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OU student achieving big success with tiny bugs

Thomas Shahan, 22, shoots close-up photographs of insects and spiders. His work has been published around the world.
BY KEN RAYMOND kraymond@opubco.com Published: September 12, 2011

But Shahan isn't after art. He just wants people to love spiders and insects as much as he does.

“There may be something on an evolutionary scale that makes people afraid of spiders, the way they move and the places they choose to occupy,” he said. “I was never repulsed by them. It has turned into a deep reverence for me. I just hope my photographs communicate my respect and reverence for arthropods. They should be admired.”

Part of that reverence includes humane treatment of his subjects. Shahan doesn't shoot dead insects or refrigerate bugs to slow their movements, as some insect photographers do. He likes to shoot them in their habitats; he may lift a leaf into the air to photograph its insect passenger against a brighter background, but he'll return the leaf to its original position when he's done.

His favorite subjects are jumping spiders, which have great eyesight and rarely stand still.

“They have learning abilities and pathfinding abilities,” he said. “If you move your finger, they'll follow it like a little dog. And they have wild courtship rituals.”

Shahan didn't get involved in photography until he entered high school, when he created a website to catalog his guitar collection. Eventually he acquired his digital SLR.

He'd never taken an art photography class, but he knew he didn't want to shoot pictures of his friends or buildings. He connected his camera to a telescope and shot images of the moon and various nebulae before reading about macro photography, which involves shooting close-ups of small objects.

Once he'd acquired his reversal rings and extension tubes, he went to work in his backyard, blowing up small aspects of the natural world to see details he'd never noticed before. He has continued ever since, refining his techniques and capturing images that impress longtime professional photographers.

“Man-made objects have limitations,” he said. “You have to turn to nature to find truly beautiful things.”