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How to sneak up on a butterfly

Capturing good images of butterflies may be easier than you think.

Monarch on butterfly weed. Location: Jack Darling Park. Equipment: Nikon D850 with 200mm f2.8 lens, using a focal length of 200mm. Exposure: IOS 640, f8 at 1/400 sec.

Unlike bird photography, you can usually get closer to butterflies, see them easier on plants (not hidden in trees), and do so during the middle of the day. Avoid cold, cloudy, windy or rainy days.

Silver-spotted skipper on wild bergamot. Taken at Jack Darling Park. Equipment: Nikon D850 with 210 mm macro f2.8 lens. Exposure: ISO 500, f8 at 1/400 sec.

Butterflies tend to land on their favourite plants, such as milkweed, wild bergamot, coneflowers and other native plants, so “wait, don’t chase”.

Beware of your own shadow. Approach quietly, taking multiple photos as you get closer (thank goodness for digital!).

  • GettIng images of both sides of the wings will help with identification.

  • As you get closer, lower yourself to get profile shots.

  • A variety of cameras can be used.

Red Admiral on purple coneflower. Taken at The Riverwood Conservancy. Equipment: Nikon D850 with 400 mm lens. Exposure: ISO 640, f5.6 at 1/1000 sec.

Many cameras and smartphones will have a burst mode, taking several images a second. That will help to capture flight or fleeting moments of wings opening.

  • For skittish species, a telephoto lens will help.

  • For more docile species and those who are engrossed in feeding, a regular camera or smartphone can capture very good images.

  • For real enthusiasts, a macro lens will allow the capture of superb images. If you are taking extreme close-ups, don’t forget to widen your view to capture the plant and the environment needed for the butterfly.

Once you have images, the next step is identification, which will be discussed in the next newsletter.

All photography © Peeter Poldre. All Rights Reserved.


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