ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Photograph Butterflies and Host Plants

Updated on June 12, 2016
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years.

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. | Source

Photographing butterflies

My favorite photo project: butterflies has been one of the best photography projects that I have undertaken.

Waiting to photograph butterflies tested the limits of my patience but were well rewarded at the end. I made it a point to do so with the least expense, so I concentrated on local gardens, local nurseries, botanical gardens and my own backyard.

I had done some prior research to identify the best plants to attract butterflies and several species were readily available in my hometown of Miami Florida. One interesting plant was milkweed (Asclepias family) a hardy perennial.

This particular garden plant is commonly available at many local nurseries and it is a favorite of monarch butterflies as well as other species and its seed pods are easily collected for future stocks. Both milkweeds and monarchs are common to most of the south but do your own research into plants and butterflies for your particular area of the country.

Other useful plants:

Other butterfly plants suggestions are: Indian Hemp (Apocynum cannabinum), Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa),Goldenrod (Solidago sp), and Red Clover (Trifolium pratense).

Strongly suggested is fire bush (Hamelia patens) not only does this hardy bush attract butterflies, bees and a host of nectar loving insects, but it is excellent if you want to attract hummingbirds.

Monarchs not only use the flowers for nectar but they readily lay their eggs on it as the milkweed is a host plant. The plant also provides a chemical protection in its milky white sap that is ingested by the monarch's caterpillars and most birds have recognized that eating the monarch butterfly can be poisonous or at least distasteful, although most adult monarchs lose this chemical protection some time after adulthood.

Plant the milkweed in bunches and watch monarchs flock to it in droves. To photograph butterflies a long lens in the range of 100mm to 300mm should be sufficient. Consider using fill in flash or discretely using reflectors to bounce back light and pre-positioned near selected plants.

Photo tips:

Do your photography early in the morning when the ambient temperature is still in the cool side. This will make most butterflies likely to sit in one place for a longer time period.

Other species that regularly feed on milkweed are the common yellow swallowtail (Papilionidae) and the zebra swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) and many a bumble bee (Bumbus terrestries).

Photograph these butterflies while feeding, laying their eggs and mating. Also look for their colorful caterpillars as they feed on the milkweed. Once the caterpillar is ready to pupae, they form a sort of "J" and can be removed from the plant, placed in a well ventilated container and you can watch as they hatch.

Be careful not to disturb the caterpillar before they naturally get ready to metamorphose by attaching themselves to some portion of the plant, doing so will more than likely kill the caterpillar by not being allowed to reach maturity.

Once they morph into a butterfly, they will be easily handled and photographed for several minutes until they warm up and take flight. This is excellent for a biology project or just to provide an interesting and instructive way of exploring nature and it's cycles.

If possible take macro shots (close up) to show wing patterns, colors and textures. Include shots that show their environment also. Note: when you are ready to release a newly hatched monarch female, watch it carefully if there are other monarchs around as they will quickly latch on and mate,an event that can last several hours.

Try capturing the various stages of a butterfly's lifecycle

Monarch cocoon
Monarch cocoon | Source
Monarch Caterpillar getting ready to form a cocoon
Monarch Caterpillar getting ready to form a cocoon | Source

Butterflies photos

 Shooting at a low angle makes the subject less apt to flee
Shooting at a low angle makes the subject less apt to flee | Source
Shooting in strong midday Sun is not advisable but often you have to grab the opportunity when it is offered to you
Shooting in strong midday Sun is not advisable but often you have to grab the opportunity when it is offered to you | Source
This file (Butterfly in Louisiana) is in public domain, not copyrighted, no rights reserved, free for any use.
This file (Butterfly in Louisiana) is in public domain, not copyrighted, no rights reserved, free for any use. | Source

© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Luis-I love butterflies and I love photography. Unfortunately, I'm just an amateur, but I love to take photos just the same.

      One year I visited the Norfolk Botonical Gardens b/c there was a butterfly exhibit. I got half a dozen very cool photos. My avatar is actually one of the photos I took.

      Thanks for the great tips. I was disappointed I didn't see any of the photos you took. Am I incorrect?

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      9 years ago from Miami, Florida

      For most animals, specially birds, the most important element to get sharp are the eyes.

      Thanks, glad to be able to help

    • WhiteOak profile image

      Eva Thomas 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      That is very interesting, I would have never thought about photographing butterflies in the morning. And oh, my goodness I am trying to learn patience when it comes to photographing things such as Birds!! Just yesterday I got the courage up to start working with my larger lens, and although out of 30+ pictures I only had one real crisp come out, it made me happy. You posted some good tips here, butterflies is one of my favorite things so I am really looking forward to Spring this year.

    • FaithDream profile image


      9 years ago from (Midwest) USA

      Beautiful photos. I love the butterfly... Transformed beauty.

    • mannyrolando profile image


      9 years ago

      Beautiful photos and great hub, I love to photograph flowers among other things, but never quite got into butterflies or other small subjects that tend to move away right at the worst time, I guess I just don't have the patiences! I'm glad that you do, butterflies are so beautiful!

    • profile image

      Luis Enrique Gonzalez 

      9 years ago

      Thank you, insect photography(specially butterflies) is what got me into photography.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Interesting hub! It's well set up and looks beautiful :)

    • imfljunior profile image


      9 years ago from East coast United States

      Those are awesome specimens! I used to be really into lepidoptera's! I admire the persistence in capturing these shots. I think these are really cool shots.

      Nice work! Brought me back a few years when I was truly into butterflies the most.

    • tnderhrt23 profile image


      9 years ago

      Stunning photography, lovely hub!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)