Inspiration is a tricky thing. It operates on its own schedule.
Go looking for it and it will hide like a rabbit in the shadow of a hawk.
About our contestEach week our Neighbor section includes at least one entry in our Photo Finish photography contest. If you'd like to submit a photo, email it in .jpg format with at least 300 dpi resolution to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let it come to you, though, and you never know what you might discover.
Take Ken Busse.
When the Wheaton man set out on a family bike ride at the Morton Arboretum, he probably wasn't thinking much about bugs or photo contests.
But when the ride took his family past a display of oversize insect sculptures, he found himself captivated by the 12-foot praying mantis. It got him thinking about a photograph he took on a summer's night several years ago when he and his son went into their yard and freed hundreds of mantises that had hatched from two cocoons he had purchased.
He considered submitting that image to our Photo Finish contest but never got around to it.
Seeing the arboretum's display and the giant mantis, though, convinced him now would be the right time.
"When I saw it," he says, "I thought it must be telling me to submit it."
His picture is a stark closeup of three of the creatures. It's both cool and a little creepy.
"They kind of look prehistoric to begin with," Busse says. "It looks like they're making their plans to bust loose in some dark alley."
Our photo staff thought it looked pretty neat, too.
"I like it because the subject is very unusual," DuPage Photo Director Scott Sanders says, "and the photographer kept it simple with no distracting background. It is very eye-catching. The minimalist color helps, too."
For his efforts, Busse will receive a $50 gift certificate from PJ's Camera, 662 Roosevelt Road, Glen Ellyn.
Busse says he captured his winning image with a Nikon D300. He says he turned on the flash, fixed the focus and started firing away as the mantises scattered into his yard.
"They just crawled out of the container," he says. "It was luck and a prayer."
That Busse's winning entry would be a photo taken from nature is no surprise because it combines two of his passions: the environment and photography. He's been enjoying the outdoors since he went camping as a young boy and he's been taking pictures since high school.
In real life, Busse is a consultant who deals with urban planning and real estate development. That means he works with municipalities and others to find new uses for old buildings.
At home, he's a gardener who "likes to do things organically as best I can," which means petrochemicals are about as welcome as Yogi Bear at your picnic.
He'd always wanted to try praying mantises in his garden -- they chow down on aphids and other insects that might otherwise make a meal of your plants and vegetables -- and bought the cocoons a couple years ago.
When he released the insects, he says, they hung around for a bit, but "they have no allegiance to the people who gave them life." In the parlance of gardeners, that means they're just as likely to make their home in the yard down the block as your own.
But that didn't discourage him because his real joy is to celebrate the wonders of nature and do his best to protect them however he can.
So, yeah, he didn't originally go looking for it, but he's a fan of the environment.
"It's in my heart and soul," he says.
You might say it's his inspiration.