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Butterfly Photography - How To Approach Butterflies

When it comes to photographing butterflies, the most difficult part is actually getting close enough to photograph them. Here in this article let us discuss some tips to help you get close enough to butterflies to photograph them.

Butterfly Photography
Butterfly Photography

Avoid Perfumes, Deodorants, Insect Repellent Lotions etc

As is the case with many other insects, butterflies are also very sensitive to chemicals and smells. So when setting out to photograph butterflies it is better not to use any sort of chemicals that may disturb them such as deodorants, perfumes, insect repellent sprays etc, if possible even avoid sun screen lotions.

Wear Mute Colour Dresses

It is best to wear either dark green, brown or any other mute colours when in the field. Butterflies are not easily scared by bright colour dresses and they often become curious and come near you to investigate. Especially if your dresses are brightly coloured and have flowers or similar patterns in it. But in that case even if they come near you they soon lose interest when they know its nothing edible and fly off. On the other hand dull colours allows you to blend in with your surroundings and does not distract the butterflies.

Learn To Stand Still

This might sound silly but being able to stand still for extended periods is an important skill every nature / wildlife photographer should work on. Its harder than it seems, you should learn to ignore the heat of the sun, the sweat and the mounting frustration. Remaining still helps you blend in with your surroundings and also boosts the subjects confidence and they will soon ignore your presence and carry on with their activities, giving you ample of opportunities to get your shots. 

Be Aware of Comfort Zones

All living beings including humans have a comfort zone, an imaginary space around them, and if anything or anyone comes close enough so as to breach the comfort zone we become conscious of this intrusion and also nervous. In case of butterflies it is called the Flight zone or the Fright Zone. When approaching butterflies be aware of their flight or fright zones. If you enter their flight zone they feel uncomfortable and if you get too close they will immediately feel threatened and will take flight. Our aim should be to get as close to the butterflies as possible without breaching their fright / flight zone.

Butterfly Photography Tips
Butterfly Photography Tips

Approach Very Slowly

Approach the butterfly very slowly so as not to startle it. When you first spot a butterfly, an effective approach is to first take a record shot of the individual along with its habitat. Then advance slowly taking pictures in between, thus if at any stage if the butterfly flies off, then you are not left with nothing. By approaching slowly you could also find out what the butterfly considers as its flight zone. Watch the butterfly closely even when you are advancing, when they feel uncomfortable most butterflies flex their wings in preparation of flight. Then you know you are breaching its comfort zone. Hold still and let the butterfly study you for a while, soon it will realize you are no threat to it and it will resume its activities.

Avoid Sudden or Jerky Movements

when approaching butterflies, move slowly and in fluid motion. Do not make any sudden or jerky movements, for example if you need to take the camera to your eye, do it in a slow fluid motion instead of in one sudden action.

Take Care Not To Cast Shadow Over or Near the Butterfly

Always be aware of where the sun is in relation to your subject. Take care not to cast your shadow over your subject, most butterflies are wary of shadows and immediately take flight when they see one, moreover shadows on or near your subject also tend to ruin an otherwise perfect shot.

Move In - Move Out - Repeat

The most important technique when approaching butterflies is to  adopt a strategy of moving in and then moving out. When approaching their fright zone, butterflies will usually stop feeding or whatever they are doing, observe you closely and twitch their wings in preparation of flight. When this happens you know that you are breaching their comfort zone, so stay completely still, slowly move out a bit and wait, the butterfly will soon turn its attention to its activities, when this happens you could start over and move in again.

Know When To Quit

It is to be noted that even with years of field experience and subject knowledge, one cannot control the behaviour of their subjects, some individuals will be particularly shy, some may not, some may be very active, some may not, some may come close to you, some may not, it all boils down to your good look on that particular day. If you find that on a particular day nothing is going as per expectations, and you find very active butterflies restlessly moving from flower to flower, then there is no point chasing them with camera in hand, as your chances of getting a good picture is next to nill. So it is good to know when to say it quits and call it a day.

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