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
Christmas Cactus Flower: Background Color by Gel
Once a year (though always well after its namesake Christmas holiday), our Christmas cactus blooms. The plant itself is nothing special to look at, but the flowers are quite beautiful.
The biggest challenge for this annual photo opportunity is finding a pleasing background to go with the flower. I've done the easy on-white and on-black options many times and I've used various color cards behind the flower. I needed a new option and the Rogue Flash Gels provided just that.
I placed the cactus pot on my shooting table (I'm using an Elinchrom model). This table has a white Plexiglas surface with a large sweep up the back. An off camera Canon 600EX-RT with a Rogue FlashBender Softbox installed was placed on the table in front of the selected flower and a second 600EX-RT was positioned to light the back of the table independently. Both flashes were sitting on their shoe stands and the flashes were triggered by an ST-E3-RT Remote Transmitter.
By placing a Rogue Flash Gel on the background flash, the white shooting table background became the gel color. The background color could be changed by simply replacing one gel with another and the currently selected color could be made brighter or darker by simply adjusting the flash output (done directly on the ST-E3-RT). I worked through various color options provided in the gel kit and decided that the pink color complemented the Christmas Cactus flowers best. As you see here.
105mm f/10.0 1/200s ISO 100
Using a Flash Gel to Accent Glassware Background
Want to create a bright background for your glassware photos? Place something white (poster board, printer paper, etc.) behind the subject and hit the white with an off-camera flash with a Rogue Flash Gel installed. You pick the color and the brightness is adjusted by changing the flash output.
150mm f/11.0 1/200s ISO 100