For Getting

out of focus clutch of caterpillars light reflecting off egg shells

The thing I like about the photography I do, is that it forces me to make decisions. Unlike my writing where (to this point) my deadlines have been arbitrary and self-imposed, shooting arthropods offers a series of instantaneous “deadlines.” Shoot before the bug flies. Shoot before it scurries into a crevice. Shoot now or forever hold your camera. If I want the shot, I have to make decisions relatively quickly and definitively.

Of course, with some subjects, this isn’t precisely true. The images in this post feature a clutch of moth eggs (Family: Noctuidae) in various stages of emergence; the eggs were (mysteriously) laid on the inside of one of my home’s storm doors. The eggs certainly were not running into any holes, and the caterpillars seemed mostly content to stick around, to mingle among, to walk over their siblings. I couldn’t have come back in a day or two to get my photos, but I had more than, say, five or ten seconds to set up a shot. I could shoot forever, so to speak. And I did shoot for quite a while indeed. The problem I ran into, however, was in spite of all my shots, I wasn’t getting many I was happy with.

There were a few matter of fact reasons for my trouble: the caterpillars kept moving around in the jerky and unpredictable way that little caterpillars do (just to confound macrophotographers, possibly); the position of the eggs on the door window’s vertical plane made good angles difficult to attain; and the door had to open at a certain angle to get optimal lighting. The latter two problems, in particular, made for some uncomfortable positions and a tired shooting hand and arm (since I was holding the door with my other hand to get the lighting where I wanted it). It was incredibly frustrating. I had an intriguing, fairly unique subject, and I couldn’t do anything right.

For myself, in these times (and it happens and will happen again) I become anxious and overeager; I get tense. I try harder and faster and, ultimately, with poorer results. Eventually my state of inner madness is ready to boil over, but if I can calm my mind for long enough, I can remember to forget. Sometimes it is as simple as letting it go. It is harder said than done (that’s why we have monks and prophets), but even though an opportunity appears perfect, it doesn’t mean it is my opportunity. Truthfully, I don’t always accept this; I exhaust myself until I have to give up out of a sense of impotence or in some cases simple, physical pain. I don’t understand how I can fail — not when it is gift-wrapped, a feast tied with a ribbon sitting right there in plain sight. That angst doesn’t change the fact. My self-centeredness does not change the fact everything has an expiration date, even perfect chances.

My way forward is to forget. The Zen is built right into the word: forgo the getting. New opportunity fills in what I leave behind. Not always as fast as I’d like, but eventually. It is quite a feeling to walk away, the hardness in the chest gradually lifting, when soon after a beautiful creature catches the eye; it lifts the soul with lightness and hope: Now I have another opportunity to get my shots. Sometimes it happens that I do. Sometimes I go back down the roller coaster of frustration. But it is easier to forget and to get. It is easier to keep moving forward.

A note on the identification of this insect: I didn’t have much luck until I stumbled upon a similar looking shot of little caterpillars on BugGuide.net. That photo happened to be post by Charley Eiseman, who happens to be the author of a great book, Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates: A Guide to North American Species, and who also runs an excellent WordPress blog, BugTracks. I definitely recommend checking out the book and the blog!

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