A Matter of Perspective: Shooting Butterflies from All Angles – Guest Article by Steve Russell
Starving for small, living creatures to shoot during the winter months, I visited the Butterfly House in the Seattle Science Center hoping to get a shot or two up close. Butterflies from all over the world live their brief lives in an 85-degree glass greenhouse filled with tropical plants and it’s open to the public. It turned out that despite the fluctuating crowds there were plenty of opportunities to shoot these beautiful insects just inches away.
Part by choice and part by chance, I was able to shoot from a variety of perspectives, which made the overall collection of images much more interesting and unique. The standard shots from the side with the camera lens parallel to the subject (usually the wings and an eye) with me shooting from my “strike zone” were most available. But looking up I found butterflies perched on leaves overlooking things, and looking down I found surprise reflections in the pond and a pair trying to mate. Getting two large, opened wings in focus is next to impossible, but playing with the height and angle of my camera got me close to full focus even with two spread-winged butterflies in the same frame. Shooting head-on, from the rear (still focusing on the eyes and antennae), at an extreme close-up, with the subject upside-down, and with the butterfly on my friend’s arm gave me images that would supplement and enrich the collection of standard shots.
Technically, I shot most of the accompanying images with a 90mm 1:1 macro lens and twin flash at f/16, ISO 100, at 1/200 sec. I used a makeshift monopod (actually a rifle monopod with no tripod head) since there was little time or space to use a tripod). I did try out a 180mm 1:1 macro lens (the butterfly on a blue background), but found it much heavier and harder to use hand-held even with the monopod.
The chance to shoot such elaborately colored, live bugs in pseudo-natural surroundings year-round in the cool Pacific Northwest is a treat. Now that I’ve got my fix (three visits) and the sun is beginning to peak out now and then I’ll head back to the ponds and parks to try my luck with the natives.