I simply cannot get enough of Monarch butterflies right now.
Nothing makes me happier than grabbing my camera and walking around my neighborhood on the lookout for these delightful creatures.
I could spend hours watching them – I find it utterly mesmerizing as they move around a flower using their tongue-like proboscis to drink up the nectar. And a Monarch in flight…
….oh my heart. Something about the way they glide through the air feels positively magical to me.
But photographing Monarchs (or any other butterfly for that matter) can be quite the challenge, so today I thought I would share with you how I go about capturing their magic.
One quick note before we get started…the information I am sharing is really geared more for “backyard” enthusiasts such as myself with average gear. These kinds of shots are never going to win a National Geographic award for photography, but that’s totally OK with me because that’s not really what I’m after anyway.
To start with, I shoot with a Canon 70D which is always set to use back-button focus. And when photographing butterflies, I use my 100mm macro lens because I don’t have a good zoom lens (obviously this would be the perfect occasion to use one if you’ve got one).
Next, lets talk camera settings. When shooting butterflies (or hummingbirds or any other fast moving creature) you need to have a fast shutter speed. I start by setting my ISO to 1600 and my aperture to f/3.5 and then adjust my shutter speed accordingly. For this series of shots I was able to get shutter speeds of 1/1000 to 1/2000. Also on my camera, I choose the high-speed, continuous shutter option which means that I can simply hold down on my shutter button and it will open and close repeatedly until I let my finger off. And finally I choose a single focal point in the center of my viewfinder.
When it comes to shooting, I personally have had zero success in looking through my viewfinder for flying Monarchs and pressing the shutter. They move so fast I find it impossible to get decent focus and get them in the frame at the same time. So instead, what I like to do is find one butterfly that fairly stationary on a flower. Moving very slowly, I position myself so that I have a good view of the butterfly. And as much as I love back-light, I try to avoid being in the direct path of the sunlight and have it more to the side. Next I get into a comfortable(ish) position and pull my arms in tightly to my body.
With a good view of the butterfly, next I set my focus on the body of the butterfly. Then I adjust my shutter speed for my desired exposure (which for these shots was over-exposed by about 2/3rds of stop). Lastly I just watch and wait.
Capturing butterflies is 85% about time and patience.
I know…not something that usually in my wheelhouse. But this is how I have had the best success.
Anyway, as I am standing still and focused on the butterfly, I watch through the viewfinder. (With a little practice you will being to get a feel for how they move about notice the pattern of how they open and close their wings.) And just when I notice the butterfly getting ready to fly off, I press my shutter and let it go until the butterfly has moved out of view. During this time, I try to remain as still as possible without moving my camera.
I repeat this process until my SD card fills up or until I can’t feel my arms – whichever comes first. 😉
Most of the time I just share my favorite shots here on my blog. But today I thought it might be helpful for you to see what this series actually looks like.
These shots were taken within about three seconds of each other – the bottom two were taken in the same second!
In this series, they shots are about six seconds apart. See what I mean about moving fast…there’s no way I could move that fast with my camera!
Sometimes the timing works out perfectly and I can get a shot in focus and sometimes it doesn’t. But even still…
…watching butterflies is not a bad way to spend a half an hour.
Anyway, once I get my to my computer and import the contents of my SD card into Lightroom, I spend a few minutes culling my images. Next I go through and find my favorites. Remember that I keep my focal point in the center of my viewfinder, so most of the time I will crop my final images to zoom in a bit more and to get a more pleasing composition.
Like I said before, capturing butterflies is really all about time and patience. But there is some skill some involved, and to that end, I hope you have found these tips and techniques helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I will be happy to answer them!
So with that I think I’m going to sign off. It’s going to be a beautiful day and I’m sure there are some Monarchs somewhere that are just waiting to have their picture taken.
Happy Friday friends!