By Laurie Brice
Butterflies are one of my favorite photographic subjects. They bring sunshine to any mood and a smile to every face. Relax and enjoy photographing these flying miracles.
“The butterfly counts not months but moments,
and has time enough.”
Here are some tips to make your butterfly captures more successful.
- Know your subject! Butterflies may use different plants during each life stage. While the caterpillar munches on one plant the adult butterfly nectars at another. Some adults prefer rotten fruit or other food sources. The best way to find butterflies is to know what plants and food sources they require and where these can be found locally. See the link at the bottom of this post.
- Butterflies only live for a week or two. They are prey for just about everything from spiders to birds. If you see butterflies, go shoot. They won't be there tomorrow.
- Did you know butterflies are highly territorial? If you are patient, that beautiful swallowtail you just missed will come back to the same flower in 15 minutes or so. Don't chase them. Find the flowers that attract the most visitors. Stay there and watch the traffic come and go.
- Butterflies don't fly in rainy, cloudy weather. Temperature also affects flying. This makes mid-morning through early evening best for shooting. Don't be surprised if that cloud passing in front of the sun reduces butterfly flight until the sun is out again.
- Mid-day sun is harsh for photography. Take a long lunch break and enjoy the garden.
- Your target is moving. You need a shutter speed fast enough to catch the action but a depth of field sufficient to keep your subject in focus. Try speeds above 1/500th of a second and f-stops 8 or higher. You may need to increase your ISO to make this possible. Know your camera. Noise increases as ISO increases.
- New to butterfly shooting? Try an enclosed butterfly exhibit. You'll find it much easier to practice if many butterflies are within easy reach of your lens. Brookside Gardens in Wheaton and the Smithsonian in DC have enclosed butterfly exhibits.
- Ready to graduate to an outside garden? Try designated outdoor butterfly gardens. The light will be better, the setting more natural but wild butterflies fly away. Move gently among the plants. Take care to tread gently in the garden that supports your subject. Brookside Gardens, the Jug Bay Sanctuary and Longwood Gardens all have areas planted specifically to attract and nurture butterflies.
- Go Native! Find a meadow, a farm field or roadside milkweed patch and capture wild butterflies on wild plants. It's very rewarding.
Let's talk equipment.
- Today's point and shoot cameras, capable of "macro" are perfect for butterflies.They often have very effective zooming which yields gorgeous, detailed shots.
- DSLR photographers will want to remember that each lens has a minimum focal distance. A macro lens will allow very close focus.
- No macro lens? Try you zoom. Zoom lenses make perfect butterfly lenses but they often have longer minimum focal distances. This can be frustrating in the garden's limited space. Try adding an extension tube between your camera and the lens. Kenko makes a great set. Extension tubes are inexpensive, do not contain additional lenses and decrease the minimum focal distance of your lens. They also decrease the depth of field available so increase that f-stop to 8 or greater. There is a learning curve for this limited depth of field. A little practice will turn you into a butterfly shooting expert.
If you need help with technical aspects presented here, a Four Rivers Photo workshop will get you up to speed in a jiffy. Join us for a fun morning of discovery in downtown Annapolis. We'll get you setting f-stops and shutter speeds like a pro. REGISTER
We wish you a summer of fantastic butterfly shooting.
Chris and Laurie
#LearnPhotography #photoworkshop #Annapolis