flying flowers

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,
Rick

You Never Know Who Is Watching


Above is a quickie snapshot that I just took of the front and back covers of one of my books, Flying Flowers.

It's the back cover quote that's the point of this post. Here goes. (Don't worry if you can't read the quote in the picture, you'll see it below.)

Before the book was published, a local photo group here in Croton on Hudson, NY  was producing a small photo show in a church. They asked me to participate. I said OK, thinking that this small, local show was not the high point of my career. I made two prints and hung them in the show.

After the show closed, a local woman reviewed the show in our local, 12-page paper and specifically mentioned my pictures – the two pictures that the published eventually used for the front and back covers of the book.

The local woman said nice things about my photographs. I wanted to say "thank you." So, I looked up her phone number and gave her a call, asking her if I could drop by with the prints as a "thank you." She said, "Sure!"

I stopped by woman's house and we chatted. Had tea. I gave her the prints. I asked her what she did.
Well my friends, before I tell you what she did, I'll share with you the quote, which ended up on the back page of the book - which sure did help with the marketing of the book. Here goes.

"For their incisive vision, sumptuous textures and colors, and the sheer wonder these finely detailed descriptions in butterflies awaken in us, I think Rick Sammon's photographs are marvels." 

Who is the woman behind the quote? Maria Morris Hambourge, Curator, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (at the time).

• • •

The point is that you never know who is looking at your work. Your work does you absolutely no good sitting on a hard drive.

Exhibit your work, set up an on-line gallery, create a blog and blog away – as much as possible. Network, make contacts, use social media tools like Stumble Upon and Digg and Twitter and Facebook to tell the world about you and your work. Who knows? You may get discovered – big time. Try everything. Never, never give up.

• • •

Flying Flowers was published several years ago, before the iPad was invented. Now I have an iPad app on butterflies, Butterfly Wonders. The app includes a section on close-up photography. Here's a sample for the upcoming butterfly season!


Add light

When adding light, a ringlight is a good choice. A ringlight fits on a lens and can provide ratio and shadowless lighting, as illustrated above. The light from a ringlight also adds contrast to a picture, making it look sharper than a natural light photograph. I used a Canon MR-14EX Ringlite on my 50mm macro lens for this picture of a Cabbage White butterfly.

You could use a camera’s built-in flash, or an attached accessory flash for close-up flash pictures. If you do, you will probably get a harsh shadow in your picture, caused by direct light or because the lens or lens hood is shading the subject from the flash.

A coil cord is another option. It lets you position the flash off camera for more creative lighting than on-camera flash photography. However, harsh shadows may be undesirable.


Go wide

Wide-angle close-up photography has an advantage over macro lens close-up photography: much more depth-of-field.

Wide-angle lenses usually focus closer than zoom lenses with wide-angle settings. With both types of lenses, it’s important to set a small aperture, focus carefully and to consider the applicable aforementioned tips (ring lights can’t be used for close-up wide angle photography, unless you want a very bright area in the center of the frame).

I photographed these Monarch butterflies in Mexico with my Canon EOS 1Ds and 16-35mm zoom lens set at about 24mm.

Explore the light,
Rick

P. S. Speaking of books, G Garison just posed this comment about my books. :-)

These books need a warning label indicating that they may take you harmless hobby of photography and turn it into a potential life wrecking obsession of trying to get the perfect set of images and then applying the perfect post processing techniques to make stunning art. The side effects can range from a damaged social life to empty pocket syndrome.

Rick, your books are fantastic and I hope your iPad apps continue to inspire people wanting to better their photography skills the way your books and videos have impacted my hobby.