Get Close to Exquisite Subjects in Butterfly Houses
I haven't met a butterfly house I didn't like. Each one brings new delights. I have visited several dotted across the country and notice many similar species, but there have always been a few different ones to enjoy, all in lovely settings. Since the butterflies are fairly tame in these settings, I can get close to my subjects. Therefore, both a macro lens and a standard 18-70mm lens work well. If you live in a northern state and go in the winter, bring several lens wipes and allow at least 15 minutes for your lens to defog and adjust to the drastic temperature change and high humidity.
The macro lens works well in this setting if the butterflies allow you to get within 1 to 2 feet of them. I rarely have a problem getting close unless the garden is full of yelling school kids who irritate the insects as they try to touch the pretty wings. The aperture most likely has to be f/13 or smaller (f/16 or f/18 might be the best) so you can get all parts of the butterfly in reasonable focus. Most likely you will have to change the speed frequently according to the level of light shining on each butterfly (lots of direct light requires a higher speed, perhaps over 1/125 second or higher, so you don't wash out the colors).
Do your best to hold still while taking the shot (I press my arms against my sides or a pole/tree and I don't breathe). I almost always use auto focus because I have to be quick and I aim for the part of the butterfly closest to me, often the tip of a wing to help the whole body be in focus. Or I will focus on the head, knowing that is a point of interest.
Keep checking the LCD screen on the back of your digital camera to see the results and adjust accordingly. Too faded? Increase the shutter speed (i.e. - go from 1/80 second to 1/125 second) to reduce the amount of light. Too dark? Let in more light by slowing the shutter speed. Is only one part of the butterfly in focus? Close the aperture to broaden the field of focus (i.e. - go from f/13 to f/16) or make sure you are focusing on the part closest to you. Sunny days are almost a must, helping you get the light needed for the smaller lens openings called for when you are photographing a subject with great dimensional depth with a macro lens. With the macro lens the background will often be blurry, enhancing the sharp detailed beauty of the butterfly.
I use my 18 - 70mm standard lens for cloudy days or some shaded parts of a garden (the aperture can be lower - maybe f/9 to f/11 - which lets in more light while still getting a lot in focus). I also use it when I want to get more of the background and flowers in focus. If the butterfly is too small in the frame, I crop the picture on my computer. The only drawback with the standard lens is you lose a bit of the butterfly's magnificence and details of the head and fine hairs on the thorax that are easier to capture with a macro lens.
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