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Butterfly Photography

                                             How to Take Butterfly Images

1. I find that it is best to use a fairly high ISO in the 800 to 1600 range as this allows for a fast shutter speed and a medium aperture. You need to maximise the depth of field to get as much of the butterfly in focus as possible. This is always quite shallow when working close up with small objects. The difference between f/4 and f/8 might be the difference between a butterfly that’s entirely in focus and one that only has part of one wing sharp. Also be prepared to boost your ISO in order to get a fast enough shutter speed at F8 for example. I usually aim for a shutter speed of at least 1/500th, and preferably over 1/1000th. Adjust the ISO as necessary to achieve this or consider using Auto ISO to allow your shutter speed and aperture to remain where you want them.

2. For the equipment then a macro lens is immensely helpful. I couldn’t have gotten some of the beautiful extreme close-ups that I made without my 100mm macro. The fact that it has built-in image stabilization is also helpful for handholding also. While the macro is useful I have also made some great images with a 100-400 zoom and with my Fuji kit the 50-140 is fantastic if you can get close enough! You can still focus close and make nice compositions incorporating the surroundings - especially if it includes colourful flowers.

3. Butterflies are very quick fliers in the main. If you do happen to catch one in flight it’s hard to tell they’re flying because they look just like they do on a flower.

4. The transition areas from sun to shadow are great places to make photos, especially when you can get a subject lit against a background that’s shaded. In the case of this subject, a brightly colored butterfly will simply glow when illuminated against a dark background. The nice thing about photographing butterflies is you can do it in any light — soft and diffuse or direct specular sunlight. The key is to keep your shadow out of the shot, because in soft light it will make the exposure very low, and in hard light it will make for an unsightly shadow in the frame. Working on the edges of light will also allow you to try interesting scenarios such as backlighting and edge lighting to help make the photo really pop.

5. Target colour. If you can’t find the most colourful butterfly look for colourful surroundings in which to shoot. That could be next to a bright yellow flower as the butterfly is feeding, or maybe perched on foliage which seems to glow with rich purples and reds. Butterfly photographs are so much about colour, don’t forget that you can find it in the background, too.

6. Speaking of composition, start by choosing a position where your sensor plane is close to parallel with the butterfly’s wings. With open wings, that means you’re likely shooting from directly above—rather than from the front or side. With closed wings, you’ll choose a side-angle position. These angles not only help keep the entirety of the wings usably sharp, they help you approach the butterfly from its most photogenic angle. You also want to try to show all of the butterfly in your shot. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a great image of a butterfly, but just barely missed getting one wingtip in frame. It can ruin the entire composition! To be safe, you can shoot wider and crop in post. Of course, rules like these are perfect for breaking—like when composing from head-on. From this position you’re likely not going to show the entire butterfly in your photo and you’re probably not going to see much of the wings. But, what you’ll have is an interesting frontal view of an interesting little creature. And, as with anything, looking it in the eyes is inherently interesting.