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Angles for butterfly photography

Army of bluebottles puddling

Photography of a full grown butterfly can be divided into two categories : Documentary and Artistic. In this post I will be discussing both of them in details with some interesting examples. Many photographers hesitate to move, bend and sometimes laying on the ground. Simply taking the photograph from the angle you first see it, does not makes a great photo. As a thumb-rule, for every purpose of butterfly photography and butterfly activity, there exist a typical angle to shoot. However this rule doesn't apply for artistic photography.

A. Butterfly Documentary Photography:
Purpose of this kind is help for identification, spot record and documentation.

1. Closed wing / Under wing (UN) shot:  In case of some species like lascar, sailor this shot is of utmost importance in identification process. A perfect UN photo is needed to see all the marking on the wing neatly. To accomplish, this one has to wait for butterfly to close its wings and settlement. During nectoring, butterfly seats on the flower. If the flower is not high enough, one needs to to bend. Otherwise one has to adjust the height accordingly.

After this, photographer should get in a place where camera is exactly perpendicular to the wings of the butterfly. Such angle covers the whole wing. It also helps to have lower aperture number, as depth of field required would be very shallow. Lower f-number will help to choose higher shutter speeds (improves sharpness of the photograph) and lower depth of field will impart nice bokeh to the image. Both features will enhance the beauty of the photo and additionally will make a perfect picture for documentation. This position of camera/photographer is much important when shooting mud-puddling butterflies.

One has to lay down flat on the ground to shoot in this angle. Often, photographers keeps standing and shoot mud puddling butterfly. This gives a slant and partial view of the same. If one cant lay down on ground, camera with veri-angle screen e.g. Canon 30X, Canon 60D etc is useful. Veri-anlge LCD will help to keep camera on ground and then tilting the LCD to view, focus and compose the image. Another case for a closed wing would be when  butterfly is resting on some small object with wings complete open. This can also provide under wing shot, small object hiding some part of the body.

Use of veri-angle or tilting LCD for mud-puddling butterfly

2. Open wing / upper wing (UP) shot: Apart from help in ID, Open wing shot often helps in differentiating male and female. There can be two occasions to get complete open wing shot of a butterfly: While basking or while mud-puddling. In the morning, butterfly often seats on a large leaf with wings flat open. This is in order to dry there wet wings because of dew. Most butterflies seats at suitable height for photographing, specially the small ones like plains cupid, line blues, lime blue etc. Some like Tawney rajah seats on a big leaf at some height, not reachable, making ti difficult to photograph. Again for a perfect open wing shot one should bring lens axis perpendicular to the plane of the wings spread. Advantages are same as stated in closed wing shot.

Perfect angle of tiny butterflies is sometimes intriguing

3. Miscellaneous shots: On very rare occasions, shot of the antenna is required. The angle to shoot whole of the antenna would be perpendicular to the plane of the antenna. This is critical shot, as one must shoot it at 1:1 macro. 

B. Butterfly Artistic Photography: 
Shot this beauty from the front while mud-puddling
        Although, every perfect and sharp shot taken with documentary kind of angle will be artistically appreciable I wish to mention some angles in this category. My personal favorite is the front angle. Eyes of butterfly is a striking feature when shot closely. A complex-eye structure is fabulous when seen in close-up. When shot from front side of the butterfly, during nectoring or mud-puddling, both eyes are captured. Mud-puddling is the best opportunity to have such shot. Added advantage in this case is the proboscis inserted in the ground. Another angle would be from behind of the butterfly. Almost every butterfly has dummy eyes like markings on its hind-wings. This is to create an illusion and in order to protect butterflies from predators like bird. These eyes and sometimes tails can be interesting to watch.

Eiffel tower like pose of apefly

Example of wallpaper angle
Another interesting  but difficult-to-achieve angle is : wallpaper angle. When butterfly opens its wings partially during nectoring or mud-puddling, one can photograph the pose at 45 degree angle. This covers almost every part of butterfly, although partially. It creates nice blur effect to out of depth of field parts.

A high angle would be interesting when shooting a butterfly with open wings and sitting at some height above photographers head. Eye can be focused perfectly, while making the rest of body blur by choosing lowest possible aperture. Photographing sailors with this angle would be a good net practice . Sailor like butterflies often seats in such position. 

High angle of common sailor

High angle of common sailor, another one

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