Butterfly photography is one of the highlights of summer. With their colorful wings and intricate patterns you can hardly ask for a more photogenic subject for close up photography. They can be difficult to approach though and that’s after locating them in the first place. So let’s look at ways of getting some great butterfly images on your memory card.
Magnification for butterfly photography
Most of my butterfly photography has been with a 180mm macro lens. Macro is getting used as a marketing buzzword on a lot of telephotos. Its true meaning is 1:1 or life size magnification. It means if a butterfly covers a quarter of your camera sensor it will be rendered as a quarter of the final image. To put this in perspective; even though this common blue is only the size of a thumbnail I could get one inch away and record it as a frame filler. The 180mm focal length means I can be far back which is useful when photographing skittish butterflies.
Tropical butterfly farms are a great way to practice butterfly photography.
They have large tropical species that are easy to approach. They may even land on you!
Let’s use this setting to look at backgrounds.
In this first photo the background is not pleasing…
as well as lacking color, it makes the Butterfly backlit which underexposes it.
A change in position alters the image radically.
Time of Day
Butterflies are hard to track during midday as the fly from flower to flower looking for nectar to feed on. Wait for them to start feeding and they will be briefly still. In the photo below you can see its tongue called a proboscis, drinking nectar.
They will be less active early mornings or late evening.
This mating pair of Common Blue Butterflies was found late evening by crawling through grasses where I had seen others flying around earlier.
By slowly positioning parallel both butterflies become in the plane of focus. Notice also how there are no distracting grasses in the background.
The late evening light adds to the image as well.
If you can find them at dawn when they are covered in dew they will be unable to fly. The dew droplets will add a pleasing touch to the image. The wings will be folded so you’ll only be able to photograph the underside of the wings.
At dusk the butterflies will find a place to sleep, again providing the advantage of them being still and in better lighting. They will be hidden from predators so take care not to tread on them and leave them concealed as they were.
If you’ve enjoyed this page you may want to read about photographing other insects.