an athlete photographer's blog

Butterfly Photo Shoot

Would you believe I took about 100 pictures of butterflies yesterday and only kept about 10 of them?  What happened?  A 10% yield, that sounds terrible.  Is it?


We have a bush in our front yard that just bloomed and it was covered in butterflies, moths, bumblebees, carpenter bees, and honey bees.  I tried to get pictures of a variety of the foragers, but it was the butterflies than really interested me.

Pollen and Nectar Collectors

I worry when people tell me, “All your pictures are beautiful.”  Because nothing is farther from the truth.  Just the pictures I SHARE with everyone are beautiful.  It’s part of maintaining a good portfolio.  And the butterfly is a good example of this.

Butterflies are fluttery, flighty little subjects that are hard to focus on and do not sit still for their portrait.  There was this one Swallowtail that I loved because I had never seen one quite like him before.  Its top wings were moving so fast while its lower wings were beating at a more normal pace.  This one only seemed to stay on a flower for a few seconds.  I took a lot of blurry pictures of that butterfly.  Eventually, I gave up trying because I felt like I was just chasing him around the bush.


With some of the other shots, I took some pictures continuously waiting for the butterfly to open her wings in an angle that was pleasing to the eye.  Here is a comparison of the pictures I didn’t choose versus the one I did choose.


What’s so interesting about the Monarch is how striking and recognizable its pattern is, even in black and white.

Striking pattern

For these pictures I was using my telephoto lens because most of the butterflies were staying higher in the bush, which is about 7 feet tall and I didn’t want to disturb the butterflies.  I started out on Manual mode, but the bush was half in the shade and half in the sun.  The sky was half sun, half clouds.  The butterflies moved around too much so I changed my settings to the Shutter priority (Tv) mode.  I wanted to have a fast shutter speed so the butterflies would not be blurry.  However, I still got a lot of blurry butterflies.


And even after 100 pictures, I wasn’t completely satisfied, but I went inside because I was tired of feeding the mosquitoes.

Here is another swallowtail.  I feel like this picture might be overly saturated.

Swallowtail Side View

One of the things that frustrates me is how pictures look on different screens.  Sometimes pictures that look nice on my computer don’t look quite as nice on my phone.  If I print the pictures, which one is the truth, the computer or the phone?

And I think this Monarch one might be better than the first one, because sometimes the foliage is too green or there is too much of it.  In this one the sky is behind the butterfly so it is less buried in the leaves.

Another Monarch

But when put side by side with the first one, I think I like the one in the leaves better.


With digital photography, it’s no big deal to take some many pictures and only walk away with a few good ones, but is that what a professional would do too?  Sometimes I wonder.

Your first 10000 photographs are your worst.  — Henri Cartier-Bresson

Well I just hit 10000 pictures on my camera this week so maybe I’m about to start getting better.  I can tell a difference between today and five months ago when I started this blog.  I think to grow as a photographer, you have to just keep taking pictures, eventually it all comes together.

Please tell me what you think about these butterflies!  Critical feedback is much appreciated!


Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

5 thoughts on “Butterfly Photo Shoot”

  • Dear Alexia — very interesting read. I think I like the butterfly with the clouds behind it best. The one with the green seems a bit saturated, but yeah, it’s hard to know “true” colors. I also really like the butterfly in the first grouping (don’t ask me to name it) … top right corner of 5 pics. And the one with the blue sky background — you caught the legs of the perch just perfect. Love, Mom

  • I love the one with leaves behind it! I didn’t even think “too much green”–I love all the foliage!
    I think taking a ton of pics and only getting a few good ones is fine with subjects like animals & kids–they are too quick to not take lots of pictures.
    One note: in the sentence where you’re talking about Shutter priority mode, you say “blurry” but I think you mean to say “not blurry”.
    Great job!! Your pics are awesome 🙂

  • I agree with Vanessa, the Monarch with green behind it is wonderful, and I think it’s my favorite.

    You have come a long way already with your experience and “eye”. I can really see a maturing in how you select the subject, and in your camera usage. I know it might not always seem that way, but it’s like working out. Little changes do occur over time as you continue to put in the effort, which is why we’re always encouraged to take photos to assess change. 🙂

    I personally take several pictures of any subject – it’s almost never a “one and done”.

    Keep it up!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: