The butterfly, a symbol often associated with the soul, metamorphosis and hope, has long been an inspiration for art.
And it continues to inspire at Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy Live Butterfly and Caterpillar Exhibit, where photographers of all skill levels have learned to capture images of the striking, winged insects in Arlington photographer Joshua Taylor Jr.’s butterfly photography classes.
“There’s just a human fascination that we have with butterflies because they are beautiful creatures,” said Taylor, a garden photographer who has been teaching classes at Brookside for more than 20 years.
The Wings of Fancy exhibit features hundreds of live caterpillars and butterflies from all over the world. Visitors can learn about metamorphosis, the role butterflies play in healthy ecosystems and the relationship between butterflies and plants, and even how to help butterflies thrive in their own gardens, said Kathy Stevens, a horticulturist and conservatory manager at Brookside. It’s a popular exhibit—Stevens said they expect about 40,000 people to visit by the time it closes in late September.
“Butterflies seem to bring back a sense of wonder in people, even grownups,” Stevens said.
Taylor said he enjoys the challenge of photographing butterflies. You have to photograph them early in the day when they’re not as active—usually between 8 and 9 a.m.—and you have to know their habits; for instance, how they often come back to the same perch, he said.
While it’s OK to take more classic images in his class, Taylor said he prefers to go beyond a portrait and take an artistic approach to photographing the creatures. He’s a retired art teacher and said his art background has influenced his style. He encourages students to think about four principles when they take their photos: artistic, bold, colorful and close.
Taylor, who has been a Canon camera instructor, helps students understand how to use their cameras—whether they are DSLRs or point-and-shoots—as well as learn about photo composition. He’ll also critique his students’ work and teach basic photo processing techniques. He’ll talk about things like placement, he said, and how to deal with the background of a photo so it enhances rather than distracts.
“All the things in an image must work together. It’s like you’re going to a play. The butterfly is the main character and everything else is in a supporting role,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s photography classes are popular, said Sandra Fleming, who works with Brookside’s adult education programs and recently sat in on one of Taylor’s classes. The classes give students an opportunity to have several hours in the exhibit without the general public, which can be helpful when trying to capture the butterflies on camera, she said. In addition, students “have the opportunity to learn from a very talented instructor.”
Nature is a source of inspiration for so much of our arts, and it’s no surprise butterflies make such a compelling photo subject, Stevens said. They’re fun to look at and visually interesting in regard to their colors and patterning; a butterfly’s upper wing surface is very bright and colorful and the underside is often very camouflaged.
When its wings are closed, a butterfly can often blend into the background. Also, she said, “we kind of see ourselves in them, in a way. …Metamorphosis and the fact that you can change and reinvent yourself is appealing to people.”
Taylor, who is passionate about photography, said he hopes his work inspires and captivates, and helps others experience his joy and love of the craft. And he wants students to leave his workshops with what he calls “wow” images of their own. “Those are the images that rise to the top. I want them to feel the excitement that I do [when I have those images].”
Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy Live Butterfly and Caterpillar Exhibit is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Sept. 25. Tickets are $8 for visitors, ages 13 and older; $5 for ages 3 through 12, and free for children, 2 and younger. Visit www.montgomeryparks.org/brookside/wings_of_fancy.shtm.