Butterfly Photography Tips

Butterflies are beautiful insects and there are thousands of species in habitats all over the world, so the capacity to photograph them is endless. Butterflies often have intricate designs on their wings in addition to different colorcombinations. In order to photograph a butterfly you need the right equipment, plus lots of patience.


Zoom to See Details

Orange Butterfly on purple butterfly weed

Butterflies are small; therefore to truly capture a butterfly’s beauty so that all the detail can be seen, one must have the right equipment – either a macro lens or a zoom lens with a macro mode. If you are outdoors then a good macro lens with a 100mm focal length will make sure you are far enough away so as not to disturb the butterfly. Place the camera on a tripod to avoid camera shake and use a large aperture (f/2.8-f/5.6) for a blurred background. You are now ready.


Take Creative Pictures

Big Butterfly on a Child Hand

If you are fortunate to have a butterfly rest on you or on a friend, be quick and ready to take the shot. A macro lens or even a standard lens would be able to catch the butterfly in someone’s hand. Once again use a fairly shallow aperture (f/5.6 or so) to blur the background make sure all of the details of the wings are still in focus.


Super Macro Shots

Butterfly close-up

Extreme close ups can only be achieved with a specialty macro lens, normally 50mm to 100mm that has a manual setting, as the auto focus is probably not quick or quiet enough to capture the butterfly prior to any moment. Be sure to use a tripod or beanbag to keep the camera steady, wait for the butterfly to land and at the decisive moment take the shot. Consider using a ring flash for an even, shadow-less finish.



Swallowtail butterfly feeding on a pink flower

A sure fire way to catch some butterflies in action is to watch flowers that they are fond of (this will require some pre-planning and research on your part). Once you have found these flowers, focus your camera on that area and use a wide aperture (f/2.8-f/5.6) and a relatively fast shutter speed (maybe 1/1600s) and then wait for a butterfly to appear. Look for colorful flowers and use continuous shooting mode if possible as the moment may pass in seconds. While it might not be possible to predict exactly what a butterfly will do, it’s important to use the continuous shooting mode to get as many photos possible and review what you have later.


Caught in Flight

Flying butterfly

Like all creatures in nature, it’s nearly impossible to predict where and when they will move, but with butterflies you know that they will land on flowers, so you can wait by those and one will eventually land. It will test your patience, so you MUST be ready and not get bored during the long lull. To capture a butterfly in flight you might want to lie on the ground or get as low as you can so you are underneath them when they fly by. Set the mode dial to TV (Shutter-Priority) mode and choose a fast shutter speed of 1/250s or faster. Pre-focus to an area where you can predict the butterfly will go and be ready to snap. Continuous or multi-shooting mode can be useful here.


Shoot Indoors

Butterfly, in the white background

Occasionally you will be able to capture (and not kill!) a butterfly and temporarily bring it indoors to photograph. You will need a clean white card and an inexpensive box with some holes in the side for air. Lighting can be studio lights or natural window light. Bring the butterfly inside and allow it to settle. When it does, use a macro lens to capture a sharp image, using f/16, or f/32 if you want everything in focus, which is recommended because of the short, white background.


Recommended Settings

For the most stunning effect, use a shallow depth of field; f/4 is ideal because you are working a subject at such close proximity. You will be working fast, so you need a quick lens that you need to be able to focus at the drop of a dime. Sports mode is ideal for photographing butterflies, provided you are using a macro lens and not relying on macro mode, since you can only choose one mode at a time.


Recommended Equipment

Other than butterfly conservatories, the majority of your butterfly photography will be outside, so you’ll need a telephoto zoom lens with macro mode. Choose one that allows you to switch between manual and auto focus. A macro lens is extremely useful for true close-up photographs as it will focus on the smallest of items. Besides macro lenses, there are less expensive alternatives like extension tubes and lens magnifiers which can be used on a standard lens. Use a tripod or a monopod whenever possible and a cable release or the camera’s self timer to avoid camera shake.



When photographing butterflies, patience is important. As with all of nature’s creatures, butterflies cannot be forced to go somewhere they don’t want to, so you might have to wait for hours and hours for the right moment. Be observant and keep your camera equipment at the ready. The images that you obtain will be rewarding, striking, and will be ones to be proud of.

Attila Kun

Attila is the founder and editor-in-chief of Exposure Guide. He is an avid photographer, graphic designer, bedroom DJ and devoted Mac addict. Attila got his first DSLR camera, a Canon 10D, back in 2003 and he has been hooked on photography ever since.