- Photographic techniques - daylight
- Photographic techniques - flash
- Digital cameras and lenses
4 - Top 10 tips for butterfly photography
10 tips for butterfly photography
Study your target species
Read as much about each species as you
can, so you know where to look for them, and how they behave at
different times of the day. Most species bask to warm up early in the
morning. Courtship and copulation usually take place in late morning.
Nectaring is easiest to observe and photograph in the afternoon. Many
species roost openly on foliage as dusk approaches. Each species
however has its own timetable and its own preferred habitat. Learn
beforehand and you'll get better photos.
Set your camera up correctly
Set up your camera in advance so you have
a fast enough shutter speed to freeze movement, and a small enough
aperture to obtain good depth of field. This generally necessitates an
ISO setting in the 200-800 range. Using spot focus is usually faster
and more accurate than zone or full area options. Using Program mode
will free you from decision-making and let you concentrate on
composition, but Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority modes will give
you more flexibility.
Take essential accessories
Often you'll find that your view of a
butterfly is obstructed by a stem or grass blade, so carry a pair of
small scissors to trim them away. Instead of carrying a cumbersome
camera bag just carry your camera and macro lens around your neck, and
use a pocket for accessories. Always carry a spare fully charged
battery, a spare memory card, a lens cloth, and a waterproof plastic
bag to protect your camera in the event of rain. Carry water if you
are going to be out for more than an hour.
Wear suitable clothing
White or pale clothing makes you highly
visible to butterflies and makes it much harder to approach them
without scaring them off. Wearing shorts and t-shirts makes it more
likely that you'll be bitten by insects or scratched by thorns, so
wear long sleeves and long trousers. Using knee pads and/or elbow pads
will make it more comfortable to crawl around on stony ground. Wear a
hat to avoid sunstroke.
Choose the right lighting conditions
Butterflies are easiest to find on hot
sunny days but that is generally the worst time to photograph them.
They will be easier to approach and more likely to bask in cloudy
weather, weak sunlight or when temperatures are low in early morning
or late afternoon. Shooting in harsh overhead sunlight will bring out
the textures on the wings, but shooting in overcast conditions is
better if you want to bring out subtle colours.
flash to fill-in shadows
Shooting with the sunlight coming from
the side makes the photo look more 3-dimensional, but can cause ugly
shadows that need to be lightened by the use of fill-in flash. Note
that most cameras fire a pre-flash a fraction of a second before the
main flash, and this causes some species e.g. skippers and satyrs to
take flight. You can overcome this by using manual flash but you will
need to take a few test shots to establish the correct exposure.
Pre-visualise the photo you want to take,
then approach the butterfly slowly and steadily, avoiding any sudden
movements. Be careful not to cast your shadow over the butterfly. If
you have difficulty approaching nervous butterflies, shoot from
further back with a long lens, but you'll have a wider choice of angle
and will probably get better shots if you use a 90-100mm macro at
closer distance - it just takes a bit of practice.
Choose the right angle
To get photos that are sharp from wing
tip to wing tip you need to keep the camera sensor parallel to the
wings of the butterfly. If you shoot from an oblique angle you will
need a smaller aperture of about F16 to keep the entire butterfly in
focus. Shooting from various angles adds variety however and stops
your photos from all looking the same.
Watch the background
Fussy backgrounds and out of focus
raindrops are very distracting, so compose your photo to try and keep
the background uncluttered. Don't overdo it though, as very plain
backgrounds can make it look as if your photos were taken in a studio
instead of a wild habitat.
Leave space around the butterfly
A very common
mistake is to get too close and completely fill the picture with the
butterfly. Usually you get a nicer photo by stepping further back and
including some of the surrounding vegetation - it helps to place the
subject in context with its habitat. Shooting from further back gives
you more options to recompose and crop your photo when you download
your images to your computer.