Locations; Big City Butterflies; Photographing At The American Museum Of Natural History’s Conservatory Page 2

As for flash, I used a macro ringflash when I first visited the exhibit (with an EOS 10D back in 2004). It's simple to use and lets you stick the lens between branches that often stand in the way of any other flash, provided you don't disturb the insects. This time I began with a macro twin flash. It provided a little more leeway in lighting, especially when setting a 4:1 lighting ratio between the left and right tubes on the twin flash (although not always obvious with these insects). I also used a Canon 430EX shoe-mount flash (diffused with a Dot Line diffusion sock) with a TTL off-camera cable, holding the flash in various positions. The strain of holding the flash in one hand, the camera in the other was evident from the beads of sweat that most noticeably formed on the flash. When using the shoe mount, I added a lens shade.

This Red Lacewing (Cethosia biblis) was playing hide-and-seek, and the best way to light it was with a shoe-mount flash. I carefully maneuvered my way close to it with the camera, then just as carefully moved in with the flash, holding it overhead and to the left, thereby concentrating the light on the butterfly while keeping the foreground somewhat in shadow.
The chrysalis represents the pupal stage of the butterfly and moth. The only thing you won't see in this exhibit is the larval stage, or caterpillar. But watch patiently and you may even capture a butterfly emerging from its protective cocoon. Be sure to photograph the name tags so you can identify them later. Here we see a newly emerged Sleepy Orange on the topt, along with the bat-like chrysalis of the Spicebush Swallowtail (left) and the colorful Monarch cocoon (right) revealing a hint of this butterfly's warning coloration in that band at the top. A handheld flash was used.

A special thanks to the courteous staff of The Butterfly Conservatory and to the American Museum of Natural History for providing this rewarding opportunity.

CAUTION: Be Wary Of Condensation
Chances are you've acclimated to the museum before stepping into the greenhouse. Still, there is a marked contrast between temperature and humidity levels outside the conservatory and within its walls. To safeguard optics against condensation (which forms when optical surfaces that are cool and dry are exposed to warm, humid conditions), keep the camera inside your camera bag until you're ready to use it. If you step through the doors wearing the camera, tuck it inside your coat or jacket so the warm pocket of air acts as a buffer, and leave it there for a few minutes. As a further precaution, give yourself a moment before opening the second set of doors into the exhibit, and allow another few minutes before exposing the camera to the new environment.

Who said butterflies don't have a sense of humor? This Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius) blocked part of the placard, intentionally I thought, as it posed for the camera. The card actually asks visitors not to disturb feeding butterflies.

Macro Techniques With Butterflies
(1) Speed is of the essence. Set the lens to full-time manual focus. Don't wait for autofocusing to kick in, because it might be too late with these often flighty subjects.
(2) Preset the focusing distance (magnification) and move in physically with the camera to achieve optimum focus (some back-and-forth movement may be necessary to get a visual focus lock). If time permits, play around with focusing/magnification for more interesting, more encompassing compositions.
(3) Depth of field for close-ups is minimal at best, decreasing exponentially with increasing magnification. Use a small lens aperture (preferably f/16 or f/22 at ISO 400; if the flash is not powerful enough, you might have to use a larger aperture, such as f/11 at the same ISO, or go to ISO 800 or higher to maintain the smaller f/stops). Small lens apertures also help limit the throw of light and darken backgrounds for more dramatic effects.
(4) For best results and a steadier hand, use the optical viewfinder, which gives you the clearest, crispest image necessary to get a full sense of sharpness.
(5) Shoot several exposures of the same subject for insurance against focusing and composition errors that might result from even the slightest movement.
(6) With close-up flash exposures, give a +0.67 EV flash exposure compensation boost. For ambient exposures, use ambient exposure compensation (+1 EV) with brightly colored butterflies and bright flowers/foliage (bracketing helps).
(7) Avoid on-camera flash at macro distance settings because the lens or shade will block part of the light. What's more, most of the light may not even hit the subject. Plus, you'll catch glaring hot spots in reflective surfaces.
(8) Unless focusing primarily on the colorful wings, focus on the head region, namely the eyes (some with interesting patterns) and proboscis (feeding tube); the antennae can also be important.

Banded Orange
Using a ringflash on a macro lens is the easy way to go with close-ups such as this, of a Banded Orange butterfly (Dryadula phaetusa). (Canon EOS 10D plus 100mm macro, ringflash, ISO 100, f/16.)

Just The Facts
Where it is/American Museum of Natural History: Main entrance at Central Park West & 79th Street, New York City
When to go: The Butterfly Conservatory is open October through May (check website for specific dates); general museum Hours: 10am-5:45pm, daily (closed Thanksgiving/Christmas)
Fee: Tickets sold separately for The Butterfly Conservatory; suggested general museum admission: $15 adults/$8.50 kids/$11 seniors and students (with ID); combo ticket packages available
For more information/directions: www.amnh.org; (212) 769-5100


JohnnyDocter's picture

Really informative article about the big city butterflies, there seems to be a large collection of butterflies and moth of different variety. Their protection in these greenhouses is a great idea for the conservation of their beautiful species. OmniTech Support