So you want to capture better photos of monarch butterflies? Below are 5 quick and simple tips you can do to improve not only your photos of monarch butterflies but all other species of butterflies too:-
1. Use the right camera settings to get better photos of monarch butterflies
Using the right camera settings will instantly increase your hit rate and the quality of your photos of monarch butterflies. This isn’t rocket science, but there seems to be loads of photographers out there who don’t use the “ideal” settings for butterfly photography.
After many, many hours in the field photographing butterflies I have found the ideal camera settings comprise:-
2. Use a zoom lens to get better photos of monarch butterflie
Many people seem to think a fixed focal length macro lens is the best to take photos of monarch butterflies, however I am not one of them. I have a macro lens (a Canon 100mm f2.8L IS) and whilst it is a great lens it is not suitable for butterfly photography. Rather than using a fixed focal length lens for taking photos of monarch butterflies, and all species of butterfly for that matter, I use a zoom lens. A zoom lens makes photographing butterflies much easier and has increased my keeper rate no end. With a zoom lens I can remain perfectly still (and not spook the butterflies) and use the zoom facility to get in nice and close for a frame filling shot.
The zoom lens I use for photographing butterflies is the awesome Canon 100 – 400L IS lens (see the pros and cons here), and I wouldn’t use anything else. The 100mm – 400mm focal length (effective 160mm – 640mm on my Canon 7d) means I can be a fair distance from the butterflies and still get in nice and close. As well as a large range of focal lengths this lens is tough, durable and well made. The image quality is excellent and the 4 stop image stabilisation technology is great to ensure sharp shots. With the Canon 100 – 400L IS lens I no longer have to run around trying to get close and personal to the butterflies with a fixed focal length macro lens and scaring them as I go.
3.Use a flash to get better photos of monarch butterflies
A flash is an essential bit of kit to capture great photos of monarch butterflies, and I always make sure I have a flash with me. It’s amazing what a difference a little artificial light makes, and you’ll have to give it a go yourself to see what I mean.
The flash I use for take photos of monarch butterflies is the Godox Ving (see pros and cons here), and since I bought this flash I wouldn’t use anything else. This flash is powerful, full of features and technology (including HSS and ETTL) and user friendly. The Godox Ving is on par with the Canon 600EX but it is a fraction of the cost making it great value for money.
When I use a flash for butterfly photography I use it in ETTL mode, and tweak the power using flash exposure compensation. Manual flash in these circumstances is a total waste of time because the subject to flash distance is not only difficult to measure accurately but also changes constantly.
It is worth pointing out the flash (the Godox Ving) is used as a fill and to add a little burst of additional light only. It is not used as the primary light source and there is no way it can be used as the primary light source, so balancing the flash and ambient light is something you have to do to get the most out of it.
4. Shoot on dull days to get better photos of monarch butterflies
Capturing great photos of monarch butterflies on bright and sunny days can be a real challenge. Even though the ambient light is good on bright days the sunlight presents all sorts of problems, such as hot spots, areas of high contrast (creating exposure issues) and also shadows. Bright sunlight is not good for photography at all.
Rather than shooting in bright sunlight I try (as far as possible) to go photographing monarch butterflies on dull and overcast days. Whilst the ambient light level may not be as good as it is on bright days using a flash gives a bit of extra light and using the image stabilized lens helps ensure sharp shots at slower shutter speeds.
5. Remain still to get better photos of monarch butterflies
Rather than chasing (and spooking) the butterflies the best way to get photos of them is to remain still and wait for the butterflies to come to you. Butterflies will rarely come to rest right close to you but they will often come within a few feet, and plenty close enough to get a frame filling shot with a tele lens, like the Canon 100 – 400L IS I use.
When taking photos of monarch butterflies I locate the butterflies, stand several feet away, watch them and then wait for them to come to me. Since I have been using this approach I have found my keeper rate increase no end.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.