When good imagination trumps camera format

Felix Mueller on high-magnification macro photography 

Wildlife photography requires a lot of patience, skill and perseverance. “To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy”, Henri Cartier-Bresson* once said. When I saw the ‘Wildlife photographer of the year’ exhibition in Victoria, I remembered some beautiful shots of animals by Felix Mueller, a young photographer from Toronto. Let me introduce you to him and his work.

by Felix Mueller Copyright 2013

Magnificent insect
Copyright 2013 Felix Mueller

Felix Mueller, can you tell us the story behind this amazing picture?

Felix: After having bought a cheap 28mm film-era lens, I was interested in trying out a new technique that I saw on a Youtube video called “an introduction to high-magnification macro photography”.

What does that method require?

Felix: All that I needed was my new lens – but reversed – and my camera. I started by taking pictures of inanimate objects up close, but soon moved on to things that were both living and small enough to fit the frame.

Were insects a good start?

Felix:  Indeed – and they were perhaps the only objects that I could shoot as I would never harm an insect for a photograph. So I was very lucky to have found such a magnificent bug that didn’t move a lot.

I took a couple photos using the reversed lens technique I learned from the video, with it proving to be a real test of my steady hand to make sure the depth or field was right and that the dramatic features of the insect were captured in greatest detail.

portrait felix muellerHow old are you? And when did you first get excited about nature or wildlife photography?

Felix: I am 21 years old and my fondness for wildlife and nature began at a young age. My interest in wildlife photography came later, when I started taking pictures of local nature areas such as the County Forest and Nature Parks in Dufferin County, Ontario.

As for my nature photos of animals, these opportunities came seldom. But these photos are often the most rewarding ones, because you  capture such an amazing moment with the wildlife you share your environment with.

What kind of camera are you using?

Felix: I use a Pentax K7 with 2 lenses, a 28 mm film-era lens and a 28-300 Pentax AF.

Do you prefer digital or film photography?

Felix: My first camera was digital, even though I grew up knowing how to use my father’s old Ashai Pentax that he used on his travels. The truth is that both digital and film photography lend themselves to certain situations, and professional users of either format are more than capable of using their creativity and skill to produce the breathtaking shots, not the camera. In the end, it is most often a good imagination that trumps camera format. That being said, once the photos are taken, it is a different story entirely. In that case, I have to go with the digital camera, as you can take multiple photos, upload them quickly to the computer and sharing them is much easier.

Any other pictures you would like to share with my readers?

Felix: Oh yes, this baby red squirrel that I caught just as it was learning how to climb. It is one of my favourite photos because it captures a rare funny and positive moment.

Baby Squirrel Copyright 2013 F. Mueller

Baby Squirrel
Copyright 2013 F. Mueller

 … and a rather unusual one, too!

Felix: That is right, but then again baby animals are much more approachable than their jittery parents.

Thank you, Felix Mueller, for sharing your story with my readers.

Frog Copyright 2013 F. Mueller

Curious Frog
Copyright 2013 F. Mueller


Further information:

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French photographer considered to be the father of photojournalism. He was an early adopter of 35 mm format, and the master of candid photography.

Interesting read:

Henri Cartier Bresson and wildlife photography

Wildlife photographer of the year 2013 winners revealed

Advice for young photographers

Magnum advice for young photographers




Life through your lens – Wildlife photographer of the year 2013

Mark Steichen (Luxembourg) Badger dream scene

Presented for a third year with all new photographs, this visually striking exhibition from the Natural History Museum, London (NHM), showcases the world’s best wildlife and nature images.

With 100 new photographs found in 18 categories, visitors to the Royal British Museum in Victoria, B.C. can now enjoy the wonders of nature through the lenses of prize-winning photographers. When I visited the museum yesterday, I was truly impressed by the selection of photographs, beautifully displayed in sleek back-lit installations, each photo and accompanying caption telling the inspirational, astonishing and sometimes humorous stories of our fascinating natural world.  The exhibition runs until April 6, 2014.

“An image can alter the way we see, think and feel. Whether captured in the most remote wilderness or taken in the intimacy of your own backyard, a truly great image of nature can change our world view forever.” (NHM London).

To mark 50 years of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, the NHM wanted even more young photographers to get involved, offering three age group categories for images of any subject matter covered in the adult competition.

‘It takes courage to put your photos forward, but the rewards for those who do are enormous’, says Jim Brandenburg, chair of the jury. ‘When I won Wildlife Photographer of the Year 25 years ago, it opened doors for me. The publicity it generates is astonishing, so I really want to encourage every professional and dedicated amateur to think about entering. It can be a career-defining move.

For almost 50 years, Wildlife Photographer of the Year has pushed boundaries. ‘In the 60s we raised wildlife and nature photography from a simple scientific record into an art form’, says Jim Brandenburg. ‘In the 80s we conveyed environmental and conservation issues through a single image of startling clarity. And in this new century, by using technology to explore nature more deeply, we’ve piqued global curiosity with new ways of seeing a world otherwise lost in a blink. Now, as we launch our 50th competition, we are setting the stage for the future.’

More information on the website of the Natural History Museum in London, and the Royal BC Museum

On good and great art – thoughts by Yehudi Menuhin

Have you ever read the book ‘Conversations with Menuhin’? The collection of informal, fascinating conversations in which the famous violinist, conductor and teacher Yehudi Menuhin talks about himself, is not just a book about making music. It is – as the Evening Times called it – ‘a rewarding lesson in humanity’.

I have been fascinated with the chapter about the purpose of the arts, particularly the following quote, which I would like to share with you today:

“There is an indefinable element which transforms, makes a work of art beautiful, and in its own way, perfect. (…) But the crucial difference between good art and great art – whether in literature, or music, or painting, or sculpture – is to be found in the quality of the original inspiration. The inspiration of genius is more deeply experienced, has greater unity, and is more far-seeing. The workmanship of genius has a natural sense of proportion; speaks of human elegance and understanding; and deeply touches our own life, thoughts, and dreams.”

When was the last time you dove into the arts and let yourself be inspired?  Visited a museum, went to the opera, explored local galleries, listened to music with your eyes closed, cried and laughed reading an outstanding novel? Why the arts? Because – as Auguste Rodin once said – “the main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live.”


Robin Daniels: Conversations with Menuhin. First Futura Publications Edition. 1980. p. 108/109

Seen today – ‘Living with all kinds’ by Trish Shwart

Art works showing interaction between human species and animal world

My dog Merlin is soaking wet. After a one-hour-hike in the pouring rain he’s ready for a nap, while I am looking forward to having an Americano and a chat with painter Trisha Shwart, who is currently showing a small body of her work ‘Living with all kinds’ in Victoria, B.C. But not yet: at first my loyal companion of 5 years needs to be dried, given water and a cookie. And while I am stroking his head before saying good-bye, I marvel about the miracle of this incredible bond between an animal and a human being.

Sign Language

Sign Language by Trish Shwart

Trish, your work shows encounters between humans and animals. How do you think fit animals into our society and culture?

Trish : That is what I have been trying to figure out. We seem to categorize animals – for instance into groups such as dogs and cats, then into the ones we eat, and those we are scared of.

A segregation into different categories?

Trish: Indeed. They are “cute” or “food” or “dangerous” – and we allocate certain characteristics to the animals in each of these categories. Cute pets, for example, are often described as being emotionally intelligent. They instinctively know what their owner likes or finds annoying. We know that an animal can be an effective therapy for people who are sick or stressed.

And there are the ones we eat …

Trish: Few of us who live in a city have ever had daily contact with these animals. Perhaps as a balm to our own discomfort, we wrongly describe the animals we eat (cows, pigs, fish, chickens) as ‘dumb’ and ‘unfeeling’.

We cage dangerous animals for our safe viewing (in zoos) and mythologize them as predatory (cougars, lions, tigers). They live on our terms in the environments we create for them.

Bird Dog, Acrylic on Paper

Bird Dog, Acrylic on Paper by Trish Shwart

And yet we admire them.

Trish: Correct – we refer to people as having “eagle eyes” or the “strength of a lion” or being “smart like a fox”.

So, what does the way in which we segregate animals tell us about our own species?

Trish: As it turns out several big thinkers, philosophers and scientists have spent a lot of time thinking about this very topic. I don’t begin to presume that I can answer the question, but I hope my paintings and drawings initiate the kinds of conversations that might help us get some answers.

You are using mixed media in most of your artwork?

Trish: Yes, I am aiming at connecting painting and photography. In a world where there are so many options I deliberately merge the two media to tell a more complex story. I let the photograph do the work.

What does art mean for you?

Trish: The freedom – which admittedly is first world luxury – to think about whatever I want to paint, whenever I want. It is an incredible opportunity that lets me follow my imagination.

Anniversary Dance, Mixed media

Anniversary Dance, Mixed media, by Trish Shwart

“I am still thinking about how we relate to animals. Some we keep as pets, some we eat and some we fear. In some cultures children are told that they have an animal spirit that becomes a totem for them. In The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman individuals have their own animal daemon. They cannot survive without their daemon and when their daemon feels pain, so do the humans. In this image I am playing with what is real and what isn’t real. Are we connected to animal spirits? Are these people with masks?”

A small body of Trish Shwart’s work dealing with how we relate to animals is showing at Bubby’s Kitchen located in the Cook St village in Victoria, BC.  until the end of this month. The work asks questions about connections with animals and our ability to know our own selves.

About the artist: