The power of knowledge

In my previous post I wrote about photographers disturbing habitat and animals in order to make better pictures. Part of that (or other) disturbance will have been deliberate, but disturbance is often caused by ignorance. By not knowing if a certain area is vulnerable or not, you don’t know what damage you can do.

This is only one of the reasons why knowledge is important for nature photographers. There are several kinds of knowledge needed as a photographer. First of all you need to know your camera and technical stuff like aperture, shutter speed and photo editing. But more importantly is probably the knowledge of your subject. One can of course just go out walking and hoping to find something worth taking pictures, but the best pictures are not made this way. In my opinion the best pictures are made with a plan, a plan that is made at home. And to come to a plan, you need to get to know your subject. This can mean you need to know how to recognize it (like can be tricky as in the Spearhead Bluet in the picture above), but it also means you need to know something about its biology. These Spearhead Bluets only fly during a short period in spring and in a very specific habitat. This is also a species of bogs, like the Dark Bluet,  so it can be difficult to get close without entering the vulnerable habitat. Fortunately I know one place with still quite a large population of Spearhead Bluets (which are very rare in the Netherlands) where you can see them from a small path. Here the only problem was to find the right species from between the more numerous other bluets. When I saw this tandem of Spearheads sitting on a branch without much disturbance in the background I knew I was lucky. By grabbing the female behind the head, the male makes sure the eggs she lays are fertilized by himself and not by another male. It also means that another generation of this very rare damselfly is in the making, giving the species some hope for the next year.

Spearhead Bluet – male and female.


Without knowledge of this species, I wouldn’t have been at this moment on this place, nor would I have seen the significance of this moment. By having knowledge about the biology of a species you can better tell its story. How to get knowledge like this? Well, there are several ways. My background as a biologist does help, of course. But a lot of these things you just learn by getting out in the field a lot and looking around. But also by reading books or browsing the internet. It takes some time, but the results will be worth it, both for your pictures and for nature itself!

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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