By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Photography captures all kinds of moments around us, but Damith Danthanarayana is a photographer who uses his skills and passion to show us the unseen beauties of the world through a macro lens.
He is a mechanical engineer by profession and comes from Kataragama. After completing his studies at the Kataragama President’s Central College, Damith joined and later graduated from the Faculty of Engineering, University of Ruhuna.
It was in 2014 that he purchased his first camera, given his interest in digital photography, but Damith admits that at the time he had no idea about techniques nor a special interest in a specific type of photography. Given how close the Yala National Park was to his hometown, Damith moved towards wildlife and nature photography, and Yala became one of his favourite destinations to visit during the weekend.
Talking about how he was drawn to macro and close-up photography, Damith shared: “One day, I heard about a famous, award-winning Spanish photographer named Javier Aznar, and his macro and close-up photographs inspired me to learn about macro photography. Starting macro photography was a milestone in my photography journey.”
Macro photography and beyond
According to Damith, macro photography is considered the process of photographing very small subjects and living organisms including insects and butterflies. “This is not a very accurate explanation. In photography, there is a term called reproduction ratio, which describes the ratio between the size of an image that an object creates on a camera sensor (or on film) and the actual size of the object. True macro photography is anything that has a reproduction ratio of at least 1:1 (or 1x magnification),” he said, adding that this means that any subject photographed will appear exactly as it does at life-size on the sensor or film.
“Any photo that shows the subject closer and in more detail than we are used to, but below a 1:1 magnification ratio, is called a close-up photograph. Photographs above the 1:1 ratio are expressed as extreme macro and micro photographs.”
Initially, Damith didn’t have any plans to go beyond macro photography, but in 2016, he came across articles and videos about the “Microsculpture” exhibition by photographer Levon Biss. “It was a unique visual experience that showed a 10 mm insect as a three-metre print with high-resolution detail. Some of the techniques used for that exhibition were not very famous among Sri Lankan photographers. So, I started to research it. That was a great inspiration to me to step into extreme macro and micro photography. In Sri Lanka, only a few photographers are involved in the extreme macro and micro photography field.”
Knowledge sharing and recognition
“During the last few years, I have conducted several lectures and workshops to share my knowledge with various photography societies, school children, and university students. My love for wildlife and nature photography helps me to teach others about the conservation of wildlife and nature and to encourage society to care about their preservation,” Damith said, adding that macro photography offers an opportunity to showcase the unseen beauty of the small world.
“My attempt as a macro photographer is to project macro behaviours onto large displays in order to change people’s feelings about insects, spiders, and other small species. So I don’t mind spending long days inside forests observing the behaviour of small animals.”
Damith’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, and he shared that his photographs have been awarded in several international and national competitions, including the Sony World Photography Competition, ND Awards, Closeup Photographer of the Year, National Wildlife Photo Contest, Soba Seya, and Nethadara. “And my work has been featured in several international platforms, including BBC Earth and the BBC Wildlife magazine.”
He has also been one of the administrators of the “Wild Srilanka” Facebook group for the last few years, which is dedicated to all Sri Lankans who love and respect nature and wildlife photography in Sri Lanka. “Because of our connection with nature, we organise one of the largest wildlife photography competitions in Sri Lanka called the Wild Sri Lanka Photographer of the Year,” Damith shared.
Wildlife photography in Sri Lanka
When asked what it’s like being a photographer in Sri Lanka, Damith explained that Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with a high level of biodiversity and wildlife resources and a lot of species of flora and fauna that are indigenous to the country. This makes it a destination with one of the highest rates of biological endemism in the world. “There are some of the best and most internationally awarded wildlife photographers in Sri Lanka. But here, wildlife photography is still not popular as a profession and has been only a hobby,” he said.
Sharing what goes into these types of photography, Damith said that there are a lot of lenses, accessories, and equipment that can be used for macro, extreme macro, and micro photography. “A proper macro lens is an excellent investment if you plan to stick with macro photography for a long time. But they are usually a bit pricey, so you can use a lens reversing ring, an extension tube, or a magnification glass with a standard lens, instead of spending a large sum on a macro lens.”
Damith himself started macro photography with this reverse ring technique. “In macro photography, we always get a shallow depth of field. Sometimes the area of focus is only a few millimetres. In such conditions, if your camera moves just a few millimetres, your entire subject could be out of focus,” Damith went on to say, adding that a technique called focus stacking is used for this type of extreme macro and micro photography.
He went into detail about the effort that goes into capturing all the information in one image, adding: “Because this is a complex and time-consuming process, I have often spent a few days finalising just one photograph.”
Damith also spoke about lighting, which is essential but not always available. “To have stable lighting conditions, you often have to use artificial light sources, which can be a flash unit or a continuous LED light. However, you must consider the safety of the insects, as direct light and heat can be harmful to them. The best thing is to use diffusing and reflecting techniques when using artificial lights for macro photography.”
Capturing the best photographs
To a layperson, photography is a click of a button, but Damith said a lot of factors go into making an image that can be considered the “best”.
They are not limited to the story, subject, background, lighting, angle, composition, focus, shapes, texture, patterns, and colour, Damith shared, explaining that these factors play a role but that it varies from photograph to photograph. But apart from these, Damith stressed that the best thing is to enjoy yourself while taking and post-processing a photograph. “When I think about it, every photograph I captured was an experience for me.”
He concluded with a request for all macro photographers. “Don’t disturb the insects or try to control or move the insects or any other animal to get a better background or light to take excellent pictures. It’s not a good practice, and you should avoid it at any cost. There is no value to a photograph if you disturb or harm animals to capture it. Not all insects are the same, so if you are trying to shoot any particular insect, it is better to do some research about their behaviour, like where to find them, the time when they are most active, or when they stay still.”