I've always wanted to photograph butterflies, but my lack of patience and my general inability to find them meant that butterflies were never a subject featured in my portfolio.
However, while traveling through New England last week, I stopped by the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Gardens in South Deerfield, MA. I quickly realized that visiting a butterfly conservatory was the perfect way to quickly gain experience with butterfly photography and bolster my portfolio with images of the beautifully-winged creatures.
The Magic Wings Conservatory is an 8,000 square foot facility housing roughly 4,000 butterflies featuring several dozen individual species (the exact number of species depends on the season). The admission fee for visiting the conservatory is $14.00 and is good for an entire day of re-entry (the admission fee for children is less). Note that this particular facility does not allow tripods or monopods to be used in its conservatory.
It's actually quite difficult to aptly describe the experience of walking into a beautiful garden inhabited by thousands of butterflies of all shapes and sizes, as words like "amazing" and "dream-like" don't seem to really do it justice. But if you have the chance to experience it, as a photographer or simply a curious visitor, don't miss out on the opportunity.
From a photography perspective, a butterfly conservatory gives you ample opportunities to create beautiful and inspiring butterfly images. The experience and images gained from photographing butterflies in a conservatory would likely require years to garner in the wild, allowing you to easily bolstering your portfolio in a single afternoon.
You might think that photographing butterflies in captivity is much like photographing wildlife in zoos (which can be difficult if trying to eliminate man-made elements in your frame), but because butterflies are so small and backgrounds (and any man-made elements within those backgrounds) can easily be thrown well out of focus, images captured in a conservatory will likely be indistinguishable from those captured in the wild.
For my trip to the Magic Wings Conservatory, I used a Canon EOS 7D Mark II with an EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro. In this case, I chose the 7D Mark II over the 5D Mark III because I had forgotten to pack my BlackRapid Strap (which can be conveniently switched between bodies) and the neck strap that Bryan had loaned me was already attached to the 7D II. The EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM would have been a better lens for this particular endeavor, but... I originally invested in the non-L version of the macro because I rarely shoot macros handheld (and IS would have certainly come in handy here). Another item I wish I had packed for my trip was the RoundFlash Magnetic Ringflash Adapter, but when packing I did not envision needing the rather highly-specialized light modifier for the trip. Other lighting options well-suited for this type of photography include the Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX and MR-14EX II Macro Ring Lite.
The conservatory I visited featured nicely diffused light thanks to the water vapor adorned the inside of the large windows. But "nicely diffused" doesn't necessarily mean "plentiful," even when bright sunlight is hitting the building. One particular issue with lighting is that butterflies often like to attach themselves to the underside of leaves or to the top of leaves with additional leaves shading them. The great thing about a conservatory is that your chances of catching a butterfly in great light is extremely high, so a small amount of patience goes a long way.
For the photos accompanying this afticle, I was using an f/3.2 or f/3.5 aperture in Av mode with an ISO of 1000 or 1250 to obtain shutter speeds that were fast enough to counteract camera shake and freeze movement. Images were post-processed in Lightroom CC.
Word of warning: If you open your camera bag to change lenses or retrieve gear, be sure that there are no stowaways when you exit the facility. I checked myself thoroughly before leaving the facility to make sure that there were no butterflies attached to my clothing. However, as I proceeded to detach the lens from my camera and put both items in my camera bag, a butterfly flew out of my Lowepro NovaSport 35L AW. I had to [sheepishly] alert the staff to the butterfly escapee.
Are you excited to gain lots of experience in butterfly photography? There are plenty of butterfly conservatories in North America. Here are just a few I found:
When creating video content, it’s important to know some rules to make your shoot goes smoothly and looks great. Fundamentals such as the rule of thirds, and the 180° rule are essential to understanding how to shoot better looking video. As you grow, you can always look back at these ideas and build from there.
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Protecting your gear in adverse conditions is certainly advisable, no matter what kind of weather resistance your gear is advertised as featuring. Gear protection can range from Bryan's favorite cheap accessory to the rain covers mentioned above and everywhere in between. I recently used an OP/TECH USA 8" Small Rain Sleeve to protect my EOS 7D Mark II and EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM while photographing dirt track racing a little more than a week ago. The relatively inexpensive bags featuring a draw string closure proved invaluable for keeping fine dust from getting all over my camera gear. [Sean]
Motorsport photographer Frits van Eldik is one of the world’s best at capturing fast moving subjects. His camera needs to perform just as fast as he does. He shares his thoughts on the EOS-1D X Mark II's ability to capture every single moment.