Tips on Photographing Butterflies

Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) - female. Whites and Sulphurs (Pieridae) Butterfly Family. Photo by Donna Long.
Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) – female. Whites and Sulphurs (Pieridae) Butterfly Family. Photo by Donna Long.

I made a vow to myself that I work on photographing butterflies this year. I also promised myself to draw more in my nature journal, take more hikes this year, remake a garden bed into a butterfly and bird magnet. I’m coming along.

I follow high school biology teachers Jeff’s blog and ran across this great explanation of how Jeff takes such great photos of butterflies. Like athletes preparing for a big game, here is some inspiration for us.

Jeff explains how he approaches photographing butterflies, keeps the sun at his back, and shoots several exposures. You can see photos and directions on his blog.


Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) - Brushfoot Family (Nymphalids) Photo by Donna L. Long.
Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele). Brushfoot Family (Nymphalids) Photo by Donna L. Long.

Key Tips on Photographing Butterflies

Jeff Zablow on his blog has a simple four-step method of finding and photographing butterflies. Here are a few key steps that I found useful.

  1. Move steadily along your trail always searching for color movement and wing form.
  2. Drop to your knee. Try not to move your camera.
  3. Keep the Sun at your back
  4. Jeff shoots with macro lens with a hand-held camera


Gray Hairstreak Butterfly (Strymon melinus) - Gossamer-Wings Family (Lycaenidae). Photo by Donna L. Long.
Gray Hairstreak Butterfly (Strymon melinus) . Photo by Donna L. Long. Gossamer-Wings Family (Lycaenidae). Photo by Donna L. Long.

What I Learned About Photographing Butterflies

I have to check my camera settings and develop a go-to setting before going out into the field.  I need to write my key settings down and keep them with my camera. One setting for birds, another for butterflies, still another for flowers swaying in the breeze.

Let’s get ready because spring is about to pop!

Jeff’s website is Winged Beauty: True Sharing the Art and Science of Photographing Fascinating Insects. He has a simple four slide slideshare on his website.

via How does Jeff do it? | Winged Beauty Butterflies


See Also These Previous Posts on Butterflies

Identifying Common Butterflies: Photo Gallery  

The 6 Butterfly Families and Identifying Butterflies

Observing Butterflies At Home and Far Away


  1. Thanks Donna. I much appreciate what you’ve shared. It’s been decades now, and you know what, my enthusiasm only grows, whether it’s seeking to cop even more shots that before, or the constant hope that a rare or locally uncommon butterfly will appear, which for me is OMG!! Maybe our trails will cross one day.

  2. I am also enjoying your blog! I notice with butterflies that if I startle them when I approach they frequently come back to the same flowers if I don’t move for a minute or two.

    • Hi, Heidi – Yes, I have seen butterflies do the same “flee-n-return” behavior. The flower must have nectar too good to give up. 🦋

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