“A picture is worth a thousand words.” This well-known phrase speaks volumes about the power photography has. From selfies with cell phones to elaborate portraits incorporating equipment costing hundreds, even thousands of dollars, pictures help make statements, capture various aspects of our world, document the past and recall memories at a glance.
Dr. Mathew Brust, a professor of biology at Chadron State College, said he enjoys doing photography to document what’s in nature and to make people aware of it.
“I don’t do it for a living,” he said, though he has written three different field guides in which he tries to take his own photography. “For me, it’s a hobby and it’s nice to know they’re going to use for educational purposes.” Being a naturalist, he finds people get frustrated as to why people don’t care about certain things. But on the opposite end, he points out it’s difficult for people to care about something when they might not know about it.
“I think it’s kind of our duty, those of us who work with these organisms, to make people aware of them otherwise they have no reason to care about them.”
Brust photographs mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, landscapes and weather, “but my specialty is inspects just because there’s so much diversity out there and I’m trained as an entomologist.” He considers himself a “utilitarian photographer.” He doesn’t spend extravagant amounts on his equipment, and his favorite model he’s been using is a pocket-sized “point and shoot” that allows him to get within three to four inches of a subject, great for bugs, though he usually shoots from six to 10 inches to get all of the insect body in.
He also enjoys the challenge of getting close enough to the subjects and the time it takes to get the shots. “A lot of it, believe it or not, when you work with insects enough you learn to read their body language.” He further noted insects are well-aware that people are around them, but the question is whether they perceive those humans as immediate threats.
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He shared stories of how he was able to get the perfect angle on a cicada within a couple minutes simply by reading its body language and not appearing to be a threat. In another instance, he was able to shoot a rattlesnake in the process of eating a rabbit with the snake only raising its tail slightly and not even giving a warning shake. Though he heard the rabbit get bit by the rattler, it took some time to get the shot because the snake thought he was a potential threat to its meal. Brust wound up leaving and returning before the rattler started eating.
Brust noted there’s also luck involved and much of getting a great shot is about being in the right place at the right time.
As to his field guides, Brust noted the upcoming second printing of his guide to grasshoppers will be on online edition rather than a printed hard copy. He noted costs of printing continue to go up, and having the online edition allows not only cost savings but also shots of live specimens, whereas the previous printing had pinned specimens that had lost some coloration in many cases.
In doing the guides, he’s fond many people don’t know a lot about the insects and the varieties we have around here. “I can go on C Hill on August and probably get 20-30 different species [of grasshopper].”
Tiger beetles and grasshoppers are the insects Brust photographs the most, but he’s also getting into the challenge of shooting lady beetles.” Several native species of the lady beetles have virtually vanished, he said, and just like grasshoppers there are more varieties than people realize.
He’s almost to the point where he can visualize the quality of pasture just with the grasshopper species in a sample, because certain species prefer certain grasses.
Outside of insects, he said his favorite thing to shoot really depends on where he is. If he happens to be pinned down by a thunderstorm while out collecting insects, he’ll grab some nature and weather shots as well.
Photography is only one of the ways Brust is making people aware of the variety in the world around us. Often times, people who take his entomology and ornithology classes find themselves noticing insects and birds they never did before. The quote he often uses is, “the road to appreciation begins with awareness and is paved with knowledge,” as he finds once people are enlightened they want to know more and do what they can to help.