Backyard Creatures Crawl Into Personal Project

Before chapter member Aaron Ansarov moved to South Florida four years ago, he spent 15 years in the U.S. Navy as a combat photojournalist and magazine photographer. He lives in Broward County with his wife Anna, 10-year-old son Corbin and 11-month-old daughter Anabella. As a guest blogger he wrote this post.

One of the most fascinating things a photographer can do to revitalize the passion in their lives is to just shut up, stop complaining and shoot photographs they love by way of a personal project.

Finding something that interests them and making images about it always turns out to be successful in one way or another. Whether its a marketable series of images for the next best selling book or simply a personal print in the bathroom, it’s guaranteed something positive will happen… personal growth.

One such project for me has been my Backyard Treasures photographs.

Since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by the multitudes of living creatures that surround us. No matter how big or small, these creatures’ lives have purpose. They’re right there under our noses in our own backyards, sidewalks and parks. But we tend to overlook, ignore, squish and exterminate them because they may not fit into our lives. If we get up really close and personal with these creatures we can see that they are worthy of understanding and appreciation. I am not sure they have souls, but I do know they have a story to tell and I want to show that through a portrait.

After 15 years as a military and combat photographer, I have seen and done more than most. I can honestly say I’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt and photos to prove it. But when it comes to wrangling and photographing a portrait of a captured wild creature in a studio setting I was a little challenged.

For this personal project I set a parameters for myself and followed a few rules in order to make this project consistently follow a theme. It was very important not to drift from my parameters too much, remember that (like a creature) this project is a living and breathing entity that grows in it’s own way.

 - All creatures must not be harmed. To me, this is an obvious issue. Poisonous, stinky, slimy or just plain nasty, these are living creatures. They need to be treated with the utmost respect.

- All creatures must have come from the wild. No museums, zoos or pets. My subjects must come from the local area and the wild. In Florida we have a problem with many creatures that are not indigenous. That does not matter to me. If they are in the wild and making a life for themselves, then they are fair game.

- All creatures must be released back to the wild unharmed.

Within this framework I rely on my creativity, tempered with the manageability of the creature. Sometimes a subject will give me 30 minutes to shoot, while others will be there for two frames and fly away. The trick is to be prepared in advance.

I use a multitude of lighting scenarios with white or black backgrounds, often vinyl or foam core, and on occasion, I experiment with glass or plastics. I focus on the colors and design that make these creatures so unique. Removed from their natural setting, the eye sees what is most important, the subject.

When in my home studio I use Elinchrom light kits with a series of modifiers ranging from strip lights to a six-foot octabank. This gear is amazing and really makes a difference to me. Of course some may think it a little overkill to shoot a ladybug with an octabank, but I don’t think so. The quality of light that comes from these is amazing.

I shoot with a Nikon D90 and a 60mm macro lens, and for larger creatures I use a 17-55mm, focusing as close as possible. When in a backyard other than my own, I use several Nikon SB-800 flashes controlled wirelessly.

So far, I have photographed over 150 species and I hope that I can eventually shoot every species in the U.S.

Images from this and other personal projects can be seen on my website at

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