You might not even know it but if you’ve ever googled macro photographs of jumping spiders you have surely seen his work. With a secret love of classic country music and playing the guitar, “although I’m not very good!” I am over the moon to have had the chance of interviewing Thomas Shahan, macro photographer extraordinaire!
A Background Check of Thomas Shahan
Growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Thomas has always had an interest in all things outdoors, spending hours hiking and looking for arthropods. He only became aware of jumping spiders during his later years of high school and ever since then, he’s been enamored. Whenever he had the chance he would head off into the woods and fields with his camera in hand. Since noticing the diversity and beauty of the jumping spiders he had this innate desire of sharing their beauty with as many people as possible, “creating some good press for these unjustly feared and misunderstood animals.”
A History of Art
The outdoors has always played a big role in Thomas’s photography and artwork as seen on his Flicker account and art has always been a huge part of his life. Even though he doesn’t make it as public as he does his macro photography. He has a deep love for traditional printmaking – specifically relief printmaking. “The restrictive nature of such a simple palette makes it a wonderful challenge.” He suggests that it is the attention to detail and utilization of value contrast in woodcuts that has influenced the decisions he makes in macro photography. Often, he will completely desaturate an image and squint at it to see if it still reads well without any hues before posting it.
I can’t Take the Credit
Thomas states that he has a hard time calling his photography ‘art’ as he cannot take the credit for the beauty and personality of these creatures. “I have not created anything other than a photograph – a document of life in this case.” He goes on to say that the insects he photographs are products of millions of years of adaption and the source of awe in these photos is solely from the arthropods themselves. “I may utilize artistic methods to highlight the insects and spiders as well as I can but that doesn’t make the images art in my opinion, I did not create their beauty.”
‘The buck stops here’
Thomas has always found whatever solution he could apply for the type of photograph he wanted to capture. He states that most macro lenses don’t offer enough magnification for photographing something like a Jumping Spider, Salticid, portrait without adding any extension tubes or auxiliary lenses. “And the challenge of being frugal in a field such as macro photography is great fun” he adds that he really enjoys showing people that you don’t necessarily need the best photographic equipment. Later, he disclosed that he recently started using a ‘real’ macro lens, “an old manual Vivitar 55mm macro lens. It’s so nice being able to see through the viewfinder for once!”
It is only natural that ones’ processing workflow changes over the years and Thomas agrees. He currently only shoots DNG files which after he imports them into Adobe Camera Raw where the bulk of his processing happens. There he will do the basic adjustments and remove any dust from the sensor. On occasion he will do simple stacking (about 2-5 shots or so, handheld) in Adobe Photoshop itself or using Zerene Stacker.
The Secret of his Success
He bluntly replied “Spiders” and continued saying that they are some of the most fascinating and beautiful creatures on earth that are sorely misunderstood and feared on a cultural level. (I am one of those that struggle with internal conflict when crossed with a spider. The ‘girl’ in me wants someone to come save me from that terrifying thing and the hippy in me just wants to live in perfect harmony with it.) Thomas Shahan feels as if thought it is HIS mission to introduce them to people as the beneficial and mostly benign animals they are. Looking through his photographs he makes them look like the cutest little beings with sweet and unique personalities!
It Helps to Understand your Subject
- Knowing the behavior of arthropods
- Having a bit of field experience
- Familiarity with the subject in general
These are all invaluable tips to remember when it comes to macro photography. And sooner than later you’ll know where to look and how to handle your subjects. “That being said, no matter how experienced you are, it’s never effortless or consistent shooting live bugs! You just have to shoot as much as possible and hope for the best.”
Poking Around Back Home
I asked him if he could travel to any destination to photograph insects he said that though it might not be as lush or exotic, he’d love to go back home to Oklahoma, poking around the very woods he grew up in. For now, his future looks as though he will be spending the summer in Peru, co-instructing a macro photography workshop with entomologists Alex Wild and John Abbott. He is eager to see, and hopefully photograph, a bullet ant “and new salticids of course!”
Thomas Shahan is a man with a love of the little misunderstood critters most of us hardly ever notice in our gardens. He is a master of his trade, sure to inspire other macro photographers out there to get to know your subject better.
We here at Outdoorphoto wish him the best of luck with his photographic travels and can’t wait to see the photographs he comes back with from his latest journey.
Check out Thomas’s various social media pages to stay updated with his incredible work: