Photographing Symbiotic Relationships
Symbiosis and photography is one of those subjects that can provide you very exceptional photos and can grant an audience views of a relatively little known or seen subject matter. What is symbiosis?
"Symbiosis (from Ancient Greek sýn "with" and bíōsis "living") is close and often long-term interaction between different biological species. In 1877, Bennett used the word symbiosis (which previously had been used of people living together in community) to describe the mutualistic relationship in lichens. In 1879, by theGerman mycologist Heinrich Anton de Bary, defined it as "the living together of unlike organisms."
The definition of symbiosis is controversial among scientists. Some believe symbiosis should only refer to persistent mutualisms, while others believe it should apply to all types of persistent biological interactions (i.e. mutualistic, commensalistic, or parasitic).
Some symbiotic relationships are obligate, meaning that both symbionts entirely depend on each other for survival. For example, many lichens consist of fungal and photosynthetic symbionts that cannot live on their own. Others are facultative, meaning that they can, but do not have to live with the other organism.
Symbiotic relationships include those associations in which one organism lives on another (ectosymbiosis, such as mistletoe), or where one partner lives inside the other (endosymbiosis, such as lactobacilli and other bacteria in humans or zooxanthelles in corals)." WIkipedia
How does one go about procuring appropriate subjects on which to conduct this photographic project? Research and more research. You see, this particular subject matter is not easy to locate and not found everywhere. Thus researching subjects and their locations is basically the main starting point. Another very useful resource is to contact a local naturalist organization or a college zoologist who might be willing to offer you some guidance on where the best subjects in your area can be found or at least suggest where to look for answers.
Once you have arrived at location and selected your subjects, try to observe the behavior and the environment for a while. This should provide you with some clues as to how exactly it is that these two very different subjects interact with each other and create a special atmosphere that permits them to live in harmony and assist each other.
Here your images should include some close ups of both organisms together and images that also encompass the environment in which they live. However, depending on where they happen to reside, this is easier said than done.
One very easy sample that can be found at almost any pet shop that specializes in underwater marine life, would be the symbiosis between the clown fish and the sea anemone. One protects the other with its poisonous tentacles while the other apparently cleans its host of potentially damaging organisms and has no problem doing this since it seems to be immune to the poison.
Several examples may be found on the ocean and you will therefore need not only to learn to scuba dive but to get and use underwater photo equipment. However the ocean is not the only place where symbiotic arrangements occur. There are several examples of symbiotic behaviors found in the plant world and in mammals
There are several bird species that seem to live entirely on the back of some grazing animals such as cows and African buffalo. They pick and eat parasites of these animals hide helping prevent disease. There are other samples such as some troupes of monkeys and gazelles or deer that prefer to feed in groups. The monkeys will dislodge fruits from fruit laden trees which the deer eat in turn and the deer provide a "early warning system" to the monkeys with their acute hearing, alerting both to the presence of a predator.
Again the best images will be composed of a combination of close ups and other shots that bring everything together; subjects and environment in your symbiosis and photography project
When embarking on this project your research should prepare you for the equipment that you will need.
Highly advisable is to always have a zoom lens for far away or easily frightened subjects or when it is not safe to approach one and a close up lens for going in close.
Flash should always be part of your arsenal as it will be required under low light conditions or if you want to add some fill in light in order to heighten some details. Remember to lower the output of you flash when using it for this purpose.
Like said before, there are several species of plants which also have mutually beneficial arrangements with other plants or at the very least one takes advantage of the other without harming its host. The main problem here is that this often happens in inhospitable or hard to reach locations like jungles, swamps or very humid and muddy terrain. Protect you gear by taking precaution ahead of time.
Bromeliads are one such species. They simply use a tree to get themselves high enough off the ground and capture rainwater but they don't really offer any benefit to the host tree nor do they cause any harm to it.
© 2012 Luis E Gonzalez
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