Life Lessons From a Butterfly About Being Humble and Kind

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Life Lessons From a Butterfly About Being Humble and Kind

Last Spring, I paid for a class at the Fredrick Meijer Gardens Butterfly Conservatory.  After some brief instruction by a very kind local professional photographer, I, along with 11 other paid participants, was allowed a 2-hour period to enter the gardens.  We had so much time and space and privacy to take as many photos as we wanted of the butterflies.  The pro photographer came in with us to offer his support and answer any questions.  

Small Postman Butterfly Photo

These Butterflies Attract a Crowd...

Having the entire butterfly garden to ourselves is a highly coveted experience, reflected in the price we each paid to be there.  The Butterflies Are Blooming exhibit is a BIG draw in our little corner of the world and is usually shoulder to shoulder with crowds and a long wait time even to get in.  Many of our local schools bring children in by busload for educational field trips.  The exhibit is the largest tropical butterfly exhibition in the nation!  There are 7,000 tropical butterflies, made up of sixty species, in the exhibit.  It’s really amazing, and I never miss my chance to wander through the greenhouse and see them each spring.

Standard rules of the butterfly gardens state that no tripods are allowed.  Basically, a bunch of tripods in the crowded room is a significant tripping hazard.  If you want to get amazing photos and use your tripod, you definitely need to take this class!

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Butterfly Lesson #1

Photography Information - Lens Fog

The first lesson I learned was about my camera gear.  If you’re not a big photographer, you may not think this one will pertain to you.  But beware!  You may find it more important than you realize.  And here it is:  Going from cold outdoor temperatures into an 85-degree room with 70% humidity will fog up your lenses.  Not just your camera lenses, but also your eyeglass lenses!  Your gear will need to take some time to acclimate to the change in environment.  Even if you’re using a point and shoot, don’t be surprised when your lenses fog up.  If you are going into an environment like this one for any reason, be prepared to spend a few extra minutes de-fogging before moving on.

Butterfly Lesson #2

Photography Information - Settings

Once my lenses de-fogged, I had an amazing time wandering around the stone trails spotting butterflies and a few birds and photographing them on all different camera settings.  Here are some of my tried and true tips for what settings to begin with when you’re ready to photograph your own butterflies.

1 – Stop down your aperture just a wee bit (bigger #).  When you’re photographing these little critters up close, you want a fairly good-sized depth of field.  I found my best success between 5.0 and 8.0.  Of course, you should tinker with that number and see what works for you and the lens and camera you’re using.

2 – Keep your ISO as low as possible.  Remember that a higher ISO = more grain.  When you crop in on your images, you’d like them as clear as you can get them.

3 – When your tiny butterfly subject is holding still and perching on a leaf or branch, you can slow your shutter speed down some and use your tripod to get the most light in.  If the little butterfly flutters by you (see what I did there?), you’ll need to speed up your shutter speed to catch it in action.  This is a tricky shot.  You may need several practice shots to nail it!  But don’t give up.  One amazing image will be worth the many if you get one just right!

As always, remember that the three settings all work together to get just the right light into your camera.  Personally, in these conditions, I begin by setting my aperture first and then shutter speed, keeping in mind that I want ISO as low as possible.  I started around 100 and then adjusted from there.  Keep in mind the shutter speed rule of setting your shutter speed no slower than the focal length of your lens.

Butterfly Shutterspeed rule with pinks and purple background

Need a refresher on how to shoot in manual?
Read Your Ultimate Guide to Shooting in Manual Mode

Butterfly Lesson #3

Life Lesson - Don't Get Too Big For Your Britches

As we reached the end of our two hours in the conservatory, a small family entered the gardens.  There were a few adults and a couple of kids.  They were pushing a very old grandmother in a wheelchair. One of the class participants walked over to them and curtly told them that this was a PRIVATE class and that they shouldn’t be in there.  One of the men with the family answered her by saying something, but he spoke quietly, so I didn’t hear his response.  The class member quickly walked away.

I continued what I was doing but kept an eye on the sweet family as they wheeled grandma slowly through the exhibit.  About half an hour passed with the 12 paid participants taking photos.  I looked over and saw the small family gathered around grandma.  Lo and behold, she had a little butterfly on her finger, and she was smiling serenely.  Super cool!  The family members were taking grandma’s pictures with their various cell phones and exclaiming over the butterfly.

At this point, all I could think was that maybe they’d like a nice photo of grandma’s butterfly experience.  Never one to be shy, I approached them and said, “All these professional photographers here, and you have just your cell phones for this moment.  Would you like me to take a photo with my fancy camera and e-mail a copy to one of you?”  I mean – seriously – the grandma looked at least 90 years old.  A picture of her in this beautiful setting with a butterfly perched right on her finger would make a wonderful keepsake.  They all happily agreed and let me take a few shots.  One of the men handed over a hand-written e-mail address on a scrap of paper, which I tucked into my pocket.  I thanked them and grandma, complimented her on her lovely blouse, and went about packing up and heading home.

butterfly on placard picture

Butterfly Lesson #4

Life Lesson - Enjoy the Ride!

A short while later, I arrived home, sat down, and told my husband, Dan, about my morning, including the sweet grandma and her family.  I pulled the slip of paper from my pocket to put it near my computer and was shocked to see the name on it.  The email address indicated that this family was a part of the Meijer family; You know, Meijer, as in “Meijer” Gardens & Sculpture Park.  You’ve stayed with me this long – this is where it gets good. I quickly looked up a photo of Fred & Lena Meijer (more about them in a minute), and HOLY COW!  Who do you think I just took a picture of, but Lena Meijer herself. 97 years old. If you are not from this part of the country, this may not mean much to you, but here’s a little info.

Butterfly Lesson #5

Life Lesson - You Never Know Who You'll Meet!

Fred and Lena Meijer are millionaires (maybe more) who have made every honest dime from their grocery chain. They have used a portion of that money to open the Meijer Gardens, a nationally known cultural garden and sculpture park. In the Upper Midwest, Meijer IS your neighborhood grocery (and everything else) chain. Fred and Lena Meijer are also responsible for the Meijer Heart Health Center’s funding in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where people from all over the country come for heart services (both my dad and my dad-in-law would not be with us today if not for the Meijer Heart Center).  It’s one of the top heart hospitals in the world. Fred & Lena are very, very wealthy, yet also incredible, giving people. They have had books written about them and their life story, success in business, and philanthropic efforts.

If you are interested in the net worth of Hank Meijer and his brother, Doug (sons of Lena and Fred), click HERE.  

Butterfly Lesson #6

Life Lesson - Always Stay Humble and Kind!

After all that information, imagine:  Here is little ole Veronica, armed with her mid-grade Canon 70D, offering a picture with her “fancy” camera. Folks – these people could BUY me and all of my friends the fanciest of fancy cameras without a second thought…  I wasn’t sure if I should have been embarrassed or humbled or horrified or what?!  If I were honest, I think I was a little bit of all of those things.

The next day, after I edited up my best shot of the lovely Mrs. Meijer, I sent it on to the e-mail address on the slip of paper with this note:

Mrs. Meijer with butterfly photo

From: Veronica Bareman [veronicajune2@yahoo.com]
Sent: Sunday, March 19, 2017 5:12 PM
To: Meijer, Hendrik
Subject: Pictures of Mrs. Meijer

Hello Mr. Meijer!

What a pleasure it was to take a picture of the lovely Mrs. Meijer today at the Butterfly Gardens.  I had no idea who you were until I came home and registered in my mind the Meijer name on your e-mail address.  It goes without saying that I feel very honored that you allowed me to crash your party and snap some photos for you!  The photos are attached.  I hope you enjoy them.  Please share them with whomever you like.  Thank you again for your kindness!

The gardens are beautiful, and my family has especially enjoyed the butterfly exhibit for many years.  Today was a special treat to be able to photograph the butterflies freely with no crowd.  I will be back next week with my 8-year-old son, who wouldn’t dream of missing the highlight of our spring break.  He’s already studying the map for what we’ll see first.  What a fantastic legacy your family has made in our West Michigan community.  Thank you!

Veronica Bareman

Holland, MI

"I’ve always loved butterflies, because they remind us that it’s never too late to transform ourselves.” – Drew Barrymore

The kind gentleman who scratched his e-mail address on a scrap of paper was none other than Henrick Meijer, one of Fred and Lena’s sons.  Here is his response:

Dear Veronica,

Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful work.  I’m sure my mom will cherish the photos.  We hope we didn’t disrupt the class too much!

I hope your son enjoys all the treats of spring as much as our kids do!

Best,

Hank Meijer

Friends, it pays to be humble and kind.  In the end, I had a little brush with fame, which was just plain fun, and based on the kindness with which Mr. Meijer responded, I think that they appreciated the gesture of an ordinary stranger.  But above all, I will cherish the fact that I wasn’t the one who told them they weren’t welcome in MY private $60 class!  HA!

Want to take your own pictures of a beautiful butterfly?  This kit is awesome and so much fun!

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