Category Archives: Photo Subjects

Niagara Butterfly Conservatory

Butterfly, ambient light.

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.

(Click on image to enlarge) Butterfly, flash.

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.

(Click on image to enlarge) Butterfly pair, ambient light.


The Northern Lights

The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are one of nature’s most spectacular sights.

I live near Toronto, Ontario, too far south to see them especially when the sky is constantly lit up by the lights of the city reflecting off the upper atmosphere.

In over 40 years of photography outings, several times a year, to Algonquin Park a couple of hundred miles north of here, I have been lucky enough to see the northern lights twice. The first time was in 1971 when I was camped on the south shore of Tea Lake. We were treated to a late night show of dancing blue and white light high in a black star-studded northern sky. The second time was in the mid 90s. I was on the south beach of Canisbay Lake when they appeared over the northern shore. The green and yellow flames didn’t reach very high but they seemed to stretch out from one end of the horizon to the other. Unfortunately I have no successful photographs of either occurrence. That was when I still used film. Today, with the instant feedback of digital technology, I’d be much more likely to have some photos to show you.

Only twice? Most people I know have never seen them and never will. My son worked in Algonquin as a canoe tripping guide for several years and he has never seen them. Nor have many other friends who also work there.

I was very excited when I heard about this new website from the Canadian Space Agency in cooperation with the University of Calgary and Astronomy North. It went live yesterday, Septmber 20, 2010. They have set up a system to broadcast live pictures of the northern lights over the internet from Yellowknife NWT. You will need to select ‘Connect’ in order to view the show. It operates as an ongoing series of still photographs that updates every 10 seconds. The website also includes some educational information and a gallery of interesting past shows that you can view. The past shows appear as a movie since there is no need to wait for the 10 second updates.

Another feature is a Twitter account you can follow that will deliver notices of when you can expect the northern lights to be active. This would be useful if you happen to live in the north where you are more likely to be able to see them. Probably less useful to those of us in the south.

This new website is designed to bring the movie version of one of nature’s wonders, the northern lights, to many of us who will never have the opportunity to see the live show. Check it out.