I don't have a true macro lens, and I don't like getting that close to the bugs. To me, it doesn't feel natural. I want to include some breathing room, so I can take in a little more of their environment. I'm going for art, not ID photos for a book.
Well, that is probably why you can get "the whole butterfly" in focus, as you're not very close to it.
A true macro lens has a very shallow DOF and it is almost impossible to get "the whole butterfly" in focus at a very close range. The only way to approach this is to use an f/22 (or beyond) f/stop ... and the only way to do this is to make use of a flash. Thus your statements about getting the whole butterfly in focus just show an inexperience with true macrophotography. Anyone can take a 50mm lens and get the whole butterfly in focus from 3' away, but it's quite another matter to do this at 1:1 magnification from 6"-10" away.
However, that said, I do understand and respect the desire to step back and get part of the environment with certain butterfly shots. I also understand and respect the desire to achieve an artistic expression with the thoughtful use of the environment. However, again, if that "environment" is comprised of your own brick wall in the background, and a bunch of branches directly behind the subject, then your photo can't realistically be called "natural" and it won't qualify as "art" either IMO. By contrast, a photo like the one Dwayne Oakes took does effectively accomplish those ideals you mention.
I would disagree that these are snapshots. You can't get that close with a P&S camera, nor a starter lens on a cheap SLR, and maintain the sharpness, focal depth and bokeh that I'm going for. There is also some skill involved in angles and approach -- you can't just amble up mindlessly and whip out a camera phone like most would do, or their P&S/DSLR Rebel in "P" mode.
Your statements regarding a P&S are false. My Canon Poweshot G9 P&S can take a photo just a few mm from the subject and can fill the frame with only the butterfly's head and foreparts. What it can't really do is achieve the same degree of photo quality that my 7D can, but I could take a far more detailed shot of a Monarch with my P&S than you presented here in the above image. I do agree with you that a truly artistic butterfly shot is all about "skill of angles and approach," which is preceisely where your own posted image fails to impress. The angle and approach is such that there is a wall in the background as well as branches sprouting-out directly behind your subject, spoiling the very effect you were trying to achieve. Thus the angle was unsuitable to capture an artistic mood. Your lighting and the bokeh were very nice, but the angle IMHO was not.
I also insist on natural light for these -- no flash. (Flash adds contrast and shadows that I don't want.) Again, it's about being natural and true to the environment.
Well, I admire your perspective, and in many ways I agree with you (for artistic purposes); yet in many ways this is isn't how natural light pans out. In far too many instances, natural lighting doesn't allow the true colors of the butterfly to be seen. For this reason, every professional butterfly photographer (meaning those who have actually created any kind of field guide or species reference text) relies on the use of flash to take the vast majority of their photographs. And the reason for this, again, is stated in my previous sentence. For example, on the image I just presented of the Long-Tailed Skipper, I will illustrate the point because I took a photo with the available "natural" light, as well as with the use of flash, and I will now juxtapose these two images to illustrate the difference:
(Taken with available light)
(Taken with flash)
First of all, let me be the first to admit neither of my images qualifies as "art." The background is simply mundane. Further, the top image is slightly out of focus, and was taken from a bit farther back, so let me be the first to admit these flaws as well. The point of the juxtaposition is this however: The natural light I was presented with was a shady tree canopy. I had to use both 400 ISO (not 100) and even then, not all of the butterfly's natural colors were captured
. The inside coloration of the Long-Tailed Skipper is a scintillating mixture of blue-and-gold, forever shifting and changing based on lighting conditions. Had I followed your credo and only relied on natural light, I would have failed to capture the "true essence" of this butterfly's exquisite coloration. However, by making judicious use of flash (in the bottom photo), I was
able to capture the true essence of this butterfly's coloration and appeal.
Therefore, it really depends on the purpose of the photograph (and the nature of the background) to determine whether or not to use a flash as well as to determine if the background enhances (or detracts) from the image. In your case, the lighting was excellent, but the background hurt your image. If presented with the same lighting conditions as you, I might not have have used a flash either, but I also wouldn't have positioned myself so that my wall and a bunch of branches were directly behind my subject. But if yours was the only angle I had, then making use of the flash would have "blacked-out" the poor background, allowing only the butterfly to shine.
In my case of the Long-Tailed Skipper, the background behind my subject wasn't bad, but there was nothing "artistic" about it either. My own goal was to get as detailed a shot of the butterfly as I could. With the available natural light this was impossible, as the iridescent gold coloration would not come out under the shady conditions. However, with the use of flash, all of the scintillating coloration in fact did
come out, making the second image a far more effective presentation (for my purposes).
Had I been looking for a "fine art" shot, I simply would have had to pass on that instance altogether.
I would suggest the images I've been taking have an emotional impact. It's not about "see, here's what a bug looks like".
I would respectfully disagree. Dwayne's image carries such an emotional impact, but IMHO your image simply does not. The only emotion I got when viewing your image was, "Why was the wall in the background?"
, as well as, "Why did he not move so the leaves and sticks were out of the way?"
I also disagree that some images are not, in fact, exactly "Here's what this bug looks like."
The entire point of macrophotography is to bring a tiny subject up closer to view than can be seen with the naked eye so as to appreciate the intricate beauty of the tiny animal that we cannot normally see with our naked eye. The "emotional impact" from my own butterfly pic comes from the butterfly's own scintillating colors, not from me or from some magical angle I created.
I do understand that great photographers are those who create these "magical angles" that evoke moods and emotions in us. I did nothing close to that with my image, I merely captured the butterfly's own beauty with my camera, as I am nowhere near being a "great artistic photographer."
And while I do sincerely appreciate and respect your efforts in trying to get such an artistic angle with your own shot, I don't believe it was a very effective effort, unfortunately, for the reasons already mentioned.