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Spring butterflies photographed in natural surroundings

The questionmark butterfly rests before flying off to its next perch. Darby Creek wildlife area.
The questionmark butterfly rests before flying off to its next perch. Darby Creek wildlife area.
Photo by Bill McCracken

Photographing spring butterflies.

Spring butterflies are actually species that have been here all winter. Right now Franklin Park Conservatory is displaying its annual butterfly exhibit and the butterflies in the Metro Parks are visible along the trails. Several species are easily seen in spring and the Question Mark butterfly is one that is seen most often.
Taking good pictures of the butterfly is easy with the right technique and equipment. The equipment best suited is a good camera with a telephoto lens like the 70mm-210mm lens. The technique used here requires some patience on the part of the photographer and a cooperative butterfly. This Question Mark would fly a few feet and land for a rest before flying off. During one of the rest stops this image presented itself. First set the lens focus so it is on the wing and the body of the butterfly. All of the details in the wing are sharp with great colors of orange and brown against the ground. This is the result of presetting the manual exposure on a gray card or a large gray tree. The light is diffused sun on an overcast day. Remember that to get the most depth of field your aperture will be small. An example would be f/9.0-f/16 so all of the wing and body are sharp. The wing and body closest to the camera must be in focus.
Butterflies should be photographed with as much open wing detail as you can get. The body head and eye should always be in the photo so you can see its shape. In this case the green color in the body comes out and the anthers are sharp. If you take the picture and then crop it later be sure to leave more room in front of the butterfly so it looks like it has a place to fly into. Later in the year photograph them on flowers in the same way. Tip, early in the morning the butterflies open their wings for long periods to warm up in the full sun.
This image was shot with a shutter speed of 1/80 sec, aperture f/9.0, exposure program is manual, and the metering mode is pattern. The white balance is set on fine weather.