This was a fun experiment in abstract bokeh using a butterfly, water droplets, and the Trioplan 100 lens known for this kind of “soap bubble” bokeh. It was more abstract than I anticipated but I enjoy the experimental results here. Read on to learn how something like this is created!
This was shot using a butterfly specimen I have in studio that I found dead on the sidewalk a week or two ago (and posed it for a UV fluorescing image). I had noted previously that butterflies had hydrophobic wings, meaning that they would repel water very easily. This creates perfectly spherical water droplets on the wings, each of which could catch the light and “glow”. This is the premise for the image – but how do you light something like this?
I was using a very powerful and focused-beam flashlight, the NiteCore Tiny Monster TM36. This is the same light that I use for my freezing soap bubble imagery in the winter time, and it works well in this setup too – but the colour was too cold. Since the droplets pick up the specular highlights of the flashlight itself more so than the colour of the wing (Monarch Butterfly), I needed to tape an orange colour filter over the flashlight to approximate the same colour as the wing. Here’s a behind-the-scenes shot of the setup: http://donkom.ca/bts/IMG_3188.JPG - the light is set to skim across the surface and bounce back up to the camera.
The “magic” here comes from the shallow depth of field and what happens when the water droplets fall out of focus. The Trioplan 100 lens (and many other antique lenses such as the Primotar) create a “soap bubble” bokeh effect where the outer edge of the bokeh is brighter than the internal area. This only shows itself when shooting wide open at F/2.8, and on these macro magnifications your depth becomes razor thin. As soon as the droplet starts to go out of focus (and almost everything in this image is at least partially out of focus), it begins to take on this bokeh look and feel. Too far out of focus and it’s just a blur, so distances are important here. It just so happens that the wings of this butterfly are exactly the right height to create the maximum soap bubble effect when shot across on an angle like this.
It’s worth noting that this effect is created entirely in camera. Very little post work is done here, aside from cropping and some basic adjustments / touch-ups. What you see is what I saw when looking through the viewfinder.