See nature in a whole new light

Story highlights

  • Philippe Martin's images put bugs and other critters into sharp focus
  • Each image is actually dozens of photos stacked on top of one another


They are unavoidable and they are everywhere, though we don't often see them outside of that occasional moment of terror or wonder.
If you were lucky, maybe a ladybug landed on your hand and you counted the spots on its back until it flew away. Or maybe, if you were unlucky, you came so close to a massive spider that you could see its back fur until you both ran away in fear.
    Those fleeting moments are hard to erase and harder to re-create, even with the advent of telephoto lenses and modern digital photography.
    But with the patience of a saint and a steadfast passion for nature, French photographer and ecology teacher Philippe Martin has re-imagined the way we see nature: animals in high-definition, in hyper focus.
    Photographer Philippe Martin
    In his book "Hyper Nature," Martin provides what he calls illustrations, not photos, of many different species. These illustrations are composed of many close-up photos stacked together and then rendered through digital painting, resulting in an image with "Avatar"-type surrealism.
    "Hyper focus images are false 3-D you can print in 2-D," Martin said. Think IMAX in book form.
    Obtaining this extreme focus, however, is far from simple.
    According to Martin, the technique involves a lot of time and requires five disciplines: ecology, photography, drawing, painting and photo editing.
    The process begins in the field, where he patiently seeks out his subjects from a vast catalog of critters: everything from bees to dragonflies to caterpillars. He then shoots dozens upon dozens of photos of any given creature in its natural state, using only natural light.

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    Back in his studio, anywhere from 30 to 100 pictures of one bug are glued or fused together to make one digital image, Martin said.
    And then he'll spend "between five and 25 hours painting," he said, which accounts for about 95% of the overall process.
    The painting is not with a brush but with pixels. It's a painstaking process that smooths out the layers of high-def photos, making the whole depth of field come into sharp focus.
    The end result? Beetles and butterflies that look as though they'd leap directly off the page.
    "It's easy," Martin said, though perfecting the process has taken about seven years.
    Through this medium, he has revolutionized nature photography, and he hopes his work will pave the way for further developments in the field.
    "We have to think about new images," he said.