Shooting Butterflies Tutorial

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dalantech's avatar
By dalantech

Literature Text

As beautiful as they are fragile, butterflies are one of my favorite subjects to shoot –and one of the most difficult to get close to in the wild. I’m often asked how I get so close to them and here is what I’ve learned.

Shoot them when they are distracted.

Like all insects, butterflies are more likely to stay put if they are occupied. Go looking for them early in the morning when they are trying to dry out from the previous night’s dew, feeding, or mating. In the heat of the day they are very active and less likely to let you get close.

Don’t act like a snake.

Predators, like snakes and lizards, move slowly when they are trying to get close to a victim and then speed up for the kill. If you get excited and speed up as you are getting close to a butterfly then you are simply mimicking the motion of a predator. Keep you movements even and slow…

Picture the image in your mind.

Know what image you want before you get into position and compose for it as you are getting close. Often a butterfly will only give me one or two frames before taking off so I have to picture the image in my head and position myself to get it –I won’t get the chance to recompose. If you have access to a butterfly sanctuary then go there and practice composition. If I had access to one I think my initial success rate would have been higher since I’d have a better understand of how to compose my shots.

Cast no shadow.

Butterflies are on just about every back yard predator’s buffet table and are hard wired to react to changes in light. If your shadow falls over a butterfly then you can forget about shooting it. Even flash photography can be a problem since butterflies perceive any change in light as movement. Most modern flashes produce a small pre-flash burst of light that the camera uses for metering, and butterflies are so fast that they can jump as the shutter is opening. If you find that you’re taking a lot of “action shots” of blurry, jumping butterflies then turn off your flash.

Use the focus ring.

One last tip that I, as a macro shooter, take for granted. Butterflies are also sensitive to vibration so you may have to turn off the auto focus on your lens and do it “old school”. Part of my success getting within inches of wild butterflies is probably due to the fact that I almost wore out the focus ring on my 100mm macro lens while shooting close-ups.

Good hunting and good luck! ;)

This article was originally published on my blog, but I've updated it for my Deviant Art journal.
A tutorial on shooting butterflies.
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VioletVeronika's avatar
I wasn't aware about the shadow thing xD
good to know...
btw, sometimes strange things happen :giggle:
Chasing A Dream by VioletVeronika

I managed to take quite a lot of pictures before he flew off :D
about 30 I guess
but since I did cast a shadow, 
and it was my first session with a macro lens in nature...
they are not as bright as I would wish :giggle:
dalantech's avatar
Wonderful photo!
VioletVeronika's avatar
thank you :hug:
wish more of them considered my legs a good place to sit on :la:
Thank you. I can't wait to try it out.
Quixxxie2000's avatar
Why din´t I find your site before? You are brilliant!
sandris01's avatar
What a shame :( my cheap camera does not have manual focus, but I still got some photos :D Nice tutorial
keldererik's avatar
I'm going to a butterfly sanctuary and will keep this journal in mind.
Thanks for your great tutorials.
Flunipam's avatar
Great! Thanks for sharing :)
dalantech's avatar
Thanks for the feedback!
darthpayback's avatar
Great info, as in all your tuts. Your macro photography is outstanding, something I can hope to match someday.
dalantech's avatar
Just takes practice :)
The-Oncoming-Storm's avatar
Such a simple but informative tutorial.

I've reccently discovered the joys of taking photos of butterflies after finding a 'hot-spot' location in my street. I think the only part of this tutorial I haven't followed is thinking of the photo. When I take the photos, 90% chance they are distracted with the flower and I have some distance from them so not to fully disturb them.

I shall have to try just sitting and picking one area to focus on the next time I take photos. See if I can get closer - so far my results have been deccent but with your tutorial I'm sure with a bit more pratice, I'll get closer. :)
dalantech's avatar
Thanks for the feedback and I hope the tutorial helps!
selley's avatar
Great tutorial!
Not too long but, it has everything in it. :)
mariocassar's avatar
Good tutorial and really straight to the point... :)
dalantech's avatar
Thanks for the feedback!
AnitaNagu's avatar
Very interesting, Thanks!
AnitaNagu's avatar
Thanks to you for sharing your knowledge. I´ll try your tricks to catch some insects with my camera.
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