Photographing Butterflies: 13 Lucky Tips
Updated: Jul 16
Butterflies are great models. People go bonkers over butterfly pictures. With them as the subject of your photo art you can't go wrong. But, since they are so active, here are some useful tips for photographing butterflies outdoors.
1. LOOK for butterflies! Butterflies are more common than most people think. Many people say that they “don’t have butterflies where they live.” What is much more likely is that these people are just not paying close attention and LOOKING for butterflies.
2. They prefer warm sunny days and tend to fly when the temperatures are warm. Late morning to afternoon is generally a good time to see them fly, but they may move too quickly for a snapshot. They will fly into the evening if the sun is out and temperatures are warm.
3. Though they are most active in warm temperatures, that may not be conducive to photographing them. They fly slower in the morning, evening, cooler weather or after a rainstorm. This may be a better time to approach them because they aren't as active.
4. If you are raising butterflies indoors, a great time to photograph them is within the hour they first come out of their chrysalis. They cannot fly yet. You can stage them on flowers or your fingertip and get great close ups like the following shot of a Pink Spot sulphur.
5. Some species are naturally more erratic and faster than others. Yellow butterflies (in the Sulphur family) are very difficult to catch on film. Start with slower flyers like Monarchs, Zebra Longwings and Atalas. Skippers are fast flyers that dart about but when they rest, they may chill out long enough for a picture. This one was engrossed in its flower and didn't mind me at all. Notice its proboscis is feeding deep in the Allamanda.
6. They are often found in a place where there are plenty of flowers, even flowering weeds will do. Vacant lots, fields or gardens are ideal. They also drink from mud or wet soil, so they may be by a stream or lake, or a recently irrigated part of your yard.
7. Wait until they land before you attempt to approach them (keeping your eyes on them until they do) otherwise they may keep flying.
8. Approach them slowly. They can see you and they may get startled easily.
9. You will likely get closer to them if they are distracted. A flower or mud they are drinking from, laying eggs, or another butterfly can all divert their attention. The big swallowtails nectar while in flight. They don't seem to mind if we snap photos of them as they eat. This Western Tiger barely noticed me.
10. Don’t let your shadow fall on them, they will likely fly away.
11. Begin snapping photos from a distance and continue to as you slowly approach. This way, you can get some photos, even if they’re not spectacular. They can be helpful for identification.
12.. Be patient. Nature works on its own schedule. Be gentle with yourself too, you will get better at noticing them as you practice your skill. Most of the time you will have to take several photos before you get one good one. This is normal. You will delete most of them.
13. Keep trying. Just like anything, practice will improve your technique.
Enjoy the experience. Snapping the photo is great, but we must be conscious not to live behind our phones/cameras. Life is in the moment, not in the photo proof.
Keepin' it Real,
Jessica Morgan McAtee