Up Close & Personal

Features - Technician Q&A

Kevin Wiener’s love of photography isn’t just a passion, it’s a valuable educational resource for Swat Pest Management and its technicians.

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April 9, 2020

Bold jumping spider, Phidippus audax.
©Kevin WIEner

Earlier this year, Tim Runyon, owner of Swat Pest Management, Evansville, Ind., contacted PCT about service technician Kevin Wiener, a “Renaissance Man” who enjoys playing guitar, cooking and photography. In fact, Wiener’s gotten so good at photography, particularly macro photography, that his hobby is paying dividends for co-workers and customers alike. “Kevin is an excellent photographer who selflessly shares his insect images with others, using them to educate customers and our staff about structural pests,” Runyon said.

Wiener joined the company in 2011 and currently serves as Swat’s extra services pest technician. “The majority of Kevin’s days are spent working with commercial call-in services, where he does a lot of problem solving and extra work to make sure our customers are entirely satisfied with our services,” Runyon said. “He contacts almost all of our commercial accounts at some point, which is great because he is a people person. He also loves the learning and problem solving that come along with his job.”

PCT recently caught up with the veteran technician to learn more about how Wiener’s love of insect photography has helped advance his career. He also was kind enough to share some of his favorite images with our readers in the accompanying Q&A.

PCT: What originally prompted your interest in photography?

Kevin Wiener: I first became interested in photography when I was around 7 or 8 years old and used birthday money to buy my first camera, a cheap point-and-shoot camera that used disposable flash cubes. Growing up, my father loved to take me hiking and fishing where I began to develop a love for the outdoors. Eventually my love of the outdoors and photography merged and I began photographing animals and natural landscapes, but it wasn’t until I became involved in pest management that my interest shifted to invertebrates.

Northern paper wasp, Polistes fuscatus
©Kevin WIEner
PCT: How has this skill benefited you in your job as a service technician?

KW: In the field, having various inexpensive clip-on macro lenses has helped greatly with identification by being able to look at wing venation, the hair length of a Cimex sp. to easily distinguish between bed bug and bat bug, or to identify something as small as an avian mite. By identifying on-site instead of having to collect and look under a microscope at a later time, I’m able to tackle customer issues immediately and more effectively. Customers also tend to think it’s pretty cool when you can show them, up close (really close!), the actual creature in question. This adds tremendous value to the service and separates Swat Pest Management from competitors.

PCT: You indicated the photos were taken with your iPhone. What special equipment is required to take macro photography with your cellphone?

KW: The photos I’ve taken using various macro lenses have all been taken with a cellphone. I use mainly a 15x clip on macro because it’s easier to use than higher magnifications and still gets me a lot closer look at my subject. When I need to get even closer, I’ll break out a 20x or 25x. I also have a 10x for situations where I want a closer look, but need a little more depth of field. I also use small rechargeable white LED lights for proper lighting. Sometimes, I’ll collect specimens to photograph in a light tent which makes for even better photos. Without proper lighting, the lenses are almost pointless.

PCT: How much do these add-ons cost and where can they be purchased?

KW: These lenses can get somewhat pricey, as much as $100+ for a single lens, but I’ve gotten great results with lenses from multi lens kits for around $20.

©Kevin WIEner
Odorous house ant, Tapinoma sessile

PCT: What type of photos have proven most beneficial in your job?
KW: I think most of the photos I take have their benefits. If it’s something I’ve never seen before, I get to take a journey of discovery to find out what it is and learn more about it. If it’s something I have come across before, it keeps me sharp. The photos can also be used to educate my team, which helps make each person better individually, but also helps the company as a whole.

PCT: How do you use these photos to benefit you and educate your customers?

KW: Taking macro photos of such small creatures helps me to continue learning and growing. When I see something small and moving, I’m usually photographing it if time allows. This helps me to grow my identification knowledge when I find something new. Identification is the first step in solving a pest situation. Being able to identify my adversary gives me the information I need to solve a problem. If I know what it is, then I can find what habitat and food sources the pest needs. Now, I just need to find a conducive environment in or around the home or business and handle it accordingly. I’m also able to educate my customers on what it is, what the pest needs for survival, and then show them any problems, food sources, etc. that are contributing factors. When you identify something on site that would have otherwise needed a low-power miscroscope, inspect the area and show the customer why they have that issue, and then help them to solve the problem, ideally, in one visit; it saves time and money, and you’ve gained the trust and respect of the customer.

Brown recluse spider, Loxosceles reclusa
©Kevin WIEner
PCT: Do you share your photos with others at Swat Pest Management?

KW: Sometimes I like to send a picture of an insect in a group message to the technicians and ask them to identify it. I’ll send little clues to help point them in the right direction until someone answers correctly. Then, I’ll give more information to hopefully fill in any blanks. Other times, I just get excited to show off a really cool picture to my coworkers.

PCT:. Approximately how many photos have you taken of insects?

KW: That’s a great question. Sometimes I’ll take hundreds of photos of one insect and get only a couple really good ones. I have probably more than 5,000 keepers from the last few years of doing cellphone macro.

PCT: You’ve been shooting insects for a number of years. What’s your favorite insect to photograph and why?

KW: I don’t really have a single favorite creature I like to photograph. I like the challenge of photographing difficult subjects, such as the ones that just don’t sit still. I definitely have an affinity for spiders and photograph them a lot. For me, it’s really about getting some good shots, learning about what I’ve photographed, and sharing the knowledge.