Using tweezers, gloves and a Leica SL2, Florian W. Müller staged tiny insects in very large settings. The outcome is psychedelic and technically-perfect images that shine a very different light on macro photography.
What photography genre did you work in originally? What does your photographic work normally look like?
My work as an artistic photographer is defined significantly by shapes and abstract compositions, such as multiple exposures or disassociations. In the broadest sense, I do a lot of still life and object photography; but also architecture and landscape. As a commercial or commissioned photographer, I often have people in front of my lens, whether for portraits or company presentations; also cars. In this case, I’m very lucky because, as a result of my artistic work, I’m often given free rein and can even use artistic techniques. For example, for Porsche China I used triple exposures of the car, staging it in different urban settings.
What inspired you to use insects for a photo project?
I’ve been fascinated by insects, since I was a child. My father was a great and knowledgeable friend of nature, and I got that from him. I find the insect world a small and bizarre, but also beautiful, world; one which opens up to you, if you just take a closer look. I’ve been wanting to show this world for a long time; I began purchasing and photographing exhibits years ago. Over the long term, however, it was very cost-intensive, as I didn’t want to keep the specimens – just photograph them.
How did you manage to get hold of the specimens?
Last year I enjoyed a pleasant collaboration with the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt. Through that connection, I got in touch with the Senckenberg German Entomological Institute. The manager there quickly agreed to my request. I was also assigned a colleague, who was very helpful in locating the best specimens from amid the gigantic collection, and who was able to answer all my questions and support me. I was able to build up a little studio at the institute, and worked there for three very enjoyable days in total.
How exactly did you go about taking the pictures?
The little photo studio consisted of a home-made tabletop cove and two LED permanent lights. To ensure that the insects were touched as little as possible, and could float free, I built a kind of platform out of cork and a magnet system; so afterwards, I didn’t need to cut out virtually anything.
What equipment did you use?
I photographed with a Leica SL2 and the APO-Macro-Summarit-S 1:2.5/120 (CS), with an adapter on the SL2. I then photographed the final pictures with the new multi-shot procedure, which gave me 187 MP images. I deliberately didn’t stack anything, because it would have resulted in an overwhelming volume of data. I also envisioned pictures with unsharp areas, so I chose to produce less technically perfect images, in favour of creating portrait-like, atmospheric ones.
What role did post-processing play in this project? How was the iridescent effect created?
It was not an insignificant one. Beetles often have the greatest colours and shimmering effects. However, this brilliance fades over the years; it becomes somewhat duller. I added some colours in post-production, frequently to emphasize the original colours; but also at times to achieve a certain effect that you don’t find in that form in nature. This always leads to entertaining conversations about the picture.
How long, roughly, does it take to produce such a photo? What specifically do you need to pay attention to?
It is a long process: the selection of the creatures from among an incredibly large collection; the handling with tweezers and, at times, gloves; cleaning off bits of fluff, under a magnifying glass; and the careful arrangement in the set. Taking the photographs themselves then goes pretty quickly; focusing manually is made easy with the SL2’s magnification function. Perspectives, angles and so on are set beforehand, and I usually don’t make any variations. The multi-shot takes care of itself, but, every now and then, I make exposure and light variations, when there are unwanted light reflections.
Is there a message behind the project, or should it just be appreciated at the technical level?
In fact, I’d like the technical refinement relegated to the background: it’s there, it’s the foundation of these photos, but it’s also an elegant understatement. Quite in line with Leica, the technical perfection of the pictures is a simple fact. I would like the viewer to focus on the objects – to be fascinated and curious, and then to see a beetle outside in the garden from another perspective. I’m happy if the pictures stir up emotions, because that’s fundamentally necessary, if you want to deal with something more than superficially. I don’t care if the emotion is disgust at first; the normal thing is then to look more closely and discover details that are normally hidden: “Oh, that’s the eye?” is something I often hear, for example. There is one clear aspect to the work: the fact that insects die is real. This is the unfortunate starting point for a whole chain of human-induced imbalances in nature. There is no big lobbying for insects; many consider them just small and a nuisance. I want to show their many facets (not only those in their eyes), how bizarrely beautiful they can be, and that it’s worth preserving them. It’s not only worth doing, it’s indispensable for a healthy balance in nature.
You’re pushing against the boundaries of photography with this project, and you enjoy experimenting in general. Do you think there are still plenty of new discoveries to be made in the field of photography?
There will always be new things that are worth discovering. The world continues turning, no day is like another, and technical progress (or the combination of old and new techniques) repeatedly allows space for new perceptions and insights in the most diverse directions. We are far from having seen everything, and much less from having photographed everything.
After working in different situations as a stills and set photographer, and doing assignments for advertising agencies, Florian W. Müller began to feel the desire to develop and establish his own independent type of photography. This gave rise, over time, to multi-layered and ambiguous images that demand an interaction on the part of the viewer. The photographer has been a Professional Member of the BFF (the German Association of Freelance Photographers and Film Creators), since 2013. He was elected to the Board in 2020. He is also a member of the UK AOP (Association of Photographers, London) and has received the AOP Award four times to date. As a commercial photographer, Müller works internationally, and his personal projects are exhibited in galleries around the world. Furthermore, he gives lectures on photography, and ran the first Porsche Photography Masterclass in Malaysia. You can find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram channel.