High-speed nature photography
The "speed flyers" exhibition takes visitors on a strange planet . In this world, gravity has less effect on living beings. Physics laws are different since it becomes easier to rely on the air to follow impossible path. Time is slower and second turns into eternity. The evolution of species found there more opportunities to create a fantastic diversity.
Three hundred million years of evolution have allowed the insects to develop incredible flying techniques. Beetles hide large wings neatly folded under their wing covers . Bedbugs' takeoff is noisy as if they would turn on a small motor. Bees and flies have developed a morphology that allows them to perform hundreds of wing beats per second. Locusts and grasshoppers jump in a millisecond before deploying their translucent wings . The butterflies that look like flying flowers have a perfect mastery of the aerodynamic rules. Finally, dragonflies behave like real fighter pilots with their highly sophisticated wings.
To enter in this world, Ghislain Simard has developed special photographic techniques designed to freeze the fastest action of the insect world . He worked with the Hasselblad design department in Sweden to develop a hyper reactive camera and is equipped with special high-voltage flash units that allow a exposure time of only 1/111,000s !
The exhibition was recently on display at the International wildlife festival of Montier-end-Der and in Arles during the Summer 2016 thanks to the support of Hasselblad. Additional information on Hasselblad web site :
The film "Speed Fylers" adds a 52 minutes movie to the book. The footage let you discover how Ghislain Simard works in the field an take benefit of Hasselblad medium format cameras to take picture of insects in flight. The film is recorded in high resolution and available on a blu-ray disk.
Buy the blu-ray
4K PROJECT is an experimental exhibition that aims to anticipate the transition between traditional exhibitions and those of tomorrow. Fine art prints enhance the images by taking benefit of the rendering and sensuality of the paper and associating the talent of the photographer and that of the print expert. The new 4K screens, by their finesse and their luminosity, allow a direct view on the original image, giving back, in large format, the brilliance and rendering of the slides. Ultra-HD technology solves lighting problems. The screen is no longer just a computer monitor, but a fine-art print that respects all the details of the image, faithfully restores its nuances, contrast and depth. It also allows a large number of images to be displayed on a limited space. 4K PROJECT is an animated show, on eight synchronized ultra-high definition screens, combining traditional photographs and short video footage. One discovers the moments before or after the actual capture of an image, the insects jump from one screen to the other and the panoramas come alive. 4K PROJECT enhances the work of artists by means of an editing system, by means of which the images are no longer static, but respond and complement each other, such as the pages of a book. 4K PROJECT takes place under the eyes of the visitor, according to a rhythm timed by the nature of the subject.
Few photographers have designed specific tools to freeze insects flight. All have a guide to follow called Stephen Dalton. This English photographer is the precursor of high-speed photography. Since the early 1970s, he took photographs of very fast motions of animals in a way that had never been seen before. Ghislain Simard who take pictures of butterflies since childhood considers that he is his undisputed master. In 2009 at the festival of Montier-en-Der, they presented two exhibitions together, a retrospective of his high-speed photographs for Stephen and the exhibition «Dragonfly Wings» for Ghislain.
Since then, several major improvements have been made. After many tests, Ghislain has purchased a medium format digital camera. This is high-end equipment which is rarely used in nature photography and, almost never in macro. It provides access to unprecedented image quality in wildlife photography. Then he worked on the adaptation of this new tool to high-speed photography of insects in flight. With the assistance of Hasselblad in Scandinavia, it was possible to make the medium format camera much faster than any 35mm DSLR. Thus, by early 2011, Ghislain could try to shoot very ephemeral scenes with a quality made of pin sharp details.
Ghislain has of course talked about his project to his master and friend Stephen Dalton. Stephen responded with deeds rather than words! When Ghislain visited Stephen at his home in England in the fall of 2011, he was in for surprise! After a lapse of nearly two decades, Stephen has returned to what caught the attention of nature lovers and the wider public during the 1970’s - insect flight. Why, because recently, he has improved his techniques to produce such stunning quality that he felt that he had no option but to return to his original project!
This has been achieved by a combination of refinements including transferring from 35mm to a medium format digital back, and by eliminating all traces of image blur through a faster flash speed of 1/60,000 second! Equally important, he has updated his set-ups to produce even more natural backgrounds. Further improvements were made by meticulous attention to the choice of natural backgrounds that echoed the typical habitat of the insect.
The parallel approaches of Stephen and Ghislain converge when we discover their new work: images of such extraordinary quality that they can only be truly appreciated in large prints. They capture high-speed moments far too short to be watched by our eyes magnified larger than life size revealing details invisible to the human eye. This is the magic alchemy of macrophoto and microseconds.
The exhibition «MicroMagic» is arranged in such a way to show how the style of each photographer complement one another. Indeed, the photographs of Stephen and Ghislain, although technically very similar, have their own character.
Some technical details:
Here are some details of the new equipment developed by Stephen and Ghislain to take the pictures of the «MicroMagic»:
- CCD twice the size of a 35mm full-frame sensor;
- 40 and 60 million pixels digital backs;
- Exposure up to 1/60.000 sec;
- New fully digital trigger system;
- Time lag for triggering less than 1 millisecond;
- Raw 16-bit files for perfect color reproduction;
- High-end lenses: 120 mm macro and medium format 300 mm telephoto lens
The frail damselflies made their way through the grass, the broad-bodied chasers kept coming back to land on the same perch, the skimmers mated in flight, the darters played with the sun’s reflections on the surface of the water, the damselflies formed perfectly symmetrical designs with their wings and the powerful emperor dragonflies dominated their territory by moving around at lightning speed! The miniature world of dragonflies is one of diversity. Their flight characteristics are perfectly adapted to their living environment. Damselflies have a slow, hesitant flight pattern that conceals sudden, unpredictable changes of direction. The hawkers and emperors are incredibly lively, which turns photographing their flight into “mission impossible”!
The human eye is incapable of seeing the wonders that nature has created in turning dragonflies into real aerial acrobats. We are totally unable to see their synchronised wing-beats as they’re simply too fast. Similarly, we are unable to see how an emperor twists its front wings to perform a tight turn and change direction almost instantaneously.
The wide variety of body shapes in dragonflies means that there are considerable variations in flight behaviour. There is no possible comparison between the hesitant flight of a young damselfly that doesn’t appear to know where it’s going and the powerful, purposeful wing-beats of the blue hawker, which follows a constantly identical circuit, like a metronome, above the pond. These flight behaviours have guided the choice of prints for the exhibition Flying dragons.
I had the chance to have a father who is butterflies collector. Therefore, very young, I could discover these splendid insects by listening to him spelling their superb names (Scarce Swallowtail, Orange-Tip, Black-Veined white, Painted Lady, etc) and describing their way of life. Very quickly, the butterflies were for me a passion !
But something disturbed me in collecting the butterflies : why killing them whereas one takes so much pleasure seeing them flying ? This gave me the solution : «I will be nature photographer !».
Now, after years spent in the nature taking picture of wildlife, the butterflies are still my favourite subject. But, what makes them incomparable, it is the fact that they are true flying flowers ! The idea to take photographs of butterflies in flight became my main objective in the middle of the Nineties. Since then, this objective never left me despite the encountered difficulties : ten years passed before I obtain results which correspond to the photographs I had in mind and digital cameras let me find solutions to the main issues.
Today, the technique is always present, undoubtedly more than in the past, but it does not disturb me anymore, it helps me. Now, I can concentrate on what is important: my small subjects and their environment. For example, for my shots of large butterflies like a Scarce Swallowtail, I need time to watch their majestic gliding flight in order to find the best position for the camera and lighting. Then, I just wait until one butterfly crosses the light beam of the automatic shutter release equipment. Sometimes, the butterfly looks at the camera with its big eyes as if it takes a self-portrait.
He have discovered the world of high-speed photography in the Book "Caught in Motion" written by the English photographer Stephen Dalton. It was in the middle of the eighties, and it changed my photographic work for ever. His unique pictures told me that I had still many things to learn for the world of butterflies. But there are many difficulties to handle in order to take shots of flying insects. Then, I needed more than ten years before to be able to finalize my very first exhibition dedicated to flying butterflies. This exhibition called "Butterflies" was hung at the international wildlife festival of Montier-en-Der in 2005. With the prints, I displayed a text explaining the key role of Stephen Dalton.
But, at that time, I couldn’t even imagine that seven years later, in 2012, I will hang a joint exhibition prepared together with the master Stephen Dalton himself !
Copyright Ghislain Simard, All rights reserved