The pandemic dealt photographers setbacks—and surprises

Photographer and National Geographic Fellow Anand Varma makes high-definition images of tiny creatures with techniques he develops.

In a home lab Varma has been raising moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita).

I spent early 2020 in a UC Riverside lab filming hummingbirds, trying to come up with new techniques for capturing their movements and behavior. The pandemic ended that; in mid-March we had to leave the university, and the whole state locked down.

Normally I live with four other housemates; that grew to eight. It was sort of an impromptu commune and a wonderful time. We all really bonded, and I got to reconnect with folks I hadn’t spent much time with when I was on the road eight or nine months a year.

I have a fellowship from National Geographic and the Rita Allen Foundation to study jellyfish. Initially it was to be a global project: flying to Japan, visiting aquariums, filming and photographing in the ocean. But even before COVID-19, I had been preparing to do more work at home, in a detached garage I use as a lab. I had set up a tank with guidance from Steve Spina of the New England Aquarium, and he FedExed me jellyfish. So in quarantine I focused on one species of moon jelly (photo, top), trying to coax all of their secrets out of them in front of the camera.

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