Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Butterfly Bonanza


Some years I can't recall seeing many butterflies. Other years I will see mostly one particular species. I am always grateful for seeing any butterfly at all. Well, I don't know if it's the weather this year, my new location, or just personal magnetism (which I seriously doubt) but this year I am having a real bonanza. It helps, of course, that I took the time this past spring to plant the flowers that would attract them. It also helps that I leave the caterpillars alone and allow them to eat my plants down to a nub. Whatever the reason, I have enough photographs this year to fill a very large book.

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly
Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

Photographing butterflies is mostly a matter of patience. It takes patience to wait for the butterfly to settle on the flower and patience to choose the right camera angle. Here in Florida, you have to add patience to stand in the midday sun sweating profusely and somehow not make any startling movements. I have done a lot of that this year!

There are camera settings that work better for butterflies. Certain species of butterflies move faster than others. Black swallowtails are notorious for continual movement of their wings, even when they are feeding, and most Sulphur butterflies are rarely ever still. For these, I often use Shutter Priority, and set the shutter speed for what will best stop the action of the wings. In the photographs below I used 1/1000 second. However, I also moved my ISO up to 200 since the fast shutter speed would give me less light in the scene. These small yellow butterflies were in constant motion, flitting around and around each other. I wanted to somehow capture the essence of their activity as well as the different markings on the upper portion of the wings.

In Flight, Sleepy Orange Sulphur Butterflies
In Flight, Sleepy Orange Sulphur Butterflies

Sleepy Orange Sulphur Butterflies

The biggest composition rule for photographing butterflies involves paying attention to the shape and size of the butterfly. It is usually best to get all of the butterfly, the entire wing structure and any tails or antennae, in the image. A clipped wing, for instance, can be very distracting to the viewer. Also, typically, I like to use a larger aperture in butterfly photographs. This softens any distracting background elements and isolates the subject.

For a pleasing butterfly photograph you must choose the right camera angle! In most of my butterfly photographs I either try for a perpendicular "underside" wing shot, as seen in the photo below, or a view of the top side of the wings when they are fully opened. This view will again try your patience because it is seen less often. The camera angle that does not usually work in a butterfly photograph is the view looking straight at the front of the butterfly, especially when the butterfly has its wings closed. Because they are thin, this view leaves nothing for the viewer to really see.

Gray Hairstreak Butterfly
Gray Hairstreak Butterfly

Last week, I talked about those photographic moments where you find you have photographed something you've never seen before. This next photo was one of those moments for me. I spotted this butterfly feeding in my front flowerbeds, and at first thought it was a Gulf Fritillary, which I see often. At second glance, I realized it was smaller in size and not as orange as its cousin.

What a thrill! It really reiterates last week's words. You never really know what you'll come across, or what you'll see, from day-to-day that will inspire you. For me right now it's butterflies!

Varigated Fritillary Butterfly
Varigated Fritillary Butterfly

If you'd like to view more of this year's photographs, you can visit My Webshots.


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Suzanne Williams Photography
My Blogger
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome! Only God can create such beauty. Thank to Him that you have learned to capture it so all of us can enjoy it. Thanks, Suzanne! Ann Knowles