Thoughts on Specializing + My Top 10 Tips for Making Beautiful Butterfly Photographs

© Rick Sammon
I'm often asked "What's your specialty?"

I reply: ""My specialty is not specializing." You see, I try to do it all. And, I encourage young photographers not to specialize - because being good at many aspects of photography is often better than being good at just one. What's more, what you learn in one area of photography can often be applied to another.

I'd like to hear from you in the Comments section here on my blog. Do you think specializing is a good thing, or not? Do you specialize?

Before you answer, think about your investments: Do you have all your savings in one place, or are your savings diversified? That's also something I recommend. Kinda like not having "all your eggs in one basket."

All that said, I specialize in certain types of photography from time to time, as I did when I was into photographing butterflies, which resulted in several butterfly projects:

Rick's Flying Flowers - my latest iPhone and iPad wallpaper app. This app was  developed by my friend Keith M. Kolmos, who also developed my Rick's Big Cats wallpaper dapp.

Butterfly Wonders - my iPad app that features camera and behavior info on each butterfly, plus a detailed section on close-up photography.

Flying Flowers - my coffee-table book on butterflies.

If you are into butterflies, here are my top photography tips:

1) Use a ringlite - for even and ratio lighting. Also to shoot at small apertures when hand-holding your camera.

2) Use a true macro lens for true macro photos. Close-up settings are zoom lenses are not true macro settings.

3) Use a wide-angle lens for close-ups with good depth of field - as illustrated by the opening photograph for this post.

4) Make the background as important as the subject. The background can make or break your shot.

5) Make your own backgrounds.

6) Focus on the eyes.

7) Experiment with depth of field. Sometimes, shallow is good, and vice versa.

8) Expose for the highlights. Check your histogram and highlight alert.

9) Be patient. Wait for a butterfly to come to you. Don't chase one around.

10) Plant a butterfly bush or two in your backyard.

11) Photograph a butterfly when it is backlit so that the light shines through the butterfly's wings.

12) Experiment with different shutter speeds to stop or blur action - with and without a flash.

13) Spend a morning or afternoon at a butterfly center. Call in advance and ask if tripods are permitted. Also ask about special photo tours.

Check out more of my butterfly pictures on my Butterfly Wonders SmugMug gallery.

Explore the light,

In Celebration of Spring, Butterfly Wonders is Now .99

In celebration of spring, I've reduced the price of my Butterfly Wonders iPad app to .99.

© Rick Sammon
Butterfly Wonders includes:
- my favorite photographs of butterflies from my worldwide travels;
- names and descriptions of each butterfly by butterfly expert Alan Chin Lee;
- detailed close-up photography tips, giving you an intro to close-up photography;
- camera/lens info for each shot, so you can see how I got the shot;
- before and after shots, which show the wonders of butterflies.

The app is a mini-course in close-up photography and more.
If you like Mother Nature, I think you'll also like my iPad app, Life Lessons We Can Learn From Mother Nature, which is also .99. It feature my favorite nature photographs along with inspirational quotes.

 Click here to see all my apps.

All photographs in both apps were taken with my Canon digital SLR and lenses. Click here to see my gear.

Explore the light,

Final Round: Battle of the Close-up Photography Tips!

Photographs by Rick Sammon
It's been a fun week here on my blog - and on Juan Pons' blog. We have both enjoyed the Battle of the Close-up Photography Tips.

Today is the final round. Thank you all for joining the close-up photo fun.

Away we go!

My tip for today: Think.

Think carefully about the aperture you choose. For the praying mantis photograph on the top right, I shot at f/5.6 (for very shallow depth of field) to draw attention to the mantis' head. For the photograph on the top left, I stopped down to f/16 for greater depth of field.
Photographs by Rick Sammon
Think about the story you want to tell. I like the photo above that shows the full body of the newborn butterfly. The photo on the right, however, tells a different story, a story about the multicolor scales that cover the butterfly's delicate wings.

Photograph by Rick Sammon
Think about the wonders of nature. Do you see the two other "animals" in my photograph of an atlas moth. Nature is amazing! Post you comment here if you see 'em.

For Juan's tip, go to his cool site.

If you like this post, please share it with a friend. All you have to do is click the twitter icon below. And don't forget, you can follow me on twitter for almost daily tips.

For more info on close-up photography, and photography in general, check out my apps. Click here to start the photo fun! Juan and I co-developed Butterfly Wonders (which features a section on close-up photography) and Life Lesson We Can Learn From Mother Nature.
• • •
Explore the light, 

P.S. If you like butterflies, check out my book, Flying Flowers:

Round 3: Battle of the Close-up Photography Tips: Pons vs. Sammon. Today: Go Wide or Go Tele

Photograph by Rick Sammon
All this week: the Battle of the Close-up Photography Tips: Juan Pons vs. me! 

Hey, this is all in good fun!

Away we go! 

As you'll see today, Juan goes close, while I go wide.
Me: Use wide-angle settings on your zoom lens for close-up photographs.
For my picture, I used a Canon 16-35mm lens set at 16mm on my Canon 1D Mark II. My aperture was set at f/16. I was only two feet or so from the butterflies in the foreground.
I took the picture in Michoacan, Mexico where the monarch butterflies from North America spend the winter. It was quite an experience to be in a colony of 30 million - yes million - monarch butterflies. You can see more of my pictures from Michoacan, as well some of my favorite butterfly pictures, in my book, Flying Flowers.

All my gear is listed on my Gallery and Gear page.
The main advantage of using a wide-angle lens for close-up photography is that you'll get tremendous depth of field - way, way more than you'll get with a macro lens. For max depth of field, use a small aperture and focus 1/3 into the scene.
Photograph by Juan Pons
Juan: Sometimes getting closer than you originally intended can create a completely different but very interesting and engaging image. As I was photographing this ice and snow covered bison in Yellowstone National Park, the bison kept walking towards me, and the closer he got, the larger he became in my viewfinder.

Although I started with the idea of making an image of the bison in the harsh winter environment, I decided to embrace the situation and instead of moving further back or changing lenses I decided to make some extreme closeups of this impressive animal. Out of the entire sequence of images of this bison, this, the extreme close up, ended up being my favorite by far. Yes, not the image I started with, or had in mind, but certainty a great image.

What, oftentimes, works very well with extreme close ups, is that their subjects are not instantly recognizable and as a result they challenge the viewer a bit while they are trying to figure out what is in the image. Once they "discover" the subject, the image itself transforms in their mind's eye, and they end up discovering new aspects, angles and "meanings" to the image that may not have occurred to them from the very beginning.

So as my friend Rick likes to say: "If you think you are close, get closer!"

I photographed the bison above with a Canon EOS 7D and Canon EF500mm f/4 lens.
I needed to keep to a safe distance from this big bull bison) at F/5.6 and 1/50th of a second at ISO 400 taking advantage of the nice natural diffused light of an overcast sky.

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For more info on close-up photography, and photography in general, check out my apps. Click here to start the photo fun! Juan and I co-developed Butterfly Wonders (which features a section on close-up photography) and Life Lesson We Can Learn From Mother Nature.

Explore the light, 

P.S. If you want to share this post, simply click on the twitter or facebook icons below.