Just Metamorphosized Monarch Butterfly
Capturing good butterfly pictures can be challenging. Perhaps the biggest two challenges to butterfly photography are constant, significant subject motion and tattered wings.
Butterflies are seldom still and often have a mild fear of humans. Add a little wind to their lightweight, wing-dominated bodies and even a stationary butterfly has motion.
Tattered wings are often best overcome by finding a new subject. It is hard to get a great butterfly picture without a near perfect wings and butterfly wings seem to deteriorate rapidly in their short lives. Even good quality subjects can require significant post processing to make wing repairs.
Raise your own subjects and these two challenges are erased. Well, erased for a short period of time at least. The kids have taken such an interest in monarch butterflies that we now have milkweed (the monarch caterpillar's food source) growing amongst a section of our house landscape. I'm not sure what others think about these "weeds" in our landscape, but ... the girls collected some monarch eggs this summer and raised them indoors, out of the reach of predators. Last week, the monarch metamorphosis moved from the chrysalis stage to the butterfly stage.
A bit of warning is given before the butterflies hatch – the color of the chrysalis turns from bright green to transparent, showing the dark butterfly tightly packaged inside. But, it takes a watchful eye to see the chrysalis open as this event occurs very quickly. Once open, the monarch pumps its wings up rather quickly and then appears to remain the same – and motionless – for a long enough period of time to capture many photos.
I was ready for this particular hatching. I had the milkweed leaf holding the chrysalis in a Delta Grip-It Clamp that was sitting on the kitchen island. A moderate distance behind the main subject was a cardboard box with a sheet of printer paper taped onto it.
A Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash was mounted to a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro Lens and the lens was mounted to a Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR. A Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT Flash was in its shoe stand and configured as an optical remote slave to the ring flash.
The perfect-condition butterfly hatched and hung motionless from its chrysalis while I went into action.
The lighting I used for the butterfly image series I captured on this day, and a great technique for lighting in general, was separated by layer. The ring lite was providing the main subject layer lighting and the slave 600EX-RT took care of the background light with brightness levels individually controlled from the ring lite. With a white background and a set of Rogue Flash Gels, I was able to create a large variety of background colors for the images, but this particular shot's background was simply a green notebook. A variation I incorporated into some images, to create a less-even background color, was to use a coarsely crinkled sheet of aluminum foil as a reflector beside the printer paper.
After nearly two hours of posing, the butterfly became active and was released outdoors. After the forth butterfly hatched in as many days, I had enough willpower to just observe the process without a camera.
100mm f/11.0 1/200s ISO 100
Spangled Fritillary Butterfly
Few natural subjects surpass flowers and butterflies in colorfulness. Planting flowers that attract butterflies takes advantage of both and planting them in your yard means fast access to these great subjects.
Don't have a garden of your own? Don't want to do the work? Others love gardening. Find someone who has this passion and share your photography passion with them in the form of images and prints. Alternatively, find a public garden.
Coneflowers are one of my favorite flowers and a small garden of them behind the house provided hours of distraction (I mean "gear evaluation") for me this summer. The shape of the flower permits full view of the butterfly and the working area keeps the butterfly busy long enough to get the photo. Because these flowers are planted on a bank, I can shoot horizontally across the flower tops (to get blurred blooms in the background) without lying on the ground. A raised planting box offers a similar advantage.
Most macro lenses work well for flowers, but butterflies are sometimes not comfortable with a lens close to them. Longer focal lengths permit longer working distances. In this case, the spangled fritillary butterfly was quite tolerant of my presence and I was able to utilize the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro Lens at a close distance.
I'm still struggling to retrain my brain to frame slightly wider with the extreme resolution of the Canon EOS 5Ds R available, allowing minor cropping to achieve perfect framing during post processing. The result in this case was that the butterfly's antenna was slightly closer to the right edge of the frame than I wanted. Fortunately, I had taken multiple photos and was able to add a small strip to the right side of this image, with ideal wing position, from one of the others for a 52.9 megapixel final image size.
I used a Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash with a camera exposure that balanced the ambient background lighting. Because the coneflower petals were closer to the flash than the butterfly, they were slightly brighter than I wanted. I decreased the brightness of the RAW file and overlaid the darker flower petals on the brighter butterfly and background.
What is in your flower bed? If the ideal flowers are not there, add them! Then get ready for your summer color.
100mm f/4.0 1/160s ISO 100
Inside of a Poppy
Macro lenses are among the most-fun lenses available and the Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash makes getting great images with these lenses very easy.
The poppy is an especially big challenge to light from a top-down orientation. There are very few good methods to get light around the end of a macro lens without creating unwanted shadows deep inside this flower. The macro ring lite, with a pair of circular flash tubes positioned at the end of the lens, wraps a light around the flower's significantly-raised pistil while avoiding shadows created by the also-significantly-raised petals.
This result is what I was looking for. The lighting is somewhat flat, but there is plenty of color and detail in the poppy to keep me satisfied. This was a very easy picture to capture with the ring lite mounted.
100mm f/16.0 1/200s ISO 100
Wolf Spider Carrying Babies
People seem to enjoy being creeped out around this time of the year (Halloween) and spiders are a perennial favorite source of creepiness. They happen to be my wife's biggest fear at any time of the year, so when I brought a mother wolf spider carrying a big "cluster" of babies into the house for a photo op (it was dark outside), she was not too happy. And when the spider jumped off of my white paper background and lost her cluster, I went back outside (after corralling what seemed like hundreds of tiny baby spiders).
I wasn't looking to create an award-winning photo of this spider, but wanted decent quality without much time investment. I mounted a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens to a Canon EOS 5Ds R and attached a Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash. The scene was dark (even inside) and the lens shaded the subject at this distance, so I utilized the MR-14EX's focus assist lights to manually focus on the mother's eyes (all 8 of them) with the plane of sharp focus angled to include many of the babies.
As mentioned, I went high-tech with the background: a sheet of white printer paper goes with everything. With the main subject being medium-dark colored, I was able to boost the highlights slightly in post, creating a pure white background, without negatively impacting the mid and dark tones.
Spiders are a popular fall theme and that is probably the only time of the year when you can post a spider picture that gets socially shared. Find out who has arachnophobia. Dig out one of your spider pics or better yet, go create a new one. Share it and peg the creep-out meter.
100mm f/11.0 1/125s ISO 100
Ring Flash Reflection on iPhone
Some subjects beg to centered in the frame and one of the first of such subjects that come to my mind are products. Products are often rendered large in the frame, showing as much detail as possible in the space allocated for them on a web page, product catalog, etc. Today's product is a smart phone – an iPhone 5 to be specific.
I first shared this iPhone photo in the Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash review and obviously, the ring flash is the source of the bright reflection. Ring lite flash reflections in my photos is not usually my preference, it probably does not help sell the product in this case and I typically avoid these, but ... sometimes creatively using the open and close parenthesis reflection can work for at least an artistically creative purpose.
This phone and the glass under it is on are both black and highly reflective. To avoid other reflections on the phone and glass, I had a piece of black velour material between me and the subject and the ambient lights were turned off to create a black room. To get the flash reflection perfectly centered, I utilized the reflection of the MR-14EX's focusing lights while working straight overhead.
Working in the dark with only the focusing lights made perfectly aligning and centering the subject with the camera perfectly positioned over the phone a big challenge. I'll just say that more than 1 photo was required to get it right. I might have very slightly tweaked the image borders in Photoshop also – when the borders of an image are solid white or black in color, it is easy to manipulate the image boundaries.
The overall result in this case is an image that you probably have not seen before (other than in the aforementioned review).
100mm f/13.0 1/200s ISO 100
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