How to Photograph Butterflies

By Geoff Harris

Macro Photography CourseImagine a field of wild flowers, with the sun shining, and jewel-coloured butterflies flitting from one flower to another.  Amazingly beautiful – and tantalisingly difficult to photograph!

The first reason that it’s difficult is the flitting – butterflies seem to be always on the move.  However, butterflies need the warmth of the sun to be active, so we can greatly increase our chances of success, by going out early or late in the day, when it’s cooler, to photograph them.

In fact, if you don’t mind getting up really early, and you know where to look, you may photograph butterflies with their wings covered with dew drops – and not only do they look stunningly beautiful, they can’t fly away until their wings have warmed up!

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Once the butterflies are on the move, you will need to wait for one to land on a flower and then approach it carefully.

Avoid any sudden movements, and be careful that your shadow doesn’t fall onto the butterfly, as that will almost certainly make it fly away.

Macro Photography CourseA longer lens will make life much easier – either a telephoto lens, or ideally a telephoto macro lens.

You’ll need a fast shutter speed to freeze any movement, so set your ISO to a high enough number to allow for this – try ISO 400 as a starting point.

To keep the butterfly’s body and wings in focus, try to have your camera’s sensor parallel to them – this will ensure that as much as possible of the butterfly falls within the zone of sharpness in your image.

As with so many other types of photography, the background to your subject can be as important as the subject itself.

Try to avoid any distracting light or brightly coloured patches in the background.

If you can find an area behind your butterfly with soft, harmonising colours, and throw it out of focus by using a wide aperture, it will make a lovely background.

If you want to practise or experiment with photographing butterflies before heading out to photograph them outdoors, butterfly houses can give you good photo opportunities and a variety of tropical butterflies which you might not usually see in the wild.

The backgrounds can be a little limiting though, and once you’ve refined your techniques, you’ll probably want to look for butterflies in a more natural environment.

If you get a great butterfly photo, you could always consider sending it in for our Monthly Photo Competition!

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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