Butterfly Pictures: How to Capture Them

What else do you know that can compare to the magnificent colors you see when you look through your camera lens at a butterfly? Maybe a butterfly sitting on a beautiful brilliant flower. It doesn’t get any prettier than that.

butterfly photo tips

Photo by Stavros Markopoulos; ISO 50, f/4.0, 1/500-second exposure.

If you’re lucky enough to have a garden with flowers that attract these winged beauties, and you’re into photography, hopefully, you’ve been getting some great shots. But, if that doesn’t describe your situation, you may find some of these tips helpful in getting started.

There are three great environments for photographing butterflies: the outdoors, gardens, and butterfly farms or houses. People have been collecting butterflies for centuries. Catching them, killing them, and displaying them on boards and in cases. Catching them on film is a great alternative. The butterfly gets to live and the pictures live on.

You don’t have to have a lot of special equipment or a big, expensive camera to begin your butterfly photography. Actually, you may be spending a lot of time getting up and down off the ground to get those great shots. A smaller point and shoot camera would be just perfect for butterfly photography. You’ll also need a good helping of patience and a lot of time. You can’t go out and call butterflies. You can, however, set yourself up to have the best possible opportunity to find butterflies to photograph

Butterflies are attracted to colors and scents. If your desire is to photograph butterflies in their natural habitat, you might go out a day or so ahead of time to locate an area that has the right conditions for butterfly photography. A couple good places to look would be fields that are loaded with wildflowers or areas of damp or moist soil. If you live in an area that is lush with forests, rivers, streams, and waterfalls look in those areas for some perfect shots of these magnificent creatures.

butterfly photography techniques

Photo by Andrew Neild; ISO 100, f/5.2, 1/250-second exposure.

Attracting Butterflies

If you have a garden filled with flowers of purple, lavender, white, yellow, orange, and red, you should be able to go out your back door, set up your tripod, and wait for the butterflies to appear. Some of the most popular flowers for butterflies are alyssum, dahlias, honeysuckle, impatients, marigolds, petunias, sunflowers, candytuft, and zinnias. You can also help encourage them to your garden by putting out some over ripe fruit or nectar. Butterflies are attracted to the scent of rotting fruit.


Check your background before you’re start your photo shoot. Ideally, try to situate yourself so that the background compliments the butterfly. Do your best to frame the shot to eliminate unwanted background items. Get as close to the subject as you possibly can, without scaring it away, so that the butterfly fills the picture. Another way to deal with unwanted backgrounds is to set your camera to blur the background. Butterflies are attracted to flowers that are in the sun rather than the shade, so be positioned properly when taking your shots.

butterfly photography basics

Photo by Andrew Neild; ISO 100, f/5.2, 1/320-second exposure.

Have your camera bag packed and ready the day before, so you can head out early in the morning. Have extra memory cards, extra batteries, and a tripod. As with most photography, the best time to photograph butterflies is either early in the morning or late in the evening. Not only is the lighting best, but the butterflies won’t be quite as active during these times of the day when it’s cooler. It will give you a little more time to take the shot when the butterfly comes into view.

Take as many pictures of the butterfly as you can before it flies away. Don’t wait for what you think may be the perfect shot or you may not get a picture at all.

About the Author:
Suzanne VanDeGrift has developed this article for m-rock, manufacturer of user-friendly camera bags.

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2 responses to “Butterfly Pictures: How to Capture Them”

  1. Steve McIlree says:

    I enjoyed an afternoon photography session at Butterfly Wonderland in Phoenix, Arizona. I watched other photographers being frustrated in their attempts to get shots with with macro lenses. As soon as they got close enough to begin to compose a shot, the subject would be frightened into flight. I had no such problems using a 300mm lens to get nicely framed shots from a good distance.

  2. Dawn Mello says:

    I took some great pictures of butterflies as well.

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