How to Photograph Butterflies and Host Plants
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.
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
- Butterfly Photography - techniques
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© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez