Photographing Butterflies

butterfly photography, how to photograph butterflies, photographing butterflies, butterfly photography tips, tips for photographing butterflies

Have you ever wanted to start photographing butterflies? In this article I’m going to show you how to photograph butterlfies successfully and quickly, whilst maintaining sharp focus and excellent depth of field.With these powerful tips for photographing butterflies you’ll be able to discover how you too can get beautiful butterfly photos.

Butterflies are very sweet and delicate little things. They flit around gently all day, providing us with some terrific photo opportunites. But it’s difficult to know when they are going to sit still and settle, making it hard for us to photograph them. What are they doing when they are flitting about? Gathering nectar actually, just as we would go food shopping for groceries.

Butterfly photography is a fun and and gentle sport. And the first thing you are going to need is a good, flexible tripod to follow them from each position they land in. Keep the tripod nice and free. A tight, ridgid tripod will make it very hard to move around and follow your butterfly. By maintaining some flexibility in your tripod position, not only to you make it easier to shoot, but you will feel less restricted in your own movements when you are following your butterfly.

Depending on where you live, photographing butterflies will depend on the weather. In extreme cold climates, you won’t see a butterfly until spring or autumn. In subtropical climates or warmer weather, you will see plenty. They do not like extremes of temperature, so pick your timing correctly. You can look up your favourites species of butterfly and see what times of the year they are more likely to come out. Check the seasons and weather first, before you go out hunting. It would seem a non-event if you went out searching for your favourite butterfly only to realise it’s another six months before you will see them.

Photograing butteflies doesn’t have to be a stressful exercise. Watch and wait until your butterfly is completerly still and go! Postition yourself so that you are have a perfect front on or side angle, fill your viewer and shoot. Take as “big” photo as you can. Lining your camera up right beside your butterfly will give you some excellent shots. Make sure that you have your camera on auto focus, as you won’t have time to play around with manual focus very much. When you are shooting small, flighty creatues such as these, you can sometimes lose the shot forever in favour of trying to get the “right” focus. Just concentrate on getting the shot, sharp and composed well and let the camera do the focusing.

Lighting is always important in butterfly photography. Your butterfly being lit from the side will be nice if you are aiming for a sillouhette type of photo. If you want a sharp, colourful shot of your butterfly, then it will be better for you to have the sun behind you and on the front of the butterfly. Wait until your butterfly is sitting still on a flower, with the sun lighting the whole creature and press that shutter button.

Butterfly photography is depedant on the lighting so not only is it imperative to watch your position of the sun, but keep the iso low or at medium. if you are shooting a white butterfly on a white flower, you may want to set your camera at 100 ISO or 200 ISO. You may think that 400 ISO is good, but when you veiw the images back, they may be a little bright. The right ISO heavily depends on what intensity of light you are working with. On an overcast, cloudy day, your white butterfly on the white flower may look great at 800 ISO. Just experiement with the light first, then settle on the right ISO from there.

Experiement with burst mode. Butterflies move fast and good butterfly photography relies on sharpness and speed. You can simply shoot in burst mode if you are worried you might miss any of the delicate movements given by your butterfly. After all, it is better to prepare for speed!

Ofcourse if burst modea is not familair to you and a fast shutter speed is, then all the better. A fast shutter speed will provide the ability to take those “frozen in time” photos that we all seek when photographing butterflies. Butterfly photography relies on the shutter speed being at 500th of a second or higher so that we can capture the butterfly without motion blur or distortion.

To summarise, check your lighting and camera settings before photographing butterflies. You can shoot with ease in burst mode and auto focus a lot more than you can with manual focus or single shooting. You’ll soon discover that butterfly photography is a great deal of fun!

About the Author

Amy is an multi-award winning photographer from Australia. She teaches enthusiast photographers how to take beautiful, professional photos in easy, plain English. She has a monthly photography emagazine and ebooks to help you create stunning images every time.

Comments (41)

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  1. Mike says:

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  2. Scott says:

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  3. Great information! I believe nature is always one of the most tranquil and best subjects! I have a lot of fun going out with my camera, and going for a walk. I find the morning easiest, as many people are not up, and the light is great. In the winter it can be more difficult, but it does make for a more agreeable time to get up and walk. Our birds are just as active, but do not usually sit for me, unless they know me. Feeding the subjects always helps!

  4. Diane says:

    May 15th is observed as butterfly day. It is not only for children, but elders must also observe this day. To relax. All of us are always tense. It is either work, or family and social commitments, or something else. It will be difficult to find an adult who is not tense. We are always under so much of stress and pressure that most of us have lost the essence of living. The essence of living should be to live with joy and give joy to others. But that joy is no more present in our life because of unending
    work or commitments or something else. Sometimes, even social gatherings cause stress to us.

    For observing the butterfly day on 15th of May, it will be essential for us to go in a garden or in the country side. Butterflies don’t love the concrete jungles that we all love so much. They love open spaces, gardens and jungles full of blooming flowers with a cool breeze blowing across. That is the setting for the butterflies to dance and fly from one flower to another flower, have a small hello and go forward. The butterflies all look so beautiful, bright and colorful. No man ever craft something so cute. It is only mother nature who can do that.

    So on this butterfly Day, go out in a garden and sit. Sit and look around, with no purpose in mind except to absorb as much of the nature as you can. Look at the flowers. Observe the leaves. Every thing is perfectly made. And then try to locate butterflies. you will find one, no doubt. Look at the way it flies around, fluttering its wings and dancing with joy without any worries. It has no worries of completing an assignment or filing a form or any such thing. It just lives in joy. Observe that joy. Talk to it. say hello. It may not return that hello, but will surely understand that you are trying to talk to it. Enjoy with experiments of talk and try to run behind it and catch it if you can. Spend an hour and you will find relaxation of the kind nothing else can give you. Enjoy the butterflies day.

  5. Paul says:

    This was pretty enlightening. I hadn’t thought about the fact that so much forethought was needed to get some of those amazing butterfly shots. I suppose that’s true for other type of insect photography as well.

    Your write-up almost makes the whole experience sound like a mini-thriller – wondering if that ultimate butterfly shot will get captured or not.

    • Thanks Paul- glad the article got you thinking. And yes, the strategies are true for insect photography, although I think with insects you need a macro lens. Where as Butterfly photography requires more skill and patience. But it’s worth the wait- they are so beautiful.

  6. Julie Conner says:

    They are hard little buggers to photograph!

  7. My partner and I really enjoyed reading this blog post, I was just itching to know do you trade featured posts? I am always trying to find someone to make trades with and merely thought I would ask.

  8. Keep working on more info for your blog, great job!

  9. du refi plus says:

    Wow! what an idea ! What a concept ! Beautiful .. Amazing …

  10. Great! Thanks for post

  11. Thank you for telling us about this. I know other people will gain a deeper understanding of photography thanks to this article.

  12. Karen Kotze says:

    thanks for all of your education and inspiration. As a student of photography, I have found your site to be invaluable, both technically and creatively.

  13. porno says:

    Great! Thanks for post

  14. Lydia Wiley says:

    I want to thank you for all the work you put into digitalphaotographysecrets and all the resources contained in the site. I’ve learn loads about lighting and other aspects of the photography business.

  15. I really liked seeing your new site!

  16. Brilliant, thank you, I will subscribe to you RSS later.

  17. Leona says:

    Amazing article, cheers, I have bookmark you now!

  18. Max Lucas says:

    Great site, thanks Amy!

  19. Bob Johnson says:

    A great piece – thank you so much for posting it. I would definitely recommend thet every one else should have a look at it.

  20. I began photographing butterflies last year and never got any clear or close up shots. I’ll try again.

  21. Samantha says:

    Greetings from Tahiti,These tips will be of great help, thank you ! I am really fan of your blog…

  22. Connie says:

    Amy, thanks for this article on photographing butterflies. I have tried to shoot them before without luck- I’ve also tried to photograph bees, they are even harder!

  23. Izzie says:

    Do you ever find that photographing butterflies gets hard in the direct sunlight? I can never seem to get a shot that’s got good lighting. How can I do this Amy?

    • Izzie,

      Try reducing your ISO if you are struggling with harsh lighting. Use a polariser for reducing some of the light, and you can reduce the highlights in Lightroom too.

      Alternatively try shooting on an overcast day, that can help a lot.


  24. Kinet says:

    Wow, this is a cool article and great look and feel as well.

  25. LEsli says:

    I love photographing butterflies.

  26. Judy says:

    Great! Thanks for post

  27. mutuelle says:

    Excellent brief and this article helped me alot. Say thank you I looking for your information….

  28. Rob says:

    Thanks for the information. I will be going to an indoor Butterfly Conservatory early next week and was hoping for some tips related to shooting in those conditions. The Conservatory does not allow the use of tripods, so that will be a problem. Also, what lens would be better for these conditions? I have a 1.8 50mm and a f 4.0 17-85mm Canon lens. I may have access to a 70 to 200mm lens. I’d appreciate your feedback. Thanks!!

    • Hi Rob,

      Oh I hate it when venues do that! LOL

      Your F4 lens will be okay, but try and pump up the ISO quite a lot. More light sensitivity means you get more light, more light means a high shutter which will decrease the chances of blur in your photos. The 70-200mm lens is a beautiful lens, you lucky bugger! :)

      The 1.8 50mm lens will be better as far as light, but you may not be able to get as close, unless the butterflies are not shy. I’d definately take both lenses. And make sure you work with your ISO.

      Good luck! Would love to see some photos. Come on over to and see me there.


  29. Kenny says:

    Awesome website Amy. Thanks for your help with the ezine the other day. I got everything so fast and have already started applying what you say. Already my images are look so much better.

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