The Changi airport in Singapore is big, very big, and there are quite a few things to keep you occupied if you happen to have a long transit between flights, which we definitely did, twice.
I’m always on the lookout for bugs, I’ve even infected my wife to such a degree that she’s even better than me at finding them – which of course is great for me. So when we were walking around the airport and spotted a sign that said ‘Butterfly garden’, you might have guessed that my hands went straight for the camera while my legs steered me in the right direction. I already have plenty of butterfly pictures but they’re all of relatively small butterflies – the ones we found here were gigantic in comparison.
I guess this would have been an excellent opportunity to take some pretty pictures of their wings spread open to show all the lovely colours, but if you thought that was what you were going to see here you obviously don’t know me. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the butterflies were quite beautiful but I’m still much more interested in taking portrait shots of them, close and personal, and possibly slightly freaky.
The first shot you see here is my favourite, there’s some decent detail to be found but most of all I like the drama of it; they way the antennas are pointing down, the angle and the red light under the wings (from the flash bouncing on the flower it’s sitting on) combine to give the whole thing a rather sinister look. As always, make sure you view the larger version to appreciate all the details. Actually the dark background in all these shots kind of surprised me. I thought it was fairly bright when I was walking around so I wasn’t expecting a completely black background. The combination of an overcast sky and the vegetation that some of the light had to filter through must have robbed the scene of more light than I would have thought.
Another thing that I found odd at the time was that the shots just didn’t seem as sharp or clear as they usually do. Now, when I view the images on my computer, the difference isn’t as pronounced, but I still can’t help but wonder if there’s something to that first impression. One contributing factor could be that these butterflies are a lot bigger than the ones I’ve shot before, which means that a smaller part of the butterfly will be in focus, it’s just difficult to fit much more than their big fat heads in the small dof that’s available. However, one thing that I think could explain some of the softness I experienced was the extremely high humidity in the air. It’s certainly possible that that could fog up the lens and it would also explain if the shots looked extra fuzzy on the display – lens, display, glasses, that’s a lot of things to fog over and make things go blurry.
In the end the shots turned out ok but at the time it was really frustrating to take shot after shot and have it come out less than satisfactory, even when focus seemed to be in the right place. Speaking of focus: these critters seemed quite accustomed to having people around so there was no problem getting close to them. In fact, you could easily make them climb up on your hand if you just gently nudged them a bit. I did that to one who was in the middle of feeding on a flower and he continued to try to lick me, maybe I’m a sweet guy…ok, you can stop your sniggering now. What were we talking about? Right, focus, lets focus on that (I’m here all week, autographs will be signed at the end). Even though they didn’t mind letting you get close and shove a lens up their face, they were also very active, jumping from flower to flower, walking around over the flowers and feeding. This made it difficult to focus while also taking the time to get a good composition; the composition changed too quickly and since I was frustrated by the factors discussed above, I concentrated on just getting things as sharp as I could.
Of course we weren’t the only ones taking pictures of butterflies but I was definitely the only one on my knees, leaning over the critters with a flash in one hand and a camera with a big lens in the other, only centimeters away from them. I’m sure I got some funny looks but I’m kind of getting used to that by now and you can’t let it distract you or you’ll miss your shot. Besides, no one else walked away with cool portraits.
Next time you happen to transit in Changi airport, make sure you stop by the butterfly garden in terminal three, close to the koi pond – yeah, we spent quite a lot of time there.