How To Photograph Butterflies

One of the most beautiful animals on our planet is easily the butterfly. They are known for their gorgeous wings, bright colorful patterns, and intricate designs.

How To Photograph Butterflies

They are iconic and because of this, they are often the subject of a lot of great photography. 

If you want to take some amazing photos of butterflies, you will need to know how to set up your camera properly and how to respect the wildlife you are photographing properly.

It can be difficult photographing butterflies because they are so small and flighty – so here’s a great guide to help you get started. 

Check out the information below to learn how to photograph butterflies! 

1. Use A Macro Lens

The first piece of advice any photographer will give you when it comes to photographing butterflies is to use a macro lens. 

Photographing butterflies actually falls under the macro photography category. Because they are so small, butterflies are often difficult to photograph using an average camera lens.

They appear too small and you can’t really see the beautiful patterns on their wings. As a normal camera lens does not do the butterfly justice, a macro lens is a much better option. 

Macro lenses are great for capturing small objects and wildlife in great detail. By using one, you can zoom in on the small butterfly, capturing all its detail, without losing focus or picture quality.

They also allow you to keep a fair distance away from the butterflies. This means that you are less likely to disturb them and as a result, they are less likely to take flight and try to get away.

So, using a macro lens can also increase your chances of getting more butterfly photographs as well as better quality butterfly photographs. 

Macro lenses are commonly used for macro photography, making them the ultimate choice of lens for photographing butterflies! 

2. Or A Telephoto Lens

Not everyone can afford to purchase lots of different lenses for their camera. As a result, a telephoto is the next best option. 

These are much more affordable than an extra lens and can help you increase your camera’s focal length.

Even if your camera only has one lens, you can still use a telephoto to help you zoom in on the butterfly and capture all its beauty and detail on camera. 

Telephotos are a go-to tool for photographers on a budget so if you don’t want or cannot get a macro lens, you can use a telephoto instead.  

3. Try A Wide Aperture 

One frustrating thing with photographing butterflies is getting your camera to focus.

Sometimes, the camera will insist on picking up the background or foreground and this can completely draw attention away from the butterfly, blending it into the background. 

A wide aperture can fix this. It purposefully blurs the background and foreground so the butterfly will stand out.

This means that any foliage in front of or behind the butterfly won’t be the focus of the shot – and the butterfly can be your photograph’s main subject! 

4. Fast Shutter Speed Is A Must

How To Photograph Butterflies (3)

Not only are butterflies very small but they’re also fairly fast insects (see also “How To Photograph Dragonflies“)! They can move very quickly using their wings and bob around in the air – meaning that catching a sharp, crisp photograph can be difficult! 

To maximize your chances of getting a clear photograph of a butterfly in flight, you need to increase your camera’s shutter speed (see also “How To Photograph Birds In Flight?“).

The faster the shutter speed, the more detailed and sharp the image is – so aim for a fast shutter speed, to begin with.

You can adjust the speed as you see fit but starting with a speed around 1/500th of a second should be enough for you to capture those beautiful wings in motion. 

5. Don’t Forget About Composition 

It’s easy to forget about the composition of your photograph while you scramble to capture some photographs of butterflies.

They move so quickly that it’s tempting to snap as many pictures as possible – but you shouldn’t forget your basic composition tips and tricks! 

Keep them fresh in your mind and follow them to get some truly amazing butterfly photographs. 

6. Be Patient

Butterflies are very shy insects (see also “How To Photograph Fireflies“) – even so much as casting a shadow on one is enough to make it think a predator is nearby and trigger its flight instinct .

As a result, you need to be very patient and move slowly while photographing butterflies. 

Camouflage won’t really help you as butterflies are attracted to flowers. They drink the nectar from flowers for sustenance so the opposite of camouflage – bright natural colors – can attract butterflies to you as they mistake the colors for flowers. 

So, your best bet is to find somewhere colorful with lots of flowers, sit down and wait – the butterflies will find you! 

Final Thoughts

It can be difficult getting great photographs of butterflies.

They are very small, fast, and difficult to find – but if you follow the advice above, and use the right lenses and settings, you will be able to capture quality butterfly photographs for your portfolio. 

So grab your camera, find your butterflies, and good luck! 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Best Time Of Day To Photograph Butterflies?

Butterflies tend to be active at most times throughout the day and this gives photographers more flexibility to play with natural lighting. 

As midday lighting tends to be pretty harsh, a lot of photographers prefer to photograph butterflies in the early morning or late afternoon – during the golden hours.

During this time, butterflies are slightly less active so they are easier to capture while resting on leaves and foliage. The natural lighting is also at its best.

Which Month Has The Most Butterflies?

The summer season seeks butterfly numbers to peak in most areas. This is because the warm weather is the perfect temperature for these insects to thrive.

What month this correlates to you depends on whether you are in the northern or southern hemisphere but for northern hemisphere countries, September tends to be the peak month for butterfly numbers. 

So, the best time of the year to photograph butterflies is in the summer as you are more likely to find plenty to photograph.

Laura McNeill
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