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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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:iconvioletveronika:
VioletVeronika Featured By Owner Aug 21, 2015  Hobbyist Photographer
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:
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Aug 21, 2015  Hobbyist Photographer
Wonderful photo!
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:iconvioletveronika:
VioletVeronika Featured By Owner Aug 21, 2015  Hobbyist Photographer
thank you :hug:
wish more of them considered my legs a good place to sit on :la:
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Aug 21, 2015  Hobbyist Photographer
:hug:
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:iconeasyplays:
EASYplays Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2013
Thank you. I can't wait to try it out.
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Apr 1, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks :)
Reply
:iconquixxxie2000:
Quixxxie2000 Featured By Owner Apr 29, 2012
Why dinīt I find your site before? You are brilliant!
Reply
:iconsandris01:
sandris01 Featured By Owner Jun 20, 2011  Hobbyist Photographer
What a shame :( my cheap camera does not have manual focus, but I still got some photos :D Nice tutorial
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:iconkeldererik:
keldererik Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2010   Digital Artist
I'm going to a butterfly sanctuary and will keep this journal in mind.
Thanks for your great tutorials.
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:iconflunipam:
Flunipam Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2010
Great! Thanks for sharing :)
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2010  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks for the feedback!
Reply
:icondarthpayback:
darthpayback Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2009
Great info, as in all your tuts. Your macro photography is outstanding, something I can hope to match someday.
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2009  Hobbyist Photographer
Just takes practice :)
Reply
:iconthe-oncoming-storm:
The-Oncoming-Storm Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2009  Hobbyist Photographer
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. :)
Reply
:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2009  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks for the feedback and I hope the tutorial helps!
Reply
:iconselley:
selley Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2009
Great tutorial!
Not too long but, it has everything in it. :)
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2009  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks :)
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:iconbellalleb-stock:
bellalleb-stock Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Reply
:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks!
Reply
:iconmariocassar:
mariocassar Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2008  Professional Photographer
Good tutorial and really straight to the point... :)
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks for the feedback!
Reply
:iconanitanagu:
AnitaNagu Featured By Owner Sep 29, 2008  Hobbyist General Artist
Very interesting, Thanks!
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Sep 29, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks :)
Reply
:iconanitanagu:
AnitaNagu Featured By Owner Sep 30, 2008  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks to you for sharing your knowledge. I´ll try your tricks to catch some insects with my camera.
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Sep 30, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks for the feedback!
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:iconjiangzu:
jiangzu Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2008
That's some useful advice! We have a butterfly bush in our backyard and the butterflies swarm all over it, even though I don't have a macro lens, I've been chasing them around all summer with a camera. Now I'll be more careful of where I position myself when I go after them...
Reply
:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks for the feedback!

Sometimes it's best to find a spot that will give you the angles and the light that you want and just let the butterflies come to you...
Reply
:iconjiangzu:
jiangzu Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2008
That should be pretty easy to do with a butterfly bush in the back yard ^.~ I'm not much of a photographer though, I like taking pictures more to use as reference for my paintings.
Reply
:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Some people use a pencil to sketch a scene, you use a camera 8-)
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:iconerickmd:
ErickMD Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2008   Photographer
thanks for sharing this tutorial with us ;)
Reply
:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks for the feedback!
Reply
:iconerickmd:
ErickMD Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2008   Photographer
no problm) could i get the same performance with 18-200mm on EOS 400D ?
Reply
:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
No idea since I don't know what the maximum magnification of the lens will be.
Reply
:iconsillymunkey:
sillymunkey Featured By Owner Aug 29, 2008
Great info! How long does it usually take you to get these kind of shots?
Reply
:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Aug 29, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
It really depends on the subject -if they are actively feeding then it's like shooting ducks in a barrel.
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:iconmacrojunkie:
macrojunkie Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2008  Professional Photographer
im off to longleat butterfly farm in few days..had to read this before i leave..good info john.
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks 8-)

Good luck at the farm!
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:iconmacrojunkie:
macrojunkie Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2008  Professional Photographer
cheers
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:iconterrorcookie:
TerrorCookie Featured By Owner May 7, 2008
That was very informative! Thanks so much! :D
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner May 7, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks for the feedback!
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:iconterrorcookie:
TerrorCookie Featured By Owner May 7, 2008
:)
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:iconkillerangel47:
KillerAngel47 Featured By Owner May 4, 2008
Thanx for the adivce and the info!!! :thumbsup: :D :D
Reply
:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner May 4, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Glad you liked it 8-)
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:iconkillerangel47:
KillerAngel47 Featured By Owner May 5, 2008
You're welcome!! :XD: :hug: :D :D :D
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