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Tips for Better Butterfly Photos

Updated on June 25, 2016
LuisEGonzalez profile image

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

Along with having the head and eyes in sharp detail you must be careful about where shadows fall.


Butterflies are wonderful photographic subjects. They range in many color patterns, are easily accessible and are subjects that are always in demand by countless photo related publications but they are definitely not easy to photograph simply because they are always on the move and rarely will stand in one particular place for too long.

However there are some things that you can do to maximize your chances of getting good images.

First of all if you live anywhere where the seasons change and it gets cold then shooting in the early parts of the morning when the ground and the flowers are still cool makes most butterflies be in one place until the Sun warms them up.

If not cold then the early morning hours are still better since the day is still cool and you are more likely to see several butterflies on one general area than during the hotter parts of the day when they may seek undergrowth to keep cool.

You need to have a lens in the range of about 100mm or a bit longer. Much longer than that is not needed plus may interfere with you shooting.

I have a 400mm lens that I often use but I have tried it for insect photography and because of its length I have had to stand back too often to get a clear picture. This is an inconvenience and I have missed shots because of it. A zoom lens might work but for the bets results try 100mm lenses.


This is a must; you need to find a location that has what the butterflies eat so a location with flowering plants is required. The plant species does not matter so long as they produce flowers and in turn they attract butterflies.

I love taking pictures of insects and specially butterflies so being somewhat lazy I have filled a small portion of my yard with quite a few species of flowering plants and they are all butterfly host/food sources for several types of butterflies with some having been chosen because they also attracts hummingbirds.

This along with a water feature plus some bird feeder gives me a perfect location if I want to do some nature photography.

If no yard or close locations with flowers keep in mind that most cities have natural spaces or arboretums

CCO public domain
CCO public domain | Source

Once in location you should take a few moments and observe the patterns of flight and the routine taken by the butterflies.

Once you have established a pattern, pick a spot and relax. You need to wait for the subjects to come to you.

Pre-focus on several flowers so that you are ready once the butterfly lands. Be ready to start snapping quickly. Shoot in bursts to maximize the chances of getting some good shots.


Depending on where you are consider using a tripod. This will keep your gear in place and if you do not ock the head you have mobility plus stability. It is not a must but can make life easier.

Another good alternative is to sit low to the ground and use your elbows to balance yourself. However the best tool is to use fast shutter speed to minimize blur. Anything faster than 1/250 should be fine.

Anything slower might require the use of a tripod plus in some case a flash unit. You can lessen the need for a tripod or flash unit by increasing the ISO rating. The higher the rating the less light that is required to get an usable image but the more digital noise that might be introduced into the picture.

You don't have too but you should shoot in manual mode and use a wide aperture or f-stop. A wide aperture tends to blur the background thus isolating your subject. If you have too many details in back of the butterfly it can distract from its presence in the image.

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Focus on the eyes. Even if parts of the wings or body are not 100% sharp nothing will ruin an image more than having the eyes not be totally sharp or even be slightly out of focus.

Don't worry about getting the foliage in sharp detail. The main point of interest and what your viewers will focus on is the butterfly and its eyes are always the first thing that human eyes will gravitate to.

This is true for any image where the subject has eyes and they are visible.

Also try to capture the butterfly in a profile format. This format shows more of the subject and does reveal other aspects of it like the head, legs, antennae and the underside of the wings.

Pictures taken from above are good but seldom show much more than the wings. Including several images taken from different angles and perspectives is the best approach.

With this in mind keep alert to make or frame the darker parts like the head, antennae and legs in front of a lighter element like the flower petals. This way you make these portions of the subject stand out since they are dark and more discernible when framed against a much lighter element.

CC0 License
CC0 License | Source

The best mindset to have when photographing butterflies, and in fact most insects, is to be patient.

There will be times that all your efforts do not produce very good results and yet there might be times when everything works out.

Just relax and be on the alert and try to have fun. Sometimes when no subjects are present you can just observe nature in all its glory.

This is often more rewarding than capturing an image of what you came there to do. There have been many times that I have enjoyed the planning, the trip, the setup and the anticipation along with the views more that the final images of my chosen subject matter.

© 2016 Luis E Gonzalez


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