Too fast for the human eye, our imagination alights when the wingbeat of a dragonfly becomes frozen within a frame for all to see. The marvel of fast flying insects so sharply distilled by the photography of Ghislain Simard have a mezmorisng effect. The art and engineering of Simard’s images capture his unique vison and curiosity for little worlds—often overlooked—where miniature marvels abound. Hunting for subjects amidst diverse biotypes with self-modified equipment, Simard has established a signature style and collection of highly acclaimed, unique images.

© Ghislain Simard (Hasselblad H6D-100C)

Where can a photographer discover unexpected treasures close to home?

The practice of macrophotography is quite easy because, precisely, it is possible to find interesting subjects everywhere. I work most of the time in the south-east of France where I live. There are very diverse biotopes that insects are fond of: many nice spots near my home where there are many butterflies species, mountains in the Alpes during summer or the Camargue located in the delta of the Rhone River which is really a privileged place where to observe the dragonflies. It is possible to take nice pictures of of very commun insect species. The most important is to photograph the little world in which the subject lives and nor only the insect itself.

How did you stay creative during quarantine? 

Here in France, we had to respect total confinement. I just photographed the insects I find at home, right around the house. Finally, there are various species in the garden. I was delighted to see that, during the confinement period, butterflies came and visited me at home. As a result, the 2020 high-speed photography season isn’t so bad. Indeed, I have nice new shots of butteries on the wing

Your images uniquely capture the movements of nature at high-speed. Can anyone apply the techniques or do they also require specialized equipment?

There are a number of problems to solve to shoot flying insects. The first difficulty is to take to picture at the right moment. To get round this problem, I use a home-made electronic system combined with a laser that detects the subject as it moves into focus. It triggers the camera at the right moment. It possible to find triggering devices ready to use but they are not as sensitive as my home-made gear.

Then, I need to freeze fast actions to avoid blur caused by the speed of the subject. It’s even more difficult to freeze very rapid movement if the scene is framed in close-up. A single wing-beat takes the subject right across the frame! Here, the solution is provided by electronic flash systems, which generate very brief flashes capable of freezing even the fastest actions. I have recently updated my lighting equipment. I use now high voltage flash units specifically designed for my needs. With the new flash units, the exposure time is as fast as 1/111,000s!

Last but not least challenge, I have to take into account the shutter lag time. Although the shutter opening time appears to be instantaneous in traditional photography, this brief time lapse becomes a real delay when the subject is moving at a very high speed. This compromises the precision that you may expect when you use an automatic release system. For the fastest shots, with the assistance of Hasselblad, it was possible to make the medium format camera to effectively trigger the flash directly via the sensor, without any mechanical shutter, making my Hasselblad H6D far faster than any 35mm DSLR. 

 Where do you get your ideas for tool-adaption and experimenting with macro imagery? 

In the early 90’s, I discovered the work of the English photographer Stephen Dalton, master and precursor of high-speed photography. I decided to follow him as his wonderful pictures are evidence that it is indeed possible. I had to developed my own equipment made of specific high-speed tools not available on the market. My first laser triggering device was developed with the help of Optics Laboratory at Besancon (North-Eaqt of France). I also spent a lot of time to learn how to get a nice natural looking light from flash units. Indeed, light is everything in photography.

What methods do you recommend for creating a dynamic image that is truly original? 

A beautiful image shows the insect in action in its biotope. To take a dynamic shot, you should never frame too tight. And then, I repeat, it is necessary to have a beautiful light which highlights the finest details of the subject.

How would you advise a novice begin a career in macro photography? 

Nowadays, it is very difficult to live from macro photography. It is a so specialized area of photography that is quite impossible to build a career from insect photography. The solution is to take pictures that nobody else can shoot with a very nice and graphic look. 

What holds your imagination at the moment?

I have decided to work again on insects that made me discover the world of insects with my father, butterflies collector. During the spring of 2017, I collaborated again with the design department of the Swedish manufacturer Hasselblad, which builds medium format digital cameras. The goal of the work was to adapt high-speed shooting techniques to the new 100-megapixel CMOS sensor of the high-end camera H6D-100c. This new camera is now used to magnify the rendering of butterflies wings. Thus, it is possible to exhibit very large prints with a high level of quality that allows viewers to literally enter the world of insects. 

What are your aspirations for this genre of photography? 

My pictures make me discover a different planet, the world of insects where gravity has less effect on living beings. The butterflies that look like flying flowers have a perfect mastery of the aerodynamic rules. Beetles hide large wings neatly folded under their wing covers. 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.

Where can people discover your next visual project?

Since late 2017, new pictures of butterflies on the wing are being made. In 2018 and 2019, the project Flying Flowers becomes a reality as the photo library fills. The exhibition Flying Flowers was hung in the Vosges forest, in the village called Haut du Tôt, as part of the 2019 edition of the Sentiers de la Photo festival until Octover 30, 2019. Now this exhibition is going to be displayed in different villages in Vosges Mountains in 2020 and 2021. Of course, everybody can follow my new projects on my web site: www.simpho.com

Read Ghislain’s article on photographing dragonflies for Hassleblad and watch the video.