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  • Writer's pictureEd Hall

Immense Insects Macro Photography Exhibition at Leeds Museum

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

Ultra-macro photography on show in Leeds to engage the public with insects on a grand scale.

By Ed Hall

Entomology collections in museums are often out of sight and out of mind. Some go decades without seeing the light of day, and most are rarely seen by the general public. But this rich biological diversity deserves to be in the limelight, and exhibiting this realm of fascinating creatures is a great way to engage the wider public in exploring a side of the natural world they don’t often see up close.

I’m a photographer with an ecology research background, and I’ve been working on digitally preserving insect specimens for the last 4 years using high resolution imaging. This work went into creating an exhibition held at Leeds City Museum to showcase insect diversity, anatomy and colouration. It was printed on huge canvases three metres wide and the images were displayed next to the actual specimens. The Royal Entomological Society Goodman Award was key in helping to pitch the idea of an insect exhibition to the museum, by fully funding the printing of the huge insect canvases it really helped get the exhibition off the ground.

Modern photographic techniques that involve precise computer controlled equipment, and sophisticated computer processing, allow photographers to create images of tiny specimens on a vast scale. Macro photography of this type requires individual specimens to be scanned by taking thousands of high magnification images, which are then processed to create the final image. This ensures the full image is in focus, and is of high enough resolution to be printed on a large scale in full detail. Printing them at these sizes was key to my vision of the exhibition: to show visitors insects on a grand scale and give them a new perspective on an aspect of the natural world that they see every day.

I believe it’s much more effective to build people’s interest in the natural world by simply showing them something they’ve never seen before, and leaving the rest up to them. Giving people the chance to make their own emotional connections with the natural world is so important, and exhibitions are a great way to achieve this. Holding the exhibition in an inner city museum was also key to targeting an audience who might not be inherently connected to nature.

Sloane's Urania, insect macro photography
A close-up image of the moth Sloane's urania. A now extinct species.

Animations were played on a projector alongside the prints. Species: Trichobaptes auristrigata.

Spanning two months, the exhibition brought in thousands of visitors, most of whom were not insect enthusiasts. I spent some time speaking to visitors, and it was fascinating to hear how people found their own connections to the insects, in ways I could never have predicted. From a seamstress who saw similarities between butterfly scales and textiles, to a 3D animator interested in how light reflects off insect wings and bodies, to a lady reminiscing about watching hawk moths in her mother’s potting shed as a child. The feedback I received from people of all different backgrounds was great, and I hope the exhibition has had a lasting impact on the visitors who took the time to explore it.

(Published in the Royal Entomological Society Magazine 'Antenna'.)

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