Bugs, landscapes and lenses
In real life, the saddle-back bush cricket stands maybe two centimetres tall, taking into account the bend of its legs. In Tristan Deggan’s photo displayed at the Undercurrent office, the insect is nearly 10 times that size. Its stare is that of a challenger, showing a personality that can only be exposed by the use of a macro lens and a camera in the hands of a skilled photographer.
Tristan has an impressive portfolio of photographs, especially considering the fact that he is only 15. One of his first shots shows an interesting and intricate formation of icicles. And even though the subject matter promises a good photo, it is his composition that makes it a great one. “I went to the bottom of the garden to see what new ice had formed,” he recalled. “Seeing those patterns, I wanted to share them with people.”
Tristan says he started photography when he was nine or 10, admitting that he’s become “quite obsessed with it.”
Inspired by the icicles, he started to look at things closely and discovered the appeal of bark, flowers and “things like this,” he says. Tristan and his family divide their time between Bowen Island and Montaigut-le-Blanc, France.
“When we went to France the summer after that, my dad got me a little Bridge camera with a neat macro function,” Tristan said, adding that he decided to continue his pursuit of exposing the intricacies of nature during a year-long project at Island Pacific School (IPS). “I did my masterworks on macro photography,” he said. “I took macro photos in Canada and then in France. That’s where I discovered all those amazing bugs.”
It has been a learning experience and not just in terms of photography. Taking photos of insects and butterflies inspired Tristan to get to know his subjects. “I started out concentrating on taking photos and learning about techniques and photography,” he said. “That came before my interest in bugs and their complex life cycle.”
“You have to be extremely patient and get to know the insects to get a good shot,” he said. “So I learned about bugs and their habits and where they are at what time of the day.” Not all bugs are skittish all the time, explains Tristan and adds, “When butterflies eat fruit, you can get up close and they don’t mind.”
As much as his love for photography prompted him to study entomology, learning about insects also influenced his photographs. “I found out about mating season and life cycles and the impact insects have on the planet,” Tristan says. “A lot of the bugs are going extinct. For instance, there is this symbiotic relationship between ants and one butterfly.”
Tristan relates the story of the Large Blue butterfly. Its larvae feed on the flowers of thyme until they reach a certain size. They then secrete pheromones that induce a species of red ants to “adopt them” – bring them into the ants’ nest and feed them. The ants tolerate the larvae because they are able to milk them, obtaining a sugary substance. The larvae hibernate and later pupates in the ants’ nest, leaving it only when the butterflies emerge from the pupae.
This species of butterfly is at risk, says Tristan, because it depends on the ants as well as the flowers to survive. And habitat has been destroyed by the use of pesticides.
The journey towards understanding insects led to another surprising discovery. Tristan shows an image of the first butterfly he photographed in 2009. Years later, when he started reading up on bugs, he found out that the butterfly shares his first name: Tristan.
At the end of his Grade 9 year at IPS, he published a book of macro photographs titled Close Encounters. In it, his photographs are complemented with notes about the insects as well as the techniques he used to capture the images, including self-styled photographer’s aids like a home-made monopod and a tripod stabilized by a bag of rocks. “I’m always building props,” he says.
The quest for “hunting bugs” has led Tristan to get to familiarize himeself with places he lives in. He pulls out a map of the area surrounding Montaigut-le-Blanc. On it, he’s marked the insect’s favourite hang-outs like wetlands, ponds and meadows and how to get there on his bicycle.
Cycling through the countryside has inspired Tristan to share images of a different kind. “Last year, I started getting into landscapes, street photography and portraits,” he said. “It’s fun discovering new things.”
Tristan estimates that he has taken around 15,000 photos since 2009. “I’m maybe getting 400 good photos out of 10,000. For one bug, I take around 50.”
Tristan now attends Grade 10 at Rockridge Secondary School where he joined a photo class above his grade level. He is working on class projects as well as his personal projects. He is not entirely sure what career to embark on but he’s certain that it will include the use of a camera.
To see some of Tristan’s photographs, please go to his website at tristandegganphotography.blogspot.ca and his Facebook page where he posts an image every week. His book is also available for purchase.