Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Shooting butterflies is one of my favorite ways to spend time with a camera. They are beautiful and fascinating creatures that rarely cooperate with a photographer. Butterflies simply do not understand or care about the photographer’s needs.  They refuse to position themselves against a clean background, they decide to fly away at the exact moment you have the shot framed perfectly and they have no concept of the photographer’s depth of field concerns.

But when you get a capture that you like, it makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. You immediately forget about the other 100 frames that were blurred, or where critical focus was missed or you framed the shot completely wrong. Each and every good one is a fleeting moment that will never return. A moment whether through skill, patience or good fortune you managed to get it right.

One of the reasons I liked this shot of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is that it was unconventional and unexpected. It was shot with a super telephoto lens, a Sigma 120-400mm at 360 for this frame. That’s 540mm in full frame speak. Everyone knows that shooting small things is supposed to be done with a proper macro lens. Turns out that’s not a hard and fast rule.  I had started the day with a mission to shoot squirrels, so that was the lens I had.

This swallowtail was feeding on a small Buddleia or butterfly bush in my own back yard.  The bush was only 4 feet tall so that was another problem to overcome. To get a decent angle for an even halfway clean background the only solution was crawling around in the dirt with that cumbersome lens. That means making sure there was enough shutter speed to hand hold. I pushed the ISO to 500, which for the A77 is getting into risky territory. It took a few layers of subtle noise reduction with Imagenomics Noiseware to get the final image super clean without losing the detailed textures.

Was it worth it? In the end I got a shot from an unconventional point of view, with a clean composition and detail that holds up. At my level of experience it felt like an accomplishment. Most of all it demonstrates that there are good shots to be had right in your own backyard. It’s all about seeing what’s there and taking a chance.

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