Each winter thousands of Monarch butterflies make their way to the central California coast as they retreat from the freezing temperatures that would otherwise end their lives. During this mass migration, some individual butterflies may travel as much as 2000 miles in total, covering upwards of one hundred miles in a day, maybe even reaching elevations of 10,000 feet. This feat is truly amazing, especially considering the relative fragility of these beautiful insects. What's even more amazing is that each individual monarch butterfly has never been to these overwintering sites before in their life. Somewhere in their genetic code is the roadmap, or in this case, the flight plan, to get to these unique destinations. I often ponder this as we gather our group together in Santa Cruz and spend the afternoon trying to capture these remarkable creatures on [digital] "film."
On this particular outing, the sun had finally broken out of a two week-long storm procession that had thwarted a couple of previous weeks' attempts. Not a cloud in the sky was to be seen, coupled with unseasonably warm temps. In the world of butterflies, these are good conditions, as the muscles of butterflies don't work so well in temps below 55 degrees F.
Following introductions, we made our way down to the butterfly grove. The previous storms and cooler temps had scattered the populations to a good degree, especially compared to our last visit. Many of the butterfly clusters had disappeared, most likely moving on to more protected and warmer areas along the coast, however, there were still a hundred or so butterflies scattered throughout the grove. The warm sun created conditions that at least allowed the monarchs to flutter around with great energy, although the butterflies seemed to prefer the higher parts of the trees. This was a case where bigger was better when it came to lens size.
We worked on proper hand hold techniques, as well as optimal ISO, aperture and shutter speed settings that would allow us the best chance of capturing crisp images of these colorful creatures. We had three instructors available, which gave us a great student to instructor ratio. This allowed for a lot of one on one time to work out the intricacies of proper exposure and techniques required for split second photo opportunities capturing sharp images of a subject known for quick movements.
After a couple of hours of working the butterflies, we headed to the beach for the final sunset hours, hoping for color. Mother Nature in this particular case didn't provide clouds, but she did provide subtle pastel hues that helped paint a pleasing minimalist scene. We added in long exposure and filter techniques to smooth out the surf zone creating an almost surrealist landscape. It was a lot of fun and coupled with the warm and balmy weather, made for a great way to spend an evening. Certainly beats watching TV.
Until next time,
Scott, Scott, Alicia and the entire Aperture Academy team
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here!