Wisley Gardens Butterflies
The Gardens at Wisley have been working with a leading butterfly centre (honestly I can’t remember which one now, and details are no longer on their website) to keep a range of butterflies in their large greenhouse. So of course I decided to give the place a visit whilst I was within range. So a train trip and a cab ride later and I’m at the gardens and ready to see the butterflies.
I met a few new factors here, this being the first trip to a butterfly house with the camera; firstly there was the heat change, being early in the year outside was very cool, so with the big temperature change the first thing my lenses all did was to fog right up. So that left me a good few minutes to wander and get a feel for the place, spot the feeding locations and have a general nose around as I waited for the glass to clear. The second big thing was the heat, something that beats down and is fine for a short while, but can start to strain oneself when holding and focusing for macro shots (without any tripod support of course); so breaks for water and a cool down were important throughout the day.
The greenhouse setup they have is large and split in two, a larger more open deserty section with a wide range of flower, and a more dense jungle type arrangement, which is where they were housing the butterflies.
Certainly the attraction was a major success, there were many visitors there that day, got to be quite a scrum what with coach loads of school kids and others arriving throughout the day. The butterflies seemed well also, though possibly gorged a little on fruit a bit much, many were very docile, to the point where many appeared to be dead they were so still and relaxed, but would soon get to moving when anything happened to nudge what they were resting on. Of course I visited very near the end of this event, so it stands to reason that many of the butterflies would be approaching the latter part of their lifespan.
Well enough babbling onto the photos!
All photos taken with:
Sigma 150mm f2.8 macro
Sigma 1.4 teleconverter
Canon speedlite 580EX2 + Lumiquest softbox (off camera flashcored used sometimes)
Firstly now I must apologise for not knowing much (anything) about butterflies – one day I will get some species names up here – till then its just some pretty pics
One thing I really like in macro is getting close, really close and capturing a detailed shot of the insects. Butterfly houses give a great combination of (often) large butterfly species in a highly docile state – which lets me get super close for shots like this, where not only is the eye shown in clear detail, but also things such as the white muscles responsible for moving their wings and the pattern of their fur over their bodies.
Each time you think you’ve found the smallest bug you find one smaller – this was something I wanted to show in this shot, however the little fruit fly was not going to help matters out and decided to moon the camera. The banana also didn’t help matters, yellow flowers (and yellow in general I find) does have a tendency to overexpose when shot, which makes it a pain when it gets into shots. Some selective contrast and saturation reductions can help matters.
He’s not on what you think! But they do like rotting banana! Again a bit of a play needed in the background yellows, but overall a nice shot of his feeder and eye.
A little step back to get a bit more wing into the shot, very hard to get the exact perfect angle into these sorts of shot, a bit more wing detail in the upper corners would have been nice. Getting the eye is the minimum requirement, the better shots get that perfect angle as well.
f6.3, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used
Ok sometimes your finger slips and you end up shooting with the “wrong” settings. Though the wider aperture has given a nice bokeh (background blur) its really reduced the depth of field in the shot. However with good focus not all is lost, the eye is focus at least.
One thing I have picked up is that the viewer’s eye is apparently drawn to the brightest spot on a shot. So as you can see in the edit of this shot the back leg has been dimmed, a little less attracting to the eye of the viewer (I hope at least).
The 3rd image – erm just me showing off a crop of the eye, its sideways because that was the original orientation of the shot.
For this shot I was happy at the time, though looking back I really do wish I had stepped back another pace to get the whole wing in focus.
Bit of a change now, going to move back a step and get some wing shots of the big bugs. This is something that is a little harder (amazingly) in these places than the ultra close shots due to a few reasons.
Firstly the butterflies can often be on or near to manmade objects – this makes backgrounds harder to deal with than in the wild, since whilst errant leaves and twigs simple work as part of a natural setting, bits of building and tables don’t. Though you might say that a wider aperture can help counter this by blurring the background, remember it would also cut down the depth or field over the insect, making getting the right angle of shooting (to get focus over the body and the wings) even harder.
Secondly there is the space issue, though this is more a result of using effectively 210mm of macro lens (remember the 1.4TC is attached with my setup) which means that I had to shoot from quite a distance back – great for not distracting the butterfly, but not so great when there are pathways to stick to and people walking past.
Here’s a great example of distracting backgrounds – a full wing and body shot of one of the same subjects from the earlier close-up that I showed of his face and eye.
Here this wider aperture is not a mistake, I deliberately chose this lesser depth of field so that there was more blur to the background, which is of vines growing up a wall. Though the wall is still visible the overall tone and colour I feel lets it slip back into the background more.
Me playing around with settings again, I was going for a wider aperture again to lose building elements in the background, fortunately for me he was hanging off a plant at the time and the background features were far enough away the they didn’t get enough light from the flash, thus giving the great lowkey effect in this shot (black background).
Well another change, this time taking advantage of the docile nature of the butterflies to get the camera really close and capture some great details of the wings.
Not the best compositions, but some great details to see as well as being able to get a real look at the makeup of the colours on the wings.
And now for a bit of a complaint about the gardens – they labelled something wrong!
Ok totally the wrong settings, though thankfully the flash was able to throw enough light to get both shots. These were just fired off without time to change the settings as this little robin landed on the label – he was flying around inside the greenhouse and had come in through an open vent and got trapped inside.
During one of my breaks from the heat I took a moment to do a little flower shooting, not much though since I was mostly heading right back in with the butterflies as soon as I could.
And so that’s it from Wisley, it was a great exhibition of butterflies and well worth a visit. The gardens also looked very well laid out, though at this time of year they were a little more bare, though the snowdrops were invading the wooded sections. It’s certainly worth a visit for the gardens alone if one has a chance, and hopefully they will hold the butterflies next year as well.
I also learnt a lot about shooting in such an environment, the close shooting distance and very docile butterflies not putting the same demands on me as in the field, I had time to compose, but honestly was too excited to get super close shots to put as much thought into it. Further the close environment means that the 150mm + TC is in fact often too long for its own good, something that I never thought I would find in macro work.
Oh and one more just for the road