How to photograph butterflies

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How to photograph butterflies - tips and techniques for photographing butterflies, including finding them, suggested camera gear and settings, and the best ways to get near them without scaring them off.

Text of How to photograph butterflies


2. HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH BUTTERFLIES1 Butterflies can make a wonderful subject for photos, with their colorful patterned wings. But taking great photos of these flittish creatures isnt quite so easy. In this e-book we cover some tips on how to photograph butterflies to help you capture these stunning insects. Lens and Camera for Photographing ButterfliesWhen photographing butterflies, you will need a lens that has the ability to focus quite close, as butterflies are relatively smallcreatures. A dedicated macro lens will work best, though a normal lens with extension tubes or a close-up diopter filter will dothe job as well.You should be looking at a lens with a focal length of around 100mm to 300mm. The longer the focal length, the further youcan be from the butterfly for a particular shot, and so the less chance you have of disturbing the butterfly.If your camera has an integrated lens anddoesnt accept interchangeable lenses, all is notlost. Many compact / bridge / superzoomcameras feature a macro mode that allows thecamera to focus closely.If you try this and find the camera still cannotfocus close enough to get the butterfly shotsyou want, you can purchase a close-up diopterfilter that will allow the camera to focus closer.Make sure your camera has a filter thread forthe diopter to screw into before you purchaseone though. For some cameras you will need topurchase an adapter to be able to mount filterson them. Text and layout Butterfly photos courtesy David Kennard Photography 1 3. 2 HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH BUTTERFLIESBest Locations for Butterfly PhotographyIf you have a garden with some flowers in it, this can be very good for attracting butterflies. Remember that butterflies not only look for flowers to drinknectar from, but they also look for plants to lay their eggs on.Most species caterpillars are quite particular about what they eat, e.g. Monarch butterfly caterpillars eat Milkweed. So if you are looking to entice aparticular type of butterfly into your garden, then lookup what the foodplant of the caterpillar is.One of the best flowers for attracting butterflies is Buddleia, also known as the butterfly bush. In good years for butterflies, you can often see theflowers of this bush covered in feeding butterflies.If you dont have a garden, flowers in the localpark may well prove attractive to butterflies, butprobably the best place for wild butterflyphotography is wild flower meadows. You tendto see a much larger range of different species ofbutterfly in wild flower meadows, and there areoften large amounts of butterflies, making iteasy to find a subject.Other wild places such as sunlit spots in woodscan be good as well. You can often findbutterflies warming themselves up on a spot ofsunlit path that passes through woodland.Finally, there are butterfly houses. These aregreat for photographing rare and exoticbutterflies, and make it very easy to findbutterflies for photographing. Unfortunately,Butterfly houses are often hot and steamy, whichcan cause problems with condensation on yourlens.Text and layout Butterfly photos courtesy David Kennard Photography 2 4. HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH BUTTERFLIES3 Another thing to be aware of when photographing at a butterfly house is that the butterflies will often be feeding on pieces of fruit left out for them in specific locations. A butterfly feeding on a piece of grapefruit that has been cut in half with a knife may make for a nice shot, but it wont look natural. Remember also that different species of butterfly hatch or migrate at different times of the year. So a location that doesnt have many butterflies in the Spring may have a lot more butterflies later in the summer, and vice versa. This is also a good reason to try photographing butterflies from the start of Spring to end of Summer, and see how many different species you can collect photos of. Text and layout Butterfly photos courtesy David Kennard Photography 3 5. 4 HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH BUTTERFLIESGetting close to the butterflyWhen you see a butterfly you would like to photograph, dont rush over to it quickly. Move slowly towards it, and the nearer you get the slower andsmaller your movements will need to be to avoid scaring it away.Try to approach the butterfly from an angle where your shadow will not fall on the butterfly. There are a number of reasons for this:The shadow moving on to them may scare them away.Butterflies also need heat from the sun, so going from direct sunlight to shadow may also make them decide to look for a sunnier spot.Lastly, if the butterfly is in shadow, there wont be as much light. This means you might have to compromise on some of your camera settings to get a properly exposed photo. Even with the slowest movements, you may still find that the butterfly decides to fly away just as you get it framed up for that perfect shot. One solution is to follow the butterfly and try and get another shot when it lands again. You may need to repeat this process several times until the butterfly finally stops for long enough for you to get a shot, but persistence usually pays off. The alternative solution is to just stay where you are and hope the butterfly comes back. Male butterflies are often territorial, and come back to around the same area. But not always, so if the butterfly doesnt come back after a couple of minutes its probably best to give up on that individual and look for another one. So long as you dont mind waiting, a good way to get close to butterflies is to find a flowering plant that has one or twoText and layout Butterfly photos courtesy David Kennard Photography 4 6. HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH BUTTERFLIES5 butterflies on it already. Try and get close to them, but if they fly away just stay still by the plant. It is very likely that eventually those butterflies, or some others will come to the flowers to feed. Since youre already there, you dont need to move towards them, and should be able to get some good shots without scaring them off. Even in areas with lots of butterflies, you may need to wait 20-30 minutes until your first butterfly arrives at the flower though. Butterflies feeding on flowers are generally easier to photograph than ones resting. They tend to be more engrossed in feeding and less alert to the photographer trying to snap their picture. It can also provide some nice shots of the butterflys long proboscis poking down into the flower to get at the nectar. During the early morning and later in the evening, it is also much easier to get close to butterflies. This is because the cooler temperature means the butterflies are less active, and so less likely to fly away. There are a couple of disadvantages to photographing butterflies in the early morning and evening though. Because the butterflies are not flying around they can be quite hard to find! Often they will spend the night hanging from leaves and grasses, so look carefully at the shrubs and grass near the ground. The other disadvantage is that there is less light, making it more difficult to get a well exposed photo that isnt blurred by camera shake. Text and layout Butterfly photos courtesy David Kennard Photography 5 7. 6 HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH BUTTERFLIESCamera Settings for Butterfly PhotographyA fast shutter speed is needed when photographing butterflies. This is to avoid camera shake blurring the photo, and also to avoid subject blur from thebutterfly moving. A shutter speed of 1/250s or faster should work well for most situations.For the aperture, a setting of around f/8 gives enough depth of field to get the butterfly in focus. Though how much of the butterfly is in focus doesdepend on the angle you are photographing it at - see the next section for more details.The ISO setting you want to keep as low as possible to avoid introducing digital noise, or grain. Camera settings are all about a trade-off betweenaperture, shutter speed, and ISO. So you may need to use a higher ISO if your pictures are coming out underexposed when you have the aperture andshutter speed set as you want.Flash is not something that you really need in butterfly photography, but it can be useful. Flash can be used to provide fill light, lightening shadows andrevealing detail on the butterfly. This is particularly useful if photographing the shadow side of a butterfly against the sun.An external flash unit (speedlight) that is placed off camera on a bracket, and angled so as tobe pointing down at the butterfly works best. This mimics the direction of sunlight, and solooks more natural. Use a diffuser on the flash to avoid harsh lighting.When there is not enough natural light for a proper exposure flash can also come to therescue. Be aware though that photos taken with flash as the main light source often end upwith dark backgrounds.Avoid using autofocus when photographing butterflies. At close distances most autofocussystems dont work very well, and with active butterflies they will often move about so muchthat the autofocus system cant keep up with them.Instead use manual focus and slowly move the camera towards your subject and back againin a sort of rocking motion. Then press the shutter just as the butterfly comes into focus.Keeping moving the camera backwards and forwards and taking shots as the butterfly comesinto focus.Text and layout Butterfly photos courtesy David Kennard Photography6 8. HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH BUTTERFLIES7Although you may think you pressedthe shutter just as the butterfly was inperfect focus, often the focus will be offby a bit. This is why it is important totake lots of shots. The more shots youtake, the more likely it is that one willbe in perfect (or near enough) focus.If you have shots where the focus pointis slightly different, and the butterflyhasnt moved between the s