so just imagine swimming through this flower and pollen and you see them pushing it onto their legs and their abdomen, it's just beautiful. It's just beautiful to watch.
0:31:02.9 JH: I really wish that we were recording the visual 'cause that was quite the little dance.
0:31:09.0 JF: [0:31:09.1] ____ I will do that, I will do that. If you ever see me out in the wild say, "Do the Lasioglossum pollen collecting dance," and I will do it on cue.
0:31:18.0 JH: Nice, I love it.
0:31:20.7 JF: Next would be like Jagged ambush bugs, which don't do a lot, except for capture the bees that I like to photograph and eat them, but they're just like... They struck me because those were one of the early insects that propelled me learning 'cause I can admit this to the world, when I first saw one, I thought it was a mantid nymph because it has these mantid-like forelimbs, and so I'm like, "You have mantid-like forelimbs, you are a mantid. And you are not a mantid, you are a true bug." And so you learn this and go like, Oh, and I was kinda humbled a little bit 'cause I'm like, "Is this... " And someone was like, "No, that is not," and someone that knew way more than me, and I'm like, "Alright, well, I have to learn, I have to know this stuff." So it's like... So that's another... And they're just awesome, just incredibly beautiful little creatures, they're deadly, but they're beautiful.
0:32:13.1 JH: Deadly to other insects, not to you, right?
0:32:15.7 JF: Yeah, not to me or not to other humans, but they're... To other insects and insects are much actually larger than... I think they can take down something about 10 times their size. They're ambush predators, hence the name ambush bug, but yes, they're fun and beautiful, and they almost look like little prehistoric creatures. They'll have like the little knobs on their exoskeleton and such. And then probably our jumping spiders. Jumping spiders frigging rock, just because they have forward-facing eyes and they look at you and you see them just following you as you're photographing, looking, and then you have to look because, "Spider disappeared. Where'd the spider go? Oops, spider's on the lens, spider's on the flash." You have to put it back to where it should be.
0:32:57.1 JH: They do, jumping spiders do seem really... I don't know, bold and social, and they don't seem to be afraid of a lens coming at them at all.
0:33:06.5 JF: No, they can actually... And I don't know if I can... I think I'm correct in saying that they can actually resolve you. Reading an article on their tube-like lenses, that they can actually resolve the human face. Because they have these crazy cylinder lenses, their forward-facing eyes, there's like solar lenses that they can expand and contract, that they can actually see. They're visual hunters, and so that they can see and resolve. But they do track the lens where most other insects will respond to the light, respond to the movement, but they will actually follow you as well. So, yeah, those are my... I would say my favorites, and then I could say anything that really is in front of my lens that I haven't seen or I have seen before. I really like... I've been getting into springtails lately.
0:33:53.5 JH: Oh, neat.
0:33:53.7 JF: We don't have the... I have some globular ones in the yard, but I have the other kind, the non-globular, which I don't know what they would be. But those millipedes, like the crested millipedes, they're just flipping little pieces of bark and seeing who's underneath, tiny terrestrial snails.
0:34:12.5 JH: Snails are really, really cool. When you... Everything that we talk about is really cool, but for some reason I have a fascination with snails, because once you really give them a chance to just show off how epic they are, there's just so much to them, it's phenomenal.
0:34:28.1 JF: They're pretty sweet. And they move fast. People think like, "Oh, it's a snail. It doesn't move fast." Look at it at at 1-2-3 x, and where all of a sudden they're moving across this cropped-in area of your film plane, they're like bucking across that film plane where you think like, "Oh, I can... " No, you're constantly re-adjusting your focal plane and moving with them going, "This thing's actually moving pretty quick."
0:34:51.0 JH: So I'm curious to ask you, if you were to get a mentee and someone who's brand new to macro photography, but curious, if you were to get as a mentee old Joseph, six years ago Joseph, what's some of the advice that you would give yourself for moving into macro photography, especially as we talk about having this conservation mindset where it's about more than just taking images, it's about preserving, becoming aware, becoming knowledgeable about and sharing.
0:35:23.7 JF: Okay, like, alright. First, I think, slow down. That's first. Just slow down, slow down. It's not really approaching from the conservation area, but if you're starting to take photographs, you do have to... For most of your subjects, you do have to slow down. You can't have this hurried pace who you're not rushing from, site to site, to site to site. You're taking this much slower approach, 'cause depending on what you're photographing or what your area that you wanna photograph, the things may exist in this little 3-foot, three-square-foot area. You may never wanna leave that little 3-foot square patch for the afternoon, because there might be so much life going on, or you might wanna capture something that way. So it's slowing down and seeing what's here in front of you versus constantly looking in this outer realm around that. That was an early thing I thought about was, it was creativity through restriction, of like starting off in the yard, of saying, "Alright, instead of like having all these choices, infinite choices in front of you, settle down with a patch of weeds, flowers, whatever, and photograph that."
0:36:39.8 JF: "See what you find in this area. Slow down. Don't run around the whole yard, forget about anything outside of these boundaries or this perimeter, but you can't leave this three-foot square. This is all you get to photograph for the day." And that goes like, slow down. I think something else would be, observe. Observation. Observation is, is your... One of your strongest tools you can have in your toolbox. And that may mean having your camera, but never putting it up to your eye. That may be half the shoot, is just looking around, seeing who's out, who's where, who's doing what? Nine o'clock in the morning and these particular bees are feeding on these flowers, these butterflies are visiting. Oh, these chrysalises are now opening up and butterflies are now closing from them. You're looking at time.
0:37:36.7 JF: Observation, seeing how things have patterns and rhythms, so then you can anticipate what's going to happen next. It's not like a surprise. Sometimes it's a surprise, but it's knowing this constants in observation, constant like building up this repertoire or repository of who's doing what, why, when, and how. So you know how to approach subjects. And that's key, 'cause so many people go out and just randomly, like you're taking... It would be like taking photographs, but you're not really taking... You're not capturing an image, you're not making images, you're just taking photos, hoping for the best. Whereas professionals, semi-professionals, we are in more control of that. Now we can't control the animals that we're photographing, because they will do what they wanna do. With that little bit of predictive knowledge, you can help... Your success rate is moreso than less so. So I would tell myself that as well, which luckily, old Joseph, he did that.
0:38:47.9 JF: He's a smart one. And something else that I... Old Joseph has done, so good on him, is know your equipment. Any professional anywhere, remove the boundary between you and whatever it is you're doing and creating. Picking up the camera, you shouldn't be ever thinking about... I say ever, but you shouldn't be thinking about regulating your settings. Most of the time you should know exactly what that tool is going to do in your hand and it goes up to your eye, you should know what the results are going to be. It should never be like a surprise, looking at the viewfinder, looking at images like, "Oh, I should have done this." You know what you should do. So it's just that. It's practice, practice, practice. Get to know the equipment till you don't have to think about it anymore. And that's I think pretty key, or a lot of people wanna skip that step, because it's not easy. And there's a lot of mistakes. And I have a lot of photographs from those early years, 2014, 2015, which aren't the greatest. But I've kept them as a reminder of where I was and also where I want to be, but it's also that reference of, it was just practice. It's constant practice and you're gonna miss shots. But through repetition, the miss shots become less. That becomes just... You just have to practice.
0:40:14.6 JH: You mentioned that you keep photos from the early days, 2014, 2015, as in you know the early days, with harsh air quotes. [laughter] It's such a recent past, but you kept photos from that time to remind yourself about the progression that you've made until now. And I wanna know where you see yourself heading from here?
0:40:36.1 JF: Oh god. I don't know. Where am I... I don't know. Most days, I don't know. [laughter] I'm mad suddenly. Suddenly you've made me mad. I see myself... Where I would love, I would love to be doing more assignments. I'd actually like to be telling more stories through my work. I kind of realized that was a lacking part and I've built up to it. Like I learned the technical aspects of things, I kinda think I know what I'm doing there. I'm comfortable enough with that. Where I wanna start exploring, so I wanna be able to tell stories and influence more people that way. So that's where I would like to be with the work. What that looks like, I don't know yet. I don't know. Like I didn't know that many years ago where this would lead, I don't know where that's gonna lead either, but that's kind of where I see it. I want to...
0:41:29.2 JF: I just want people to think differently, see things differently, approach little insects, like not be afraid, not wanna swat every fly that they see or like outside start waving their hands frantically, 'cause they see a wasp, or what they think is a bee. Or what they think like this fly isn't like... No, you can just chill for a second. Or seeing a spider and wanting to smash it, and be like, "Okay, we can hold on, and we can take a little pause, and not cause these little creatures... " [chuckle] Everyone just calm down here.
0:42:01.3 JH: What's coming to mind for me right now is it such a metaphor, I think, for how we treat each other, where we turn to another human... Like when it comes to a spider and it's like, "Don't like, smash." And we turn to another human, we're like, "Don't like, shut down." And it is kind of a metaphor for how we can treat everything in our world with like, "Okay let's take a pause, let's find out where this other entity is kinda coming from, and what they're up to and chill and assess."
0:42:27.5 JF: Oh, that's so true. And once you, I guess once you approach in this real-time, like I say at the macro world, with a little bit more kindness and openness, like you start looking... I would've said like years ago, like flies are beautiful. Flies are absolutely beautiful. They're beautiful like little mechanical machines with all these intricate little parts on them, and they're iridescent, and some of them are fierce and deadly, and other of them just look long and gangly. But they're absolutely beautiful in their construction and being and function. Where five, six years ago, I would've been like, "Ah fly." You just think, "Fly, gross, landing on my potato salad."
0:43:11.4 JF: Nobody wants that, and I look now and I see fly and I'm like, "Oh, I know that this fly, or this hoverfly, is going to have... The syrphid fly larvae are gonna be on my plants eating my aphids. Sweet. And I get to see that." And those things, like the larvae, are absolutely fierce and beautiful, and was hard to tell which end was which at first looking at it. But it's like this shift that you've seen, I want... That's where I see myself in years, helping other people have that shift, this excitement that I feel like, which I feel weird about feeling, but I still feel anyways. Oh, I like insects, I've always liked to insects, I always was kind of found on them to a point, but I wasn't like my origin story isn't like I grew up thinking I was going to be in an entomologist or a photographer doing this kind of work. That wasn't even remotely, remotely in the picture.
0:44:04.0 JH: Now, I wanna know about young Joseph, 5-year-old, 10-year-old Joseph.
0:44:09.7 JF: He was crazy. He was creative. Still is creative, but he was creative, he was kind of like a little science geek, loved science fiction, loved science, wanted to be a biologist. At one point wanted to be a marine biologist until he realized, he wasn't that good of an underwater swimmer. Turned out I had asthma. Who knew? But yeah, that was me, I was obsessed with, here's your little clue of how I got to where I was. I was obsessed, I get obsessed with things and studied up all on fish and fish in the Amazon and such like that, and where I kept fish and I wanted to go in like into the sciences, until I hit about 18, and then I started going into the arts, and then somewhere between 18 and undisclosed age now...
0:45:00.5 JF: He kind of mixed it all together. He took all of it, he took all of these learnings, and he took the science and the art and the gardening, and this love of growing things from his grandparents and parents, and he mixed them all together to form this person that is now, but he was very... Also very quiet. He was a kind of a quiet shy person. Which if you could... Which I am. One-on-one, I'm fine, which all of you hearing this, is now it's one-on-many, but it's like one-on-one I'm fine, like in a group of people, I'm normally very quiet and reserved.
0:47:34.0 JF: Most everyone's been doing this a lot longer and... Or they're doing it full-time and I'm like, I still have the agency job that I'm working at to do, and it's like, it's okay, we realize we can do what we... It's okay, doing whatever we're doing, I don't have to compare myself, but I still feel like relatively new, even at the macro game. I'm hitting this from only a few years out or five years, which is still a relatively short amount of time, but I could roll that back and say, "Well, I've been a photographer and doing... " I used to call myself like as more of a occasional photographer, an accidental photographer, doing work, not daily, like now I can say, "I'm a photographer, I have that camera in my hand enough and I have the body of work in images to say 'I'm a photographer, this is what I do.'" Back then, pre 2014, I would sometimes say, "Well I take photos, do some photo work and I incorporate it," but I never called myself a photographer. But again, giving advice and offering up what my insights are always feels like, "I'm still new to this. What do I know?" But I have been... I think I was going back, I've been shooting for 30 some years, 30 years...
0:48:44.2 JH: Uh oh, we can do math now! Uh oh. [chuckle]
0:48:45.7 JF: Yeah you can do math. And which is again, and I'm switching up my career... I'm not gonna say late in the game, but late in the game of, I've been doing what I've been doing for a number of years. And I wanna make a difference in the world. I want a legacy. I wanna... I wanna leave something behind. And this is an awesome way to do it.
0:49:03.7 JH: It really is.
0:49:05.1 JF: And I see everyone else too. The awesome work that everyone is doing... Big and small, just doing all this awesome work. And everyone has the same mindset. It's fun to be part of that collective and then offer things and it be of value as well, it's humbling. It's really... It's like in the end... End of the day, it's humbling. I'm like, I look around like, "I belong here?" Like, you're sitting at the big kids. That's what I wanted to say about this. It's like I'm at the big kids table. And I'm looking around and going like, "Did they notice, did they notice? Am I supposed to be here? Is someone else gonna come and out me and be like, 'You don't belong here, to go back to the other table.'" That's kinda how I feel having this conversation.
0:49:46.9 JH: Well, I don't even know what to say with that because welcome to the big kids table? But I don't feel like I'm sitting in a big kids table either, so Welcome to The Table.
0:49:55.8 JF: You're like the head of the table most...
0:50:00.5 JH: I don't know. Well, welcome to sitting around with a bunch of people who just enjoy, just enjoy conservation photography and bugs and plants and talking about everything that we do. It's a good space to be in.
0:50:13.8 JF: It's a great space. Yeah, it's pretty awesome, and it's just fun. Although I do always feel like a little on the outside, because most of you are like birders and photographing mammals and other things or like the underwater peeps.
0:50:29.6 JH: Insects don't get as much, I don't know, respect or play, or they don't get to be center stage nearly as much as other mammals or birds, or even underwater photography, getting into the certain fish species and stuff, and whales and that sort of thing. But they're really amazing. What is it like photographing something that is so often under-appreciated by audiences, and it's almost like you have to convince audiences to appreciate what it is, these beings that they're looking at. Whereas if it were an elephant, everyone would be ooh-ing and ah-ing.
0:51:08.2 JF: It's fun. It's fun because say in this case, I could think of an ant. I can photograph an ant and you're not gonna see... Most people overlook ants or ants are in the house. They're most of the time they're considered to be, when they're in the house, they're kind of pests and they can be troublesome, but when you see them up close or you see them tending the young, or carrying their pupae, because they're moving nests from locations, they're amazing, and you get the experience this and show someone like this complexity. Or like a fly, where people are like, oh, fly gross, and then you show them up close, their beauty. And they might have this a little bit of... They might be repulsed a little bit, but then they start looking at it and they can kind of, sometimes, appreciate their beauty a little bit more. So you get to see this part of the world that most people just... They'll overlook. Like a snail or a slug or anything like that, like, "Oh, it's no big deal. It's a snail or slug," but you've never seen one really up close. You just see them doing this thing, that you think they need to be eradicated. And, yeah, they don't get appreciation, and it's kind of funny, I do like being kind of on the underdog team.
0:52:19.6 JF: I don't know if people ever look at a bee and go like, "Oh, it's cute," but I hope that. And I've had a few people through my photography and through the prints and start to go like, "Alright, I can see it, I can see their faces, they do look cute." Their mandibles, they don't have smiles or anything else that other animals have and they don't have... There's nothing we can see of ourselves in them. Like in their eyes, their mouth, or anything of that nature, mainly it's like the eyes. There's nothing that resonates with humans, which I think is the problem, but they still... You look at a jumping spider and go like, "How can you not think they're so damn adorable?" Looking at you... Just because they have these... I think in this case, because they have those forward-facing eyes, but in the turn, I can find other spiders that don't have as forward-facing eyes, that don't have large eyes like that and still find them beautiful because of what they are.
0:53:17.2 JF: It's like, when you see one thing and you appreciate the beauty, then all of a sudden that beauty leads into all the other insects and spiders and the arachnids that you find out there, and it's kind of... It's what I want, people to look at it and go like, "Alright. I maybe don't want to share that space with the spider in my house, but I can appreciate it. I'm not gonna be afraid of it," or know that these things, they're beneficial to us too. They do actually, insects, do a lot for us that are really underappreciated.
0:53:51.4 JH: Well, for anyone who is listening to this and says, "I wanna see a cute insect," where can they go and see your work and be in awe of the wonder?
0:54:02.6 JF: They can... Most likely, I post more regularly on Instagram, so they can go to my Instagram handle, Joseph Ferraro. I don't know if we have show notes.
0:54:13.4 JH: We do. Everything's gonna be linked in the show notes.
0:54:16.4 JF: Alright, so then you can also go to my webpage as well, where you'll see some of my older work, and some of my macro prints on wood, and that's joseph-ferraro.com.
0:54:26.5 JH: Excellent. Well, I really appreciate the work that you're doing, both in the artistry of it and in the mission that you have, and if your mission is to get people to open up and experience the wonder of insects, you're on a very good path for that, so thank you so much for everything that you do, Joseph.
0:54:45.5 JF: Thank you, Jaymi. It does, thank you. [chuckle] I'll say it one more time. Thank you, it is an honor to be here and it's so fun talking to you as well.
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