Monday, March 3, 2014
How To Photograph Butterflies
Six simple techniques for photographing lovely Lepidoptera
|This Article Features Photo Zoom|
Recently I found myself anxious for the arrival of warm weather and craving a bit of outdoor photography. So what did I do? I headed indoors, of course. I found my local butterfly house and got a dose of outdoor photography in its warm and comfortable confines. There are dozens of butterfly houses to be found throughout the coldest parts of the country, and hundreds more public butterfly gardens in warmer regions—not to mention the countless natural occurrences of butterflies to be found in nature. No matter where you find these colorful little creatures, these tips will help you increase the odds of success on your next butterfly photography adventure.
2. As for equipment, a macro lens is obviously immensely helpful. I couldn't have gotten some of the beautiful extreme close-ups that I made without my 100mm macro. (The fact that it has built-in image stabilization is also helpful for handholding, too.) While the macro is useful, it's not mandatory. Some of the nicest shots I made were with a plain old 24-70mm zoom. I even used this lens at the wide-angle end to help show context. You can still focus close and make nice compositions that incorporate the environment—especially if it includes colorful flowers or interesting foliage.
4. Look for edges of light. The transition areas from sun to shadow are great places to make photos, especially when you can get a subject lit against a background that's shaded. In the case of this subject, a brightly colored butterfly will simply glow when illuminated against a dark background. The nice thing about photographing butterflies is you can do it in any light—soft and diffuse or direct specular sunlight. The key is to keep your shadow out of the shot, because in soft light it will make the exposure very low, and in hard light it will make for an unsightly shadow in the frame. Working on the edges of light will also allow you to try interesting scenarios such as backlighting and edge lighting to help make the photo really pop.
6. Speaking of composition, start by choosing a position where your sensor plane is close to parallel with the butterfly's wings. With open wings, that means you're likely shooting from directly above—rather than from the front or side. With closed wings, you'll choose a side-angle position. These angles not only help keep the entirety of the wings usably sharp, they help you approach the butterfly from its most photogenic angle. You also want to try to show all of the butterfly in your shot. I can't tell you how many times I've made a great image of a butterfly, but just barely missed getting one wingtip in frame. It can ruin the entire composition! To be safe, you can shoot wider and crop in post. Of course, rules like these are perfect for breaking—like when composing from head-on. From this position you're likely not going to show the entire butterfly in your photo and you're probably not going to see much of the wings. But, what you'll have is an interesting frontal view of an interesting little creature. And, as with anything, looking it in the eyes is inherently interesting.