A day spent with Birds and Butterflies

Written on September 3, 2014

While spending a quiet weekend in Anglesey, I paid the Pili Palas Butterfly and Bird Palace a visit to test my photography skills with wildlife that's generally smaller than I'm used to.

Location : Pili Palas Butterfly and Bird Palace

Butterfly

Pili Palas Butterfly and Bird nature world is just a short drive from the Menai Bridge and well worth a visit. I don’t know about you but when I try to approach a wild butterfly it is usually long gone way before I have my camera set up. This is a perfect place to tune up your quick draw reflexes and practice your macro.

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The excitement began even before entering the building itself with a group of Alpacas. This one had obviously had a hair cut to help it cope with the brief heat wave, but had been left with a very curly hairdo… not unlike my chauffeur for the day.

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Subjects : Flowers, Butterflys and Birds

A beautiful flower

The butterfly room is the focal point of Pili Palas. As you’d expect, it is basically a very large greenhouse filled with a diverse array of colourful butterflies and tropical plants. It took me a while to adjust to the heat, my glasses and camera kept steaming up, so I was already adapting and learning lessons that I’d not needed to apply previously.

If you find yourself in a similar setting, a cleaning cloth is a must, but failing that a tshirt will do nicely, just make sure it’s clean of dirt because the last thing you want is to be scratching your lens.

With it being a bank holiday weekend the place was pretty packed. It’s perfect for all ages but there was only one other photographer there, which surprised me given the variety of colours and wildlife available. I made about 5 circuits around the room, each time discovering another type of butterfly.

The nature world also features an aviary, reptile house and many other types of insects. Although these were great in their own right they weren’t very photogenic as they were behind glass in darkened rooms. The butterfly room is well worth the price of admission by itself. On the way out there is a pretty large meerkat enclosure with floor to ceiling windows. They get really close so you could get some really awesome photos if you don’t mind looking a bit silly and kneeling or lying on the floor to get a meerkat’s eye view (I avoided this for fear of being trampled on such a busy day).

There is also a nature walk and hide where you can see all manner of birds including woodpeckers if you are patient. All in all it’s a really good place to visit and you don’t even need a macro lens to get the perfect shot.

Techniques I used

Butterfly

Don’t be too fussy about ISO. When I first started out in photography I used a Nikon D80 and I tried to use the lowest ISO I could get away with because I didn’t want grainy images.

The truth is I didn’t really get away with it and now I have blurred, yet grain free, photos which are pretty unusable for anything except a reminder of how not to work.

I’m using a D800 now and on this trip I was shooting at ISO 2000 at one point.

To photograph butterflies the shutter speed and aperture were more important than the ISO. I don’t like using too wide of an aperture, I usually keep around f/8 as that is the sharpest aperture for my camera. To me the sharpness of the image was especially important to pick out the small details on the insects, especially if I needed to crop the image at all in post processing.

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The beauty of the butterfly farm is that there are butterflies everywhere and unless you are particularly squeamish, you can get really close.

I was using a 28-300mm lens so could be as close or as far away as needed. Next time I visit I’ll be bringing a macro lens for some close up pattern shots. I used matrix metering in order to get the perfect exposure on my closeups as it evaluates the frame as a whole and averages out shadows and highlights. I used an exposure compensation of -0.3 to bring back a bit of shadow and I also added more contrast in lightroom. It’s best to get the metering as close to perfect at the start though.

Tortoise

More pictures

You can find some more pictures from this shoot in my wildlife photography portfolio, and I’ve also uploaded several to my Flickr profile. For now, here are some more of my favourite images from our visit to Pili Palas.

ButterflyScreen Shot 2014-09-03 at 00.30.51 _DSC0337 Butterfly Pili Palas Butterfly and Bird Palace