Nourify Photography

Butterfly Pavilion in Los Angeles

This past weekend, we visited Butterfly Pavilion in Los Angeles. This is a live butterfly exhibition set up every summer at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, where hundreds of beautiful butterflies from 30 native North American butterfly species are showcased. It was a great experience for our son, and we also had some fun taking a few shots of the butterflies.

Taking pictures of butterflies presents a set of challenges which are common in many close-up and macro photography projects. First, one needs to achieve high magnification ratios, which is the ratio between the size of an object (in this case, the small butterflies) on the image sensor versus its real-life size. This can be done by using either a true macro lens (which can provide a 1:1 or larger magnification), or by using other means such as extension tubes, close-up lenses,  or teleconverters.  The second challenge is to get sharp pictures. There are two main reasons for sharpness being a greater challenge in macro photography. One is that, given a focal length and an aperture setting, the closer you get to a subject, the smaller your depth of field (DoF) will be. So in macro photography where the distance to the subject is typically quite small, one has to deal with very small depth of field. To give you an example, if you use 100mm focal length, and your image sensor is 30cm away from your subject, even at f/11 aperture, your DoF will only be about 4mm (assuming a full-frame 35mm sensor). Now if the distance to your subject gets increased to 2m, your DoF at f/11 would increase from ~4mm to ~25cm! The second reason for the sharpness challenge in macro photography has to do with high magnification, and the fact the slightest camera shake will be highly magnified resulting in motion blur. Therefore, one has to further increase shutter speeds to avoid motion blur, and at the same time, has to stop down (i.e., use smaller apertures/higher f-numbers) to get larger DoF. This brings us to yet another challenge in macro photography and that is lighting, and to deal with that, you may find various lighting setups such as ring flashes, etc. in the market which are specifically targeted for macro photography.

A good introduction to macro photography can be found here. Also a good summary of macro photography tools (e.g., extension tubes, close-up filters, etc.) are provided here. Two good books on macro photography are Bryan Peterson’s book and John Shaw’s book. Finally, you can find a few nice tips here specifically on taking butterfly shots.

Some of our butterfly shots from our recent visit to the Butterfly Pavilion are shown below. We used two camera setups. Our first setup was a Nikon D800E with a 105mm f/2.8G VR Macro lens together with the Nikon R1C1 flash system. Our second setup was a Nikon D4 with a 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II lens together with a Canon 500D close-up filter using the available natural light. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to use our tripods and only had half an hour for our visit (due to popularity, Butterfly Pavilion is typically very crowded and as such, they only allow half an hour visit time for every group of visitors). But still we tried to take a few shots and we hope you like them.

Thank you for visiting and as always, please feel free to leave comments and critique…

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