Photographing Butterflies - Camera Operation | The Top Post !

Photographing Butterflies - Camera Operation

   Photographing Butterflies - Camera Operation

In this post I am discussing some camera techniques explicitly to shoot butterflies. I assume the objective is to get clear, sharp and completely focused object and not discussing how to shoot an artistic shot. 

1. Mode of shooting: A good butterfly photograph should show sharp, entirely focused object with blurred background. To accomplish this, one has to choose aperture and shutter speed wisely. Here I assume ISO 100/200 (we will talk about it later). To shoot such images, aperture may be varied between 5.6 to 16 depend upon light conditions. Shutter speed and aperture acts opposite to each other (Higher f-number, lower the shutter speed). Having said this, if one is firing fill flash, shutter speed is restricted to synchronizing speed (normally 1/200 or 1/250). Thumb rule for shutter speed selection says: Shutter speed should be more or equal to the focal length. For example, when shooting with focal length = 200 mm, shutter speed must be at least 1/200s.This is important factor when selecting lens for photographing butterfly. Aperture will decide the depth of field. Simply say how blur is the background or what part of the frame is focused. Higher the aperture (say f2.8) more blurry the background. 
           With this little theory, lets come back to mode of shooting. Here modes under consideration are Manual, Aperture Priority and Shutter priority. I prefer to shoot in manual mode. This allows to select  shutter speed and aperture independently.  If sunlight is enough, I can achieve perfect exposure with many combinations of shutter speed and aperture. When, aperture/depth of field is priority shoot with aperture priority mode. This fixes the shutter speed. Sometimes shutter priority is preferred to shoot fast moving butterflies ( Mormon), Where continuous fluttering of their wings need to be frozen in the frame, higher shutter speed is necessary (Often 1/500 or above). Two images of Leafblue, are the example towards changing f number and its effect on depth of field. With f5 and descent sunlight I was able to achieve very good Bokeh and descent speed of 1/250. It was limited by synchronizing flash speed as built in flash was used.

As shot, External flash failed to fire.
2. Shoot RAW photos: RAW is just like digital negative of the photograph. It preserves every details and enables user to manipulate them in post processing. Whereas when saved directly in JPEG format, most of the data is lost irreversibly, and nothing great can be achieved in post-processing. Shooting in RAW is very much useful in situations where flash does not fires, achieving perfect exposure is problem (White or Violet surfaces), etc. Every SLR has an option to shoot in RAW and NOT every point shot have it. The only disadvantage RAW shooting offers is that it takes a lot of space. Size of RAW file is approximately 3 times larger than corresponding JPEG image.A typical 8GB card will hold around 300 12-bit RAW images. But one can always carry multiple cards and change them when required.

3. Flash: Always us Fill flash for butterflies, yes even in day light. I prefer to use fill flash always and adjust the shutter speed and aperture to adjust the blending of the fill light. This blending is important otherwise it looks like one has pasted the object into. If one is operating camera in aperture priority mode, this problem is solved by i-TTL facility. It selects amount of flash needed to be casted for perfect exposure, sensing the ambient light condition.
After adjusting exposure of the failed image. 

4. ISO: In simple sense, this is the measure of sensitivity of the camera towards light. Higher the ISO, higher the sensitivity, higher the noise. Generally ISO is setting is not changed in the field. For butterflying on particular day, start with ISO 400 (early morning upto 7am), then gradually start reducing ISO to 100 (at around 11 am in the summer). Obviously this depends on the ambient conditions. In shade, ISO might need to be increased again. So my advice to avoid all this jugglery, one can set ISO 200, a small compromise with noise and achieve maximum shutter and aperture.

Here are few other important things butterfly photo must note:

Note: All images are copyrighted. (c) Paresh Kale, 2012.


  1. Great information, love to read your blog regarding butterflies.


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