13 Butterfly Photography Tips for Better Butterfly Pictures

Thirteen ideas to help take your butterfly photography to new heights and capture the true beauty of butterflies in photos. A few of these tips might surprise you...
Thinking about taking up butterfly photography? You might be surprised how difficult it can be to capture Mother Nature’s most beautiful (and constantly moving) subjects.

Here are 13 butterfly photography tips that will help you capture the true beauty of butterflies in pictures:

1. Get your settings right- It doesn’t matter how good your camera is if your settings are wrong for shooting butterflies outdoors. For instance, you’ll often need a faster shutter speed to prevent blur associated with a fast-moving subject.

Get invaluable settings advice from the pros listed further down the page…

2. Upgrade your Lens- What’s wrong with your standard 18-55mm kit lens?:

Kit lenses cost less money, but you’ll pay in other ways. They’re made with inferior glass which produces vignetting and color fringing on your images. They also have more distortion at the widest settings.

I realize many of you opt for smartphones or superzoom cameras without attachable lenses. These may be a better option for some and you can decide which camera type best fits your needs with tip #10…

3. Know thy camera- If you don’t know your camera inside/out try to “know it well” BEFORE your first butterfly encounter. Otherwise, there’s no telling what you might do (or forget to do) in all the flutter and excitement.

If you’re looking for a new camera, make sure you research and get ratings and reviews from people who have actually used the equipment you are looking to buy:

Research Digital Cameras on Amazonir?t=monabuttgard 20&l=ur2&o=1 butterfly photography tips

4. FLASHBURST!- If you have the ability to take several butterfly pictures with one push of a button, try it once in a while. You’ll have more opportunities to capture the perfect moment with a butterfly that’s constantly flapping its wings.

5. Photograph morning or evening-  During these periods butterflies are often sitting out with their wings spread wide to absorb heat from the sun.

6. Photograph monarch butterflies on Liatris ligulistylisIt’s like they’re in a trance when they feed on these flowers. I’m often within “T-rex arms length” and they hardly know I’m there. My nephew has even gotten a couple of them to crawl on his finger…once, as I was explaining to him that a butterfly would never crawl on his finger.

7. Get Down!- Some of my best photos are taken lying down or kneeling. This makes for interesting angles and seems to spook the butterflies less. Many butterflies, including monarchs, contrast beautifully against a sky blue background. It’s much easier to utilize a blue sky backdrop from ground level.

13 Tips for Better Butterfly Pictures Tip no. 7-Take butterfly pictures from ground level to create interesting angles for your butterfly photography photos.
A Photo from Below

8. Steady your Camera- If you’re sitting on the ground brace arms on your knees. When standing up you can bring your elbows in toward your chest.

8b. An Easier Way to Steady your Camera– a monopodir?t=monabuttgard 20&l=ur2&o=1 butterfly photography tips makes it far easier for you to steady your camera, while chasing after your elusive subject.

9. Play with your Settings- An example of this would be to adjust your ISO settings (sensitivity of the image sensor) to determine the tradeoffs with noise at higher settings versus the stop action of the butterfly.

10. Learn from the pros

How to take Better Butterfly Pictures Tip 10- Learn from Professional Nature Photographers

Before diving into butterfly photography and taking fab photos in the flower garden, it’s helpful to understand the opportunities and challenges of nature and butterfly photography. This knowledge can help you develop good techniques and assist you in making the best equipment decisions for your particular situation going forward.

Buy Close Up Photography in Nature Bookir?t=monabuttgard 20&l=as2&o=1&a=0415835895 butterfly photography tips

Learn how to take Better Butterfly Pictures with your Smartphoneir?t=monabuttgard 20&l=ur2&o=1 butterfly photography tips

11. Photo Editing Software- There is rarely a photo or video you take that won’t need some type of editing. The editing program I use has lots of photoshop functionality, without the photoshop price. It has served my needs well on this blog.

These are some things I use editing software for on a regular basis:

  • cropping and blowing up photos for greater detail
Butterfly Photography Tip 11- Use photo editing software to crop and blow up your photos for greater detail. See all 13 tips for better butterfly pictures...
  • sharpening images that are slightly out of focus
  • minor color adjustments or enhancements
  • writing on photos and illustrations
13 Photography Tips to Enhance your Butterfly Pictures
Photos with Something to Say
  • lightening dark shadows and toning down highlights (there’s nothing gloomier than a dark butterfly picture)
  • cool photo effects with a click of your mouse
Fun Photo Editing Effects- 13 Ways to Take Better Butterfly Pictures
Pop Art Effect- If You Love Me, Meet Me at the Top of the Milkweed at Midnight

Get more details about Adobe Elements editing software by clicking the links below:

Photoshop Elements Photo Editing Softwareir?t=monabuttgard 20&l=ur2&o=1 butterfly photography tips

If you also like to shoot butterfly video, check out the Adobe Photoshop and Video BUNDLEir?t=monabuttgard 20&l=ur2&o=1 butterfly photography tips to save money on both programs.

12. If you Raise Monarchs

When you first release butterflies, you have a small window of opportunity to photograph them after their butterfly wings have dried, but before they’re ready to fly off into the wild blue yonder.

If you can photograph them during this brief window, you’ll capture a brand new butterfly with vibrant fresh wings, for the perfect butterfly photo.

13. Budget-Conscious Macro Butterfly Photography?

You can spend hundreds (or even thousands) on an expensive macro lens or try using an extension tube like I did for this monarch chrysalis photo:

Butterfly Photography Tip 13- if you're interested in macro photography, but don't have the budget for an expensive macro lens, consider trying extension tubes. See all 13 butterfly photography tips here...
Macro Monarch Chrysalis

Find Extension Tubes for your Camera Hereir?t=monabuttgard 20&l=ur2&o=1 butterfly photography tips

I hope these 13 butterfly photography tips help you capture the beauty of butterflies in your garden and in nature.

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  1. Hi – Thanks for the site! I’m a complete novice, and have yet managed to get some amazing images with an entry-level DSLR. Rookies (like me) possibly think they are taking photographs of a still subject when the butterfly is quietly perched – not so! If you look closely, their wings tremble incessantly, so the fastest possible shutter speed is essential at all times, not just when trying to capture a butterfly in flight. Teaching granny to suck eggs maybe, but no-one explained that one to me when I first looked the subject up!

  2. Thanks so much for this excellent advice.
    I’m very much a novice photographer but I have been doing a lot of reading recently on techniques for shooting wildlife and nature. I discovered an amazing, 3 part book series from Hugh Lawton that I would like to recommend.
    Photography in the Digital Age.
    I think you would be hard pushed to find a better all round learning resource for digital photography and the author specializes in nature. I really can’t recommend these books highly enough to others like me who are still learning.

  3. Hi Tony,
    I’m wanting to get more Monarchs to come to my garden to get lots of great pics. Would it be more of a draw to plant Verbena Bonariensis and Liatris or another variety of milkweed and in what quantities?

    1. Hi Chris, if you are along a migration route your best chance of photographing mass monarchs in during that migration period. Verbena is an excellent all season plant that attracts a wide range of pollinators. It’s a see-through plant so I plant it throughout the yard and garden. Liatris blooms for about 4-6 weeks in late summer and mainly attracts monarchs. If you have monarchs in the area, the results can be amazing. We also had lots of monarchs on mexican sunflowers during the last migration. check out the video on this page:

      Mexican Sunflower Video

      Mexican sunflowers (patch of at least 4) Liatris (patch of at least 10) Verbena (I put them singly and sometimes in patches of 4) There is really no RIGHT answer for this so experiment and see what works best for you.

  4. Tony’s tip #2 regarding upgrading lenses is not to be overlooked when considering raising the bar with your photographic endeavors. Glass is arguably the most important element in a photographer’s camera bag besides the gray matter operating the equipment behind the scenes. The recommendations below are primarily directed towards cameras with interchangeable lenses such as dSLRs.

    A macro lens is a wonderful addition to a nature photographer’s repertoire:


    …but, one can get by without a dedicated macro lens with a few pieces of relatively inexpensive photography accessories. Probably the most popular are macro filters: discs of glass that one screws on to the end of a lens, magnifying the subject. Come in various strengths. I wouldn’t go this route as their glass quality is usually VERY poor, with descriptive terms such as vignetting, distortion, fringing, chromatic aberrations, just to mention some.

    A second method is the use of lens extension tubes. They are a little more expensive than macro filters, but worlds better. These are lengths of either metal or hard plastic tubes that look like sections of a lens barrel that one attaches between a lens of choice and the camera body. This effectively magnifies the subject only using the optics of the lens you attach it to: the better the lens, the better the capture. Extension tubes in and of themselves don’t cause degradation, but what they will do is cut down a bit on the light entering the camera which means one has to either manually open the diaphragm up a stop or two, or allow the camera’s auto modes to adjust the light. May sound complicated, but it’s not. Both plastic and metal tubes serve well, although the metal tubes will stand up better to more rugged use.

    Extension tubes work well on many lens types except fish eyes and wide angle lenses.


    1. Hi Andy, I bought some extension tubes last season and have used them on my 18-55mm II lens for my nikon d5200. I have not had a lot of opportunity to use the upgraded stock lens yet, but I really like it so far and it may (surprisingly) be the lens I use for the coming season. I am planning to take a lot more photos this season and hope to improve this post over time. Thank you for sharing your expertise with the community…much appreciated!

  5. At times ,such as when there is a spell of bad releasing weather, I put the butterflies in the refrigerator to slow them down. Some of my best photos were soon after they were released and in a quiet cool mood. I can get closer.

  6. All great tips! I almost missed my newly borns if I had not been there early, before 8:00 AM. They were drying their wings!

    1. Hi Maria, if you touch the tips of their wings (when closed) they sometimes reward you by keeping their wings open for long periods. Other times they fly away…

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