I should state right up front that this article is based on some first attempt experimentation. As a consequence the results are not up to the standard that I would have liked. I certainly don’t mind sharing first attempt results with readers. The experience led to some potential learning to share. Photographing captive butterflies in flight hand-held is an interesting challenge. This article shares a selection of images and some of my initial thoughts about adjusting my technique for the future.
Regular readers will know that I’ve been field testing some Olympus camera gear over the past number of weeks. One of the features that the OM-D E-M1X has is Pro Capture. It occurred to me that this capability could work well when photographing captive butterflies in flight.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
After spending a couple of hours at the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory I came away with a few decent image captures. The experience generated some ideas on what I could do differently with future photography of this nature.
My first lesson was that using a teleconverter for this subject matter wasn’t necessarily a good thing to do. While additional reach was gained, the loss of light penalty was fairly significant.
Far too many of my images were captured at ISO-6400… and many of those were woefully underexposed. This made working with the images in post quite a challenge.
Another consideration was depth of field. Longer focal lengths bring shallower depth-of-field with them. It is very difficult to anticipate in which direction a butterfly may take flight. Using longer telephoto focal lengths meant that quite often a subject butterfly would quickly go out of focus.
In the future I would use shorter telephoto lengths and forego the teleconverter. This would give me one more stop of light and some additional depth-of-field. To accomplish this I would need to get closer to subject butterflies. In a captive environment this is not an issue as the butterflies are typically accustomed to people.
Another lesson was to pay a lot more attention to backgrounds. I had a number of decent images that suffered from distracting backgrounds… as we can see in the two photographs above.
At the start of my experiment I wasn’t leaving nearly enough room for butterfly flight movement. Trying to photograph butterflies too close up makes capturing them in flight, even when using Pro Capture, more difficult.
Finding a good shooting angle, then waiting for the anticipated action to begin, takes patience but often yields better results.
In the future I would be much more selective choosing subject butterflies. It is also important to study the movements of various species of butterflies and moths as they can behave differently.
Waiting for interactions between butterflies can also produce some interesting images.
The final consideration is something that affects all photography that we do. Lighting.
Choosing subject butterflies in good light creates more drama in our photographs, and allows us to use lower ISO values which contributes to better image quality.
My first attempt at photographing captive butterflies in flight hand-held with the Olympus OM-D E-M1X using Pro Capture mode taught me some lessons…
1) Be more selective when choosing subject butterflies. Avoid busy backgrounds and find good light. Use a good shooting angle.
2) Forego the use of a teleconverter. Get in closer to subject butterflies and use a shorter focal length to help with depth-of-field.
3) Frame images to allow for flight room.
4) Study various species to learn more about their flight habits.
5) The Olympus Pro Capture Mode is simply awesome to use for this type of subject matter.
All photographs in this article were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All of the photographs displayed in this article were produced from RAW files using my standard process. All images were cropped to varying degrees.
Use of Olympus Loaner Equipment
All of the photographs in this article were captured using Olympus Loaner Gear which was supplied by Olympus Americas Inc. on a no-charge basis. We are under no obligation what-so-ever to Olympus Americas Inc. in terms of our use of this loaner Olympus camera equipment. There is no expectation or agreement of any kind with Olympus Americas Inc. that we will create and share with readers any images, articles or videos, or on what that content may be.
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