How to Photograph Butterflies

Butterflies are a breath of beauty fluttering by, they are mystery chronicled upon wing, they bring forth the grace and wonder of this world to our eyes everyday ~K. D’Angelo


Butterflies are arguably one of the most beautiful and fascinating creatures exhibiting vibrant, diverse colours and patterns. They make wonderful but one of the most difficult photography subjects, as they are often very restless and fly off just as you are coming into range.

Timing/Wait for colder weather
From April until late August, butterflies can be found almost everywhere.
They need an ideal body temperature of about 85ºF to fly. Since they’re cold-blooded animals, they can’t regulate their own body temperatures. The surrounding air temperature has a big impact on their ability to function. If the air temperature falls below 55ºF, they become practically motionless, unable to flee from predators or feed. When air temperatures range between 82º-100ºF, they can fly with ease.
Thus, best time for photographing butterflies is in the early mornings and evenings, when their metabolic rate is very low making them practically immobile. Soon after sunrise butterflies spread their wings wide ready to absorb heat and start feeding. They bask in the sun in the morning as they need heat from the sun to use their wings. When the heat is too much they tend to go towards the shades. Uou’ll be able to approach them more easily during colder weather.

Use Tripod or Monopod
Butterflies move quickly from flower to flower. Using tripod is not always practical as sometimes it proves to be cumbersome to carry around, especially while chasing butterflies.. You could try using a mono pod as it would give you more portability than a tripod allows and much quicker and easier to set up. If you are using a tripod, then make sure you keep the head loose so that you can quickly move the camera.

Macros (designed for close-ups 100mm) and telephotos (designed to capture far away subjects 75mm-200mm) are among the most commonly used. You can use Extension tubes and teleconverters in conjunction with the lens to achieve desired effects. Focal length needs to be greater as lens-to-subject distance becomes even more important for creatures like butterflies. The longer the focal length of the lens, the more the blur. It also helps you shoot from a safe distance, and so the less chance you have of disturbing the butterfly.

Use a fast shutter
All of the three things(the camera, the butterfly, and the flower it’s perched on) are almost always moving when you’re photographing butterflies. Use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action and take sharp photos. A shutter speed of 1/250s or faster should work well for most situations.

Set to burst/continuous shooting  mode
Use continuous shooting mode to get as many photos possible, as the moment you trying to capture may pass away in seconds. Switching to burst mode/continuous shooting will also increase your chances of capturing a sharp image as your camera will rapidly take a series of shots.

Adjust white balance of your camera as per lighting conditions and ensure that you capture the correct colours of the butterfly wings and body. Use a shallow depth of field. Try using Sports mode, as it’s ideal for photographing butterflies.

Getting your Backgrounds Right
Pay attention to the background that you are shooting. Try to avoid cluttered backgrounds. Use large aperture (f/2.8-f/5.6) for a blurred background.

Choose the right angle to shoot
Since you will want all parts of the butterfly in focus like the wings and the body, try to position your camera parallel to the wings of the butterfly thereby ensuring most of your subject are in one geometrical plane ensuring that they are all in sharp focus.

Position your camera’s sensor
Ensure that your camera’s sensor is parallel to them, so as to capture their body and wings tack sharp.

Avoid Shadows Over or Near the Butterfly
Butterflies love the sun and are wary of shadows, so if you cast a shadow on them, they’ll usually fly away immediately. Try to stand/approach them so your shadow doesn’t cover them.

Always wear Mute Colour Dresses
Bright colours easily scare off butterflies. Always wear mute colour dresses as they allow you to blend in with your surroundings without distracting the butterflies.

Avoid fragrance
Butterflies use their antennae to sense the air for wind and scents. Smell of deodorants, perfumes, insect repellent sprays etc would scare them off even when you are a fair distance away from them. So it’s better to not to use such chemicals while approaching them.

And finally, be ready to have your patience stretched to the limit !!!



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