Rifqi's photo

My photographic journey

Continuing the tradition of alliteration from my previous macro post, today is all about butterflies. I haven’t seen them around until last weekend so I guess it’s their season now.

It was in the middle of the day so these guys were very active, making it a tad tricky to get close at times. Butterflies are also naturally skittish so they don’t really like having a big lens shoved up their face. Luckily they were pretty busy with the flowers most of the time and – unlike a certain other critter I know *grumbles* – they actually took some time to enjoy the flowers instead of madly racing for a new one immediately. I’m having trouble deciding which shot is my favourite from this session but it might be the one to the left here. Focus isn’t completely perfect if you really start analyzing it but the eye is still sharp and I like the composition.

Crazy strawLike I said, this was the middle of the day and you can also see that there is plenty of ambient light. Normally I’m fine with that since it means the backgrounds look nicer but here it proved to also pose a problem, or at least I think so. Even though there was plenty of ambient I was still using flash to help freeze all movement but in some of the shots you can definitely detect motion blur (look at the antennas and tongue, or whatever it’s called). That’s because my camera’s fastest sync speed is 1/200 and that’s plenty of time for these small movements to register. I could try to shoot without flash to get a higher shutter speed but that would mean pushing the iso up – which is something I really want to avoid – or opening up the aperture, leaving me with less dof. The other alternative would be to kill the ambient with lower iso and smaller aperture. The flash duration would be longer but still a lot faster than 1/200. The only problem with that is that I would lose the nice light. I might fiddle around a bit with that next time but overall I think my current settings are a good compromise. At least until I get rich and can get Nikon’s macro flash kit…yeah, that will happen.

ButterflyBack to the bugs. They were enjoying their feast in a patch of high grass so in many of the shots I ended up with blades of grass between the lens and my subject. You can see this in the shot to the left as well but here it isn’t too distracting since it just blurs the wing in the lower left a bit. I actually think there’s also a flower somewhere between the lens and the flower that’s supposed to be in frame, hence the purple glow.

I saw a couple of larger butterflies as well but I didn’t have any luck with getting close to them so I just kept to these smaller ones since they seemed more willing to pose. I have no idea what kind of butterflies they are but I’ve decided to name them X-wings, on account of me being a geek and also because it’s almost certain to be a considerably cooler name than they actually have. If anyone cares to identify them, leave me a comment (X-wings will still be cooler though).

ButterflyNot only did the grass get in the way, butterflies also seem to have a knack for putting their antennas where they shouldn’t be. Next time I’ll have to more aware of my composition and try to avoid distractions like this; there’s always room for improvement. And I really do hope there will be more opportunities to shoot these guys since I’m rather pleased with the results. I would especially love to get some more shots of them feeding. Not only does the flowers add some colour to the scene but I also think there is more interest when they’re feeding compared to just sitting there. That’s not saying they’re not interesting even if they’re just loafing around though, I particularly like how fluffy they are when you’re up close and personal like this – as always, be sure to click for a larger view on my flickr.

Wish me luck for this weekend when I go on the hunt again. Hopefully I’ll bring back more delicious butterflies for your viewing pleasure.


Crazy straw Crazy straw Butterfly Butterfly Butterfly


10 Responses to “Butterfly bonanza”

  1. Shelly

    These are lovely shots of a grass skipper butterfly. Really enjoyed your post. I hope you don’t mind if I leave some comments from one butterfly photographer to another?

    It is difficult to identify exactly which grass skipper by the photographs (if you have a full-body shot of the wings that you can share, I may be able to help … also if you’re really curious, there is a flickr group devoted to insect ID). It would also be necessary to know where you are located geographically as skippers vary widely from one part of the country to another. The “tongue” that the butterfly uses to feed is called a proboscis 🙂

    Skippers are unique because they do not sit with their wings spread open flat … instead sometimes rest with their hindwings opened flat father than their forewings (which then look perpendicular to the hindwings). My butterfly ID book calls it the “jet-plane position” (which is what you were describing as the x-wing).

    You might already be doing this, but one of the tricks I find is helpful in getting close to butterflies is to move and approach incredibly slowly. Any fast movement reminds them of a bird or predator swooping down to eat them, and that’s why they spook so readily. But if you move imperceptibly slowly (takes some patience, practice, and luck), I find that I can get my lens within two feet of skippers, often closer. Last week I was even able to handle the tall blade of grass that a viceroy was perched on in order to get a better composition, so my hand was within a foot of the butterfly.

    It’s hard to comment about your exposure dilemma without knowing more about the exact settings you ended up using for the photos and the quality of the natural light. Were you shooting in direct sunlight or was it cloudy? I normally find that ISO 200, shutter 1/320, f/10 works well for my 105mm lens in the field, in direct sunlight – especially when the sun is at my back. Since butterflies normally feed on flowers only in direct sun, it *usually” works for me. I typically only use faster shutter to freeze motion of insects in the air, like a bee or hummingbird moth (then I’m looking for 1/640-1/1250 and typically would increase ISO to 640 and shoot in full sunlight).

    As far as your self-critique that the proboscis/tongue was blurry in the photograph above, I kind of liked the blur of motion. The insect was perfectly frozen and hence the blurred proboscis added some interest and tension to the photo. If you really want to freeze the motion of the proboscis, though, try studying the movement patterns of the butterfly. There are times when it barely moves the proboscis and you may find that you are able to get the result (no blur) with the natural lighting by capturing those brief seconds, instead of having to use your flash which you did not like as much.

    Good luck at your next butterfly outing!

    • Rifqi

      Thanks for the comment and glad you liked the shots. Also thanks for the ID, that was a lot more detailed than I expected :p I’m located at the west coast of Sweden.

      I don’t have that much trouble getting close, I always move slowly and also make sure I don’t cast any shadows on the critters since changes in light often spook them, they probably thinks it’s a bird flying over or something, just like you say. The focusing distance of my lens is around 28 cm, so just under a foot. The flash is often even closer than that.

      The problem with not using flash and shooting around something like 1/320 is that I don’t think it’s fast enough to get really clear shots. There’s a lot of movement going on; you have the wind, the movement of the critter, camera shake (I’m not that steady), the rotation of the earth…ok, so maybe that last one doesn’t really factor in. With the flash acting as my shutter I get speeds that are easily 10 times faster. If you check my flickr you can see a couple of shots that were taken more in the shade and I think they’re overall clearer because not as much light besides the flash register in those. I still prefer the sunny shots though, since the light is so much nicer. Pushing the iso is something I don’t want to do with my camera. Anything above 200 is too noisy for my taste, at least for macro.

      These critters are definitely something I want to shoot more of though so hopefully I’ll get more opportunities to practice.

      Thanks again.

  2. photosbymartina

    I really like your butterfly shots. I see that you are critical of your work, that means you are seeking to always improve, that’s a good thing. Artists are always waiting for their next best shot. These are all great color, background makes them stand out too. Nice work.

    • Rifqi

      Yes, it\s always good to improve. Some days it feels like it\s going backwards but I just have to keep trying. Thanks for the comment and glad you liked it.

  3. forkboy

    I’m glad I stopped by this post (having added you to my WP links). I very much enjoy photographing butterflies, but hadn’t really read anything in the way of helpful hints and tips.

    Here’s to hoping the information contained here will be useful as it’s just about butterfly season here in southwest Ohio.

    • Rifqi

      Thanks for stopping by. I hope you can get something useful out of my post, that’s one of the reasons I’m writing these things. I’ll look forward to seeing your own butterfly shots.


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