This Russian photographer has made a name for himself with beautiful images of Formica rufa. Here’s how he does it.
Andrey Pavlov has given the term “shutterbug” a whole new meaning. The Moscow-born photographer, who now lives in St. Petersburg, Russia, has devoted the past decade to capturing ants in myriad magical, often humanesque scenarios in an ongoing series of photos he calls “Ant Tales.”
“I chose ants as subjects because I respect them and their way of life,” says Pavlov, who became intrigued with the insects while reading Bernard Werber’s 1990s trilogy “Les Fourmis” (“The Ants”). “They are a caring community, looking after their children, the elderly and the weak. We can learn a lot from them.”
His own children inspired him to pursue this creative endeavor as well. “When I started reading fairy tales to my children, I realized I had not been exposed to such fanciful stories as a child,” Pavlov shares. “I decided to create some fairy tales of my own. Lucky for me, ants are very inquisitive, so they have been very willing participants.”
A graduate of the Arctic Faculty of the Admiral Makarov State Maritime Academy in St. Petersburg, Pavlov began his career exploring and photographing the Arctic and Antarctic. Following a severe spinal column injury, he set a dramatic new course for himself, settling back in Russia to study macrophotography. Often limited to the space surrounding his summer home, which is situated in the forest, he became acquainted with Formica rufa, the red wood ant.
“I work primarily with Formica rufa because they are highly developed. They are very clever, expressive artists,” he explains. On occasion, Pavlov also enlists the modeling services of Camponotus herculeanus, the red-and-black carpenter ant.
How He Does It.
Known by many as “Antrey The Ant King,” Pavlov builds “sets” along the established paths of the ants and encourages them to interact with his props, often making them look like natural prey or enemies to elicit strong behaviors. He’s a natural at building complex sets because he was the senior stage artist/decorator at the Maritime Academy for five years; he’s a master of choreographing ants because he spent three years getting to know their behaviors and preferences before turning his hobby into his career.
Says Pavlov, “I look for alphas by placing a removable barrier in their path and watching to see who leads the colony. If you can engage two or three alphas, the photo shoot will be successful for sure. I am very careful with my models, of course; even a minor disturbance can damage the anthill.”
In terms of equipment, flashes, diffusers, tiny props and backgrounds are meticulously placed. Pavlov then positions a macro-lens camera on a mini-tripod and takes photo after photo. It often takes several hours and hundreds of shots to get the raw material he needs to craft the final, ideal image. He heads back to his studio to review and refine his images, but not before he rewards his accommodating models with a dollop of syrup.
Where To Get Photos.
You can see Pavlov’s portfolio of photos online at pavlovants.com. His photographs are available for purchase through a variety of online resources, including Shutterstock, Depositphotos and Dreamstime. In fact, Shutterstock last year selected Pavlov as its “Viewfinder Challenge: Think Green” photo winner, commending his “intimate view of the daily life of ants.”
“Red ants are green!” says Pavlov of his photogenic forest friends. “This 150-million-year-old civilization will never kill the environment or itself. People need to discover such a secret to survival.”
The author is a frequent contributor to PCT. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.