• This week I have mostly been photographing….

    Butterflies. No really….I know its January - I have been at RHS Wisley with my Dad for a ‘Butterflies in the Glasshouse’ workshop. I arrived at silly’o’clock in the morning on a grey rainy Tuesday with almost every piece of camera equipment I own. My dad even had a suitcase…with wheels!

    The butterflies are inside one of the large tropical glasshouses, there are a number of exotic species that live at Wisely for a short period every year. They are sent there as pupae through the post (ewww) and they emerge in cages in the glasshouse.

    After leaving our cameras to acclimatise to the humidity, we had a quick lesson from Adrian Davies, a natural history photographer who runs the workshops. Adrian had some really good tips for photographing insects and I thought I would share some of them with you….

    • Keeping the butterfly’s wings parallel to the camera will help keep the bulk of the subject in focus with shallow depth of field. This is easier if the butterfly's wings are closed like this:

    • Remember to look at the background as much as you look at the subject – a busy background can mean your subject gets lost. Wide apertures can mean shallow depth of field and a blurred out background.

    • Insects often have striking patterns or colours – contrast between the patterns on the insect and on vegetation or backgrounds can add interest.

    • Focus on the insect’s eyes, humans subconsciously look there first and it will matter less that other parts are out of focus.

    • Finally – natural light is fine but if you need more, use a reflector to bounce more onto your subject. Adrian’s best piece of advice was that you don’t need to buy expensive silvered reflectors – get a mirror tile from a DIY shop or use the foiled lid from a takeaway container instead. I also noticed that the tile was much smaller than my reflector which made it much easier to fit into tight spaces.

    We got into the greenhouse with two hours before the public would arrive. The butterflies were still dopey so there wasn’t much movement. Putting Adrian’s tips into action proved harder than I expected – remembering two or three tips meant you would forget all the other things you ever knew about photography. Eventually, I cracked out my tripod and finally understood the real use of live-view and a twisty screen.

    The butterflies were so still I could focus manually using the “focus zoom” mode on live-view to make absolutely sure the right part of the insect was sharp. I also used a remote shutter release to reduce camera shake. The twisty screen was brilliant – I could focus without bending over double or I could have my camera up above my head without needing to stand on something.

    Finally we met in the classroom again to view some pictures. My dad handed over his memory card and we were all very impressed with his double flash lighting effects. A cuppa, biscuit and quick Q&A session later, we were free to wander the gardens for the rest of the day (and eat excellent cake!).

    I had a great time and learnt a whole bunch of stuff about butterflies, my dad, my camera and macro photography in general. I can’t recommend this type of workshop more highly! There are other butterfly workshops at Wisley this year and Adrian Davies also recommended Buckfast Butterfly Farm near Dartmoor. Adrian can be found at www.adriandaviesimaging.com

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