Last week my friend, John, invited me on a field trip to the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory (NBC) in Niagara Falls, Ontario. John goes down there several times a year to try out new equipment and techniques. All the staff seem to know him. I hadn’t been to the NBC in a couple of years and I thought that the warm humid atmosphere would be a pleasant change from winter. So armed with several cups of coffee each we hopped in his car and drove down. We arrived at 10:00 am Sunday morning when it opened. That seems to be a good time because we had the place to ourselves for a couple of hours before many tourists started arriving.
Butterflies make interesting photo subjects. Even the ones that look drab when seen at a distance become colorful when viewed up close through a macro lens. All the flowers, leaves and branches they land on can also be used as strong visual supporting elements to create effective compositions.
One of the challenges of photographing butterflies in the wild is getting them to stay in one place long enough. At the NBC they are conditioned to people being around and don’t flit away when you approach. They will often land on an outstretched hand. I had one on top of my head for a few minutes. They are also plentiful so you will have no problem finding a willing subject.
John and I each chose different camera equipment setups for the day. He used a Canon 7D with a 100-400mm f/4L lens and extension tubes plus a macro ring flash all mounted on a monopod. I had a Canon 70-200 f/4L (non-IS) lens mounted on my 5D2 and a tripod. I put on a full set of Kenko extension tubes but eventually settled on using only the 36mm tube. That allowed me to get close enough to fill the frame but I still had plenty of working distance. I shot for awhile using natural light then put on my Canon 580EX2 flash to try it out. I should note that none of the pictures accompanying this article have been cropped.
Although they have a rule against using tripods, they don’t enforce it until there are other people around and you start getting in their way. I was able to use my tripod until about noon. They were very pleasant about it and allowed me to keep using it as long as the legs were closed. John’s monopod was not a problem.
The first butterfly conservatory I visited, about 20 years ago, was Butterfly World near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It is much larger than the NBC. John has also visited the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory, formerly known as Wings of Paradise, which might be of interest to those located in Toronto or southwestern Ontario. I also know of several others in both Canada and the US. If you are looking for a challenging subject, you might want to visit one. It’s also a good place for a family outing with lots to see and do for the kids and non-photographers.