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Shooting xeriscape butterflies

Swallowtail butterfly having lunch
Swallowtail butterfly having lunch

With today’s blog, we’re performing double duty: I offer you an interesting photographic venue, and the subject is the place to get water saving tips to help with California’s continuing drought. The Water Conservation Garden, “A Xeriscape Learning Center”, is located at Cuyamaca College in El Cajon, and it’s a great place to take your camera and tripod, as well as to learn a few things about water.

All I know about water is that the frozen, cubed version goes very well in two-fingers of single-malt, so you can check the garden’s website for times, directions, and other info. But, know that the garden “suggests” a $4 donation for entry and you must buy a ticket for the butterfly pavilion. At least, I think that’s the way it worked, it was a bit confusing. Whatever: It’s worth a few bucks to see the butterflies, the demonstration gardens, and to get a few ideas on water conservation in your yard.

Once inside the pavilion you can get up close and personal with native San Diego butterflies. You need to decide beforehand if you are going to shoot macro or telephoto and set your camera parameters accordingly; it’s maddening to keep switching back-and-forth as beautiful butterflies flit all around you! No sooner does one of the little buggers land— you get close and focused on it— and it’s gone before you can pull the trigger! Then, you spend the next 10 minutes chasing it around the enclosure, hoping it will land again.

I used my 18-300 zoom lens and managed to catch a few macro-type shots by zooming WAY in and using the lean-back-and-forth method to focus. However, it was usually easier to catch them in a telephoto frame while they flitted from plant to plant and landed for two second rest periods.

Outside, there are many landscape venues that need to be photographed using your favorite technique; there is plenty of room and time to use your tripod for flower and cacti shots.

Now is a really good time to go because, “…only mad dogs and Englishmen…” —and the occasional photographer— go out in the noonday sun! It’s summertime and sane folks usually avoid El Cajon, but more and more are visiting for the conservation information. When you go, remember that it’s hotter than Hades out there: Be prepared!


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