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Destination: St. Croix


Memphis photographer and foodie Michael Butler takes a break from local folks and fare to visit the US Virgin Islands with his Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 RXD and 17-28mm F/2.8 RXD lenses.


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By Jenn Gidman
Images by Michael Butler


Michael Butler was born and raised in Memphis, where he still proudly lives, and for years he frequented local restaurants and posted smartphone photos of his visits on Facebook. His writing background spurred him to start his own blog, where he could post his pictures and write about his experiences, but he started noticing other blogs had better photos than he did.

“I reached out to a photographer to ask for some tips, and he wanted to charge me $2,000 a month to mentor me,” Michael says. “When I mentioned that to my dad, he said, ‘Well, let’s just get you a real camera and have you figure it out yourself.” I’m an engineer and tinkerer by trade, so he thought I’d be up to the task. I dove into photography, and as my photos got better, my blog blew up from there.”

That blog no longer exists, as Michael is now in a transitional stage that’s moving his focus to filming, but he still takes plenty of pictures in Memphis, where he writes and takes photos for Edible Memphis magazine. He’s also started venturing outside the city limits and trying his hand at destination photography, most recently on a trip to St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands, where he stayed for a week in November. “Expedia sent me down there to shoot two hotels,” he says. “I worked for about four hours a day for Expedia, then had the rest of the time to myself to explore.”

Along for the ride: Michael’s Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 RXD and 17-28mm F/2.8 RXD lenses for his Sony full-frame mirrorless camera. “If I could have just one lens with me at any given time, it would be the 28-75,” he says. “It’s light and gives me all of the focal lengths I need for destination photography. It’s also perfect to place on a gimbal if I’m shooting video. I was formerly a prime lens shooter only and was wary of using zooms, but this lens is so sharp that it totally won me over. As for the 17-28, I got my hands on that lens just a week before my St. Croix trip, so I wanted to play with it as much as possible, especially for photos where I wanted to go a little wider. I love shooting at 24mm, so this lens hits the sweet spot for me.”

Whether he’s staying local in Memphis or traveling abroad, Michael wants his viewers to feel like they’re right there with him. “I want to immerse them in the scene, make them feel like they’re part of the adventure with me,” he says. “If I can draw out some emotion, or make you feel like you’re practically smelling or tasting a local dish, then I’ve done my job.”

Read on for more on Michael’s trip to St. Croix.

This image of me on the dock, with my arms outstretched, was the first photo I took in St. Croix—basically an “I’m here!” image. I’d never seen water that clear in my life, and I even spotted dolphins right from the dock. Then, once I saw all those clouds in the sky, I knew I had to create some kind of image. It was also an emotional moment for me. My dad was the one who originally told me to get a camera, and he passed away three years ago. So as I stood there on the dock, I kept thinking, “Here I am, this kid from Memphis, and this is where my camera has brought me.” So of course that made me think of my dad as well.

© Michael Butler
17mm, f/4.5, 1/400 sec., ISO 100
Click image to view larger

The second photo was taken in the early evening, around 6 p.m. I loved the way the sun was hitting me with that warm light. I set up my camera the way I wanted it, then asked my friend to take my photo. At this point, it was still such a surreal experience for me, being in a stunning place like this, and I wanted to capture that moment.

© Michael Butler
17mm, f/2.8, 1/125 sec., ISO 2500
Click image to view larger

This salad was my first meal, within my first hour on the island. Even though I sample and take a lot of pictures of food back in Memphis, I like to ease my way into local fare when I travel. So I figured I’d start with a simple salad, which turned out to be quite delicious. I decided to shoot it from above so you could see the different layers leading up to the chicken on top. It adds some depth to the photo and offers a more artistic take, especially with the shadows I was able to get in there.

© Michael Butler
24mm, f/4, 1/160 sec., ISO 400
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When you go to St. Croix, you have to order real jerk chicken. There was a little stand that was making it, and I was told it was the best you can get on the island. I wanted to shoot this image from the perspective of someone just opening up their own meal. I placed the focus on the front part of the container, where the rice and chicken were, then had it fall off softly into the background.

© Michael Butler
23mm, f/2.8, 1/125 sec., ISO 320
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I had breakfast one morning in this small eatery on the eastern end of St. Croix. I wanted to eat what the locals ate, and eggs on top of hash browns is apparently a popular dish there. The table I was sitting at was tiny—even tinier than it appears in this photo. This is a slightly different type of photo compositionally than the salad image, where I wanted to exclusively focus on the salad. In this picture, I wanted to provide a bit more context and add some of the other elements for a little flavor. That was the point of getting that flower in there, as well as my sunglasses, the creamer container, and the salt and pepper shakers, so you could tell I was probably eating in a tiny breakfast-type place.

© Michael Butler
17mm, f/2.8, 1/160 sec., ISO 640
Click image to view larger

This photo of us eating dinner, taken with the 17-28, was shot at 26mm, which is right in the realm of that 24mm sweet spot I love. . It was taken at an amazing restaurant, where I had what I’d say was the best meal of my life. I had only just met the two people sitting across from me—they knew the Expedia rep I was with—but we were having a wonderful meal before we started the rest of our evening together. While it’s great to take photos of the landmarks and landscapes in a new destination, it’s just as important to show yourself and others actually enjoying that place. It makes the photo, and the place, more personal. It strikes an especially poignant chord now that we’re all more isolated these days and not enjoying such meals with friends.

© Michael Butler
26mm, f/2.8, 1/50 sec., ISO 10000
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We were eating at a restaurant right behind where this young woman was walking along the beach. She was with her husband or boyfriend, and they had a baby with them; the man was taking pictures of her with his cellphone. I approached them and asked if they’d like me to take a few photos of them. So I took a family picture or two, then I asked her to stand in the water against that sunset-lit sky with those clouds and waves rolling in. The pictures don’t even really do the scene justice—it was gorgeous.

© Michael Butler
22mm, f/4, 1/1000 sec., ISO 800
Click image to view larger

I spotted this boat in the late afternoon on the way to Buck Island, home of a coral reef ecosystem and one of only a handful of underwater national monuments in the United States. There was a huge sea turtle right next to this boat, and I was trying to capture a picture of the turtle, but it dipped down into the water. Then I noticed the boat itself and liked how it looked in that scene, right in the middle of the frame with those mountains and that yellow fort in the background. The composition really spoke to me, and with the 17-28, I was able to use the widest end to capture the whole scene. It looked beautiful, like a painting.

© Michael Butler
17mm, f/5.6, 1/400 sec., ISO 250
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See more of Michael Butler’s work on Instagram.



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