The very mention of butterfly photography creates an image of vivid attractive subjects fluttering in a dream garden. That happens if you are a buyer or end user of butterfly photos. What if you are a contributor? You begin to imagine heat, sitting in the sun, uncomfortable, sweaty and dehydrated, frustrated without any shots for the past 4 hours.
But is that what really happens? No! If you know the way you can shoot hundreds of photos in an hour. I shot a total of 350 great photos (technically perfect and having good composition) in just a time of 5 hours spread over 3 days.
Honestly, I was not all full of sweat or frustration. I didn't wait for the butterflies to feel like posing for me. Nor did I harm or annoy them. It is pretty simple. Pick up your novel, get near a flowerbed, sit and read with your camera very close by. Wait and wait....that's the traditional way.
My way - collect some banana peels for a week and keep them out in the sun with a little water. They blacken and become a slimy mass. Add water to that and sprinkle the whole thing near the roots of the garden plants. The smell of it isn't even noticeable but it brings butterflies like a magnet into my garden. They simply refuse to go even if I get a macro lens and push it into their faces! This trick would bring you only some species. They have choices and you'll have to study them a lot to get decent shots.
About the settings....on a normally lit morning, to be safe, always keep the ISO at 200. DO NOT lower it to 100 or 50 something even if you are getting 1/500 shutter speed in the sunny flowerbed. This is because if the butterfly just goes a little behind something and the brightness is lower, your shutter speed would drop to 1/100 and there are almost no hopes of getting it right.
ISO200 would give you little noise even on compact cameras and the most important thing, it gives you flexibility on aperture. I usually keep it at f/5.6 for a 150mm lens. I occasionally use f/8.0 if the light is good enough. In all cases, make sure your shutter speed NEVER drops below 1/250. If it does, the probability of getting a good and sharp shot is significantly lowered.
People suggest using a single point light metering. Don't do it. You'd end up with bad photos most of the time. Just use aperture priority mode with EV set as per the butterfly's color. If it looks bright, lower EV by -2/3 and if it is dark...try +1/3 or +2/3.
No need to jump and go out of breath if you do see a beautiful butterfly. Your sudden movements are the only reason they leave. Make sure not to cast your shadow on them. Most butterflies flap their wings a bit to indicate they are annoyed and are going to leave if annoyed any more. Take the hint and back out. I had written a bird and reptile photography article recently. You might want to read that (go to my profile and it is right under the blogs section). Use the tips in there to get closer to butterflies....as close as a foot, even closer. I'm sure you can get some great shots.
Following images shot with my Canon PowerShot SX30IS
Aperture priority mode - ISO 200, f/5.6, 150mm, subject distance ~1.4m, centre weighed average metering mode, no flash, EV depending on butterfly color.
I could write a blog article on post processing butterfly photos...if many people would like me to.
Happy shooting sessions with the colorful models!
Remember - NEVER ever harm what you shoot. A life, however tiny, always costs more than anything.
REALLY hoping for some sales on these, especially the first one at the start of the blog!
Photo credits: Pratik Panda.