I’m pretty darned humbled that my image of a hand-tied fly has been included in the 2016 Communication Arts Photography Annual. For me, shooting still life is meditative; I get no greater joy than being in the moment and focusing in on one thing. In this case, it was capturing the minute details of the flies and the artistry of fly tyers. Below is my winning image, Pale Morning Dun.
To give you a little bit of backstory: my father was an avid fisherman when I was growing up. He had a fly tying rig that always intrigued me. I remember being amazed that he could take a hook, some thread, and some feathers and come up with something that resembled a living fly. Fishing is one of his great passions like photography is for me.
Fast forward 30 years and a client requested I source some hand-tied flies for a shoot. Naturally, my first phone call was to my dad. He sent me several of his along with others he helped source for the project. The shoot was a success. After it wrapped, I put the flies away in my prop room which contains years and years of other props, and I moved on to the next shoot. One day last summer, I happened to be rifling through the shelves of boxes (anyone that knows me is well aware that I don’t get rid of props) when I ran across the flies and that’s how this project was born.
Finding them immediately ignited a spark in me. All I could think about was how I was going to shoot these tiny lures and how I could blow them up to a very large scale and share the beauty in their details with the world. Because much of what flows through my studio is an end-product made by machines, I loved the idea of shooting something that was produced by one person who has mastered their craft. I knew I wanted to show people something they don’t see every day and I wanted to create a visual holding space for them in which they could stop and take the time to appreciate the talent and artistry in required to create these tiny flies.
For the Communication Arts Photo annual contest, I chose one of the flies that I loved most from an artistic point of view: the Pale Morning Dun. I positioned it to appear how it would actually look in flight, and took advantage of its monochromatic palette to focus on the shape of the body and the softness of the wings. To capture the contrast of the soft delicate feathers and the sharp high carbon steel hook, I chose to shoot with medium format. My go-to set up is a Phase One IQ180 attached to a Hasselblad body with a 120mm macro lens. Shooting extreme macros is always challenging, so to get the maximum depth of field, I focused stacked the image with Cognisys Stack Shot. We went through a few rounds of trial an error. Because the fly is only a half an inch long and incredibly detailed with fibers, there were a lot of areas that didn’t stack properly, which required a considerable amount of post work. Also, when you’re shooting the fly can’t move, or the image won’t stack properly. The amount of images needed for maximum depth of field, varied with each fly, but ranged from 30 – 80 individual captures. After stacking the images in Helicon, my retoucher and right hand man, Jamie Enering, spent well over 10 hours repairing areas that were broken up in stacking thus bringing depth and sharpness back to blurred areas. Our eyes are capable of seeing a greater depth of field than the most expensive camera gear can render in a single image. Although there were challenges, everything came together really well in the end. So well, in fact, that I plan to continue this series over the next year. Included in this post are two other flies I shot for the series.
To me, this project is about so much more than just photography or just fly tying. It’s about showing others the beauty that I see in the world. It’s an homage to art in all of its forms, and it’s a way to pay my respect to other masters of their craft. I’m very proud of this image and how it came out. I also really enjoyed the process. To know that the judges appreciated and recognized my work is very exciting, not to mention that it will be appearing in the printed annual, putting my image in front of a large audience. Something else that is equally as rewarding as this honor is to know that others are seeing the beauty that I want them to see and that otherwise, they would have never seen it had I never watched my dad meticulously tie flies those many years ago.