How to Shoot Butterflies….With a Camera

20 Feb

A Life to Live

Melody Hendrix



Since people who love butterflies and would like to photograph them, are all at different skill levels, I am going to talk about two shooting methods. One for those who like to just point and shoot or use a cell phone and one for those who are advanced and like to shoot with manual controls.

First there are a few basic things that can greatly improve your butterfly pictures either way you shoot.

Take lots of pictures. When you find a butterfly, keep shooting until it flies away. This gives you the best odds of having at least one good one.

Start shooting from far away. Each step closer is a better and better shot.

Move in slowly as not to alarm the butterfly. You can crop later. Cropping is the finishing touch. There are a lot of simple software programs to use to crop, straighten, adjust exposure, sharpen and enhance. You can do this right in your camera in some models.

Getting a good sharp focus is one of the most difficult of achievements. Here are some tips to help with that:

The cameras now truly have artificial intelligence and usually do a great job. Most of the time, auto is a good choice, especially if you are doing a video clip. One thing I want to mention about videos is that no matter how good the video looks, if the camera is moving around, the video cannot be enjoyed. So be as steady as possible. Use a mono pod if you don’t have steady hands.

If you are taking still pictures, try using your macro mode (flower icon) if you can get close to a feeding butterfly on a flower. Some cameras can give you great closeups. You can even get a macro lens kit for your cell phone. They are not expensive and work pretty well.

If you are shooting a very active butterfly try using your scene mode – Action/Sports (or something similar)

Zoom in. Zooming in will help you get closer and also blur the background (shallow depth of field). It will also help the flash to be at a distance so it doesn’t wash out your subject. Zooming will also help you cut out distracting things surrounding your subject.

Use your flash. The more light the faster your shutter speed will be to stop motion. Check your shot and make sure the flash doesn’t white out your subject.

You can tape a little piece of white paper over your flash as a diffuser. This takes away the harshness of the flash and gives you soft light.

Using the flash in bright sunlight seems odd, but it helps to even out the light.

If a butterfly is in the sun and a shadow is next to it, position yourself so the shadow is behind the butterfly. Having a dark background will make the butterfly pop. Having a flower, nice greenery, distance (blurry background) or even the sky is also a nice background.

Sometimes instead of waiting for the perfect picture to just happen, you can create one.

Buy a nectar juicy potted plant (Milkweed, Penta, etc). After buying one, hose it down to remove pesticides and hydrate the plant. The more moisture, the more nectar. Find a nice background or shadow and place the plant there. The direction of the sun can help or hinder your shot.

Check out how the light looks.

It’s best to position the plant so light is coming from behind you. Have your camera on a tripod, bean bag or a secure place to set the camera. Have everything lined up and ready, and wait for your subject to land. Have a drink, a snack and some patience handy.

Here is my little secret.

Put a drop of red Gatorade on the flower. Once your subject discovers it, it should stay a while as most butterflies love it, giving you a perfect photo op. Keep shooting until it flies away.

Handholding the camera is probably the easiest way to shoot, but harder to get sharp pictures unless you have a steady hand. Just before you push the shutter button, watch the screen to detect any movement, hold your breath and gently, without moving the camera, press down on the shutter button. Try not to let the camera move downward as you press. Re-focus (press shutter button half way down) and shoot again. Keep camera as still as possible. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Butterflies are cold blooded and need the warmth of the sun to allow it’s body to move freely. It will sit and wait to not only warm up, but to dry out from the morning dew. This may be a good opportunity to check the bushes for one. They will be sleepy and sluggish. You may even get one with some dew drops.

Shoot butterflies at different angles. Shoot them at eye level or slightly below. This reveals it’s face and body. It is more personal and shows more detail of it’s eyes and personality. Or shoot straight down and wait for it to open it’s wings to see color and patterns. Shoot a wide scene showing flowers and landscape as part of the picture.

There are many butterfly conservatories around Florida. This is such a fun opportunity to get many kinds, colors and shapes of butterflies. The light inside is usually diffused and butterfly subjects are everywhere. Look online for the one nearest you.

Truly the very best pictures you will ever get is when the butterfly first emerges from it’s chrysalis and sit’s pretty, waiting for it’s wings to dry. You can have your way with them and get stunning pictures.

Advanced shooting with DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera with interchangeable lenses

Control your shutter speed: Your shutter speed are exposure settings that determines how quickly a photograph is taken. There are different ways of doing that. I prefer these camera settings that have worked out the best for me.

ISO – at least ISO 400. If your camera can handle noise well, you can use ISO 640-800. If the exposure is too bright go back to ISO 400.

Aperture – f6.3 – f8

focus – single point focus

Metering – SPOT meter is very important. This will allow you to pinpoint exposure of just the butterfly. You can even shoot into the sun with the spot meter on the butterfly. It makes a unique back lit image. Use your diffused flash to brighten it’s body, or no flash to create a silhouette image with a silver lining.

Light – Use a diffuser over the flash. Try setting your flash to high, but adjust your exposure compensation to -3. This will lessen the brightness on the butterfly and darken the background. Zooming in will also help soften the harshness of the flash. Try using a light ring. This works best with a captured butterfly. You can buy a light box. Set up your scene and put your butterflies in. This is for crazy must get a perfect shot people like me. haha

Photographing butterflies can be addictive. You must have patience and though you don’t have to have special equipment to get good butterfly pics, having the right equipment can greatly improve your pictures if you have a passion for butterflies and you are going to be taking a lot of them.

Below is an educational video I made to ID many Florida butterflies photographed in my yard and Oviedo Lucas Butterfly Conservatory.





I am retired and enjoying life. My hobbies are my 5 grandchildren, son and daughter, and my loving husband. I am a photographer and extreme nature lover. I love spending time in my garden or in the wilderness connected to God my Creator.

One Response to “How to Shoot Butterflies….With a Camera”

  1. divoran09 February 22, 2018 at 5:58 pm #

    Good post


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