How to photograph butterflies

Top wildlife and nature photographer Andrew Fusek Peters speaks about his brand-new book and the 5 years he invested circumnavigating the UK observing and photographing butterflies. Don’t miss his leading pointers on how to photograph butterflies, package recommendations, and more.
Painted Lady flight sequence
Butterflies are a fascinating subject to shoot, but it needs mindful preparation and execution, as top wildlife and landscape professional photographer, Andrew Fusek Peters, exposes listed below. If you are influenced by his stunning images, have a look at our guides to shooting bugs this spring, in addition to wildlife photography and macro photography.

As I take a seat to talk with Andrew Fusek Peters about his new book, Butterfly Safari, there are numerous concerns I wish to ask him, but one in specific has been bugging me because I saw among his severe close-ups of a Speckled Wood. ‘Why do some species of butterfly have hairy eyes?’ I blurt out. ‘There’s a theory that because they like faeces they don’t wish to be dunking their eyes in it, so the hairs avoid them from getting too close,’ he laughs. ‘They’re so odd.’

Single exposure of a female Common Blue versus the Milky Way, The Bog, Stiperstones: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, 15mm, 30sec at f/4, ISO 2000

Single exposure of a female Common Blue
There’s so much we still don’t understand about butterfly behaviour, but books like Andrew’s are ideal for sparking curiosity and, eventually, aiding conservation efforts. I know butterflies are called lepidoptera, which indicates scaly wing, but when you look closely at the antennae of a Small Tortoiseshell even that is covered in thousands of scales,’ he discusses.
Painted Lady flight sequence

Painted Lady flight series / OM Digital OM-1, 80-300mm, 1/4000sec at f/8, ISO 1000


Planning a butterfly photography project

Andrew started his butterfly odyssey in 2018, in the middle of a severe health crisis. ‘I had actually been detected with bowel cancer, and I was truly rather ill,’ he exposes. ‘While I was waiting for surgical treatment, I beinged in my garden and viewed the butterflies reoccur.’ As he observed these remarkable animals, he identified a connection in between his own condition and their fantastic mix of strength and vulnerability. ‘There was a fragility about them, however there was also life, flight and hope,’ he recalls. This observation showed inspiring, and it wasn’t long prior to an idea for a task began to form in his mind.

‘ I began to wonder why nobody was photographing butterflies in flight,’ he remembers. ‘I’m not stating it had never been done before, however I had not really seen it.’ Andrew’s question was addressed when he attempted the method himself. ‘Butterflies can remove in any instructions,’ he chuckles. ‘It’s a total nightmare!’ In the beginning, he was firing off thousands of frames just to get one in focus, but the odds enhanced greatly once he started to observe and understand the pests’ behaviour.

Green Hairstreak under the increasing moon, Stiperstones: OM Digital OM-1, 40-150mm, 1/100sec at f/4, ISO 2500

Green Hairstreak under the rising moon
When Andrew had pictures of single butterflies in flight, he chose to up his game and record flight series, ultimately moving on to wideangle flight shots, which enabled him to include lots of the insect’s natural environment. It has taken him years to ideal his strategy, so when people ask him to expose his tricks, he’s not surprisingly reluctant! ‘People ask me about the electronic camera settings I utilize, and I say, “If it were that simple, we would all be butterfly professional photographers,'” he chuckles.

What are the best video camera settings for butterfly photography?

For him, the electronic camera is a tool, albeit a good one, and the secret to getting effective flight sequences lies in hours and hours of viewing and waiting. Not desiring to dissuade, he recommends beginning with an understanding of how fast butterflies move.

‘ The smaller ones are so quick that you need a shutter speed of 1/5000sec or more, however you can get away with less for the larger ones,’ he states. He maximizes the excellent burst rate on his Olympus electronic cameras to tape-record the flight path of a butterfly and then layers these up to show, ‘Movement through space and time in a single last shot’.

Swallowtail flight series, the Doctor’s Garden, Strumpshaw Fen: Olympus E-M1X, 150-400mm, 1/4000sec at f/5.6, ISO 1000
Swallowtail flight sequence

Butterfly preservation efforts

Time invested in the field proved cathartic for Andrew and he has very fond memories of afternoons lying on hot hillsides, his eyes trained on butterfly environment. ‘When I was in the Scottish Borders trying to find a Scotch Argus, I had a whole estate to myself,’ he sighs. ‘Afterwards I leapt in the river for a swim.’

The book, he hopes, will assist people to see the wonder of what’s below their noses, while also highlighting the preservation problems lots of butterflies face. ‘We’ve got the Big Five in Africa, and I believe the preservation work there is truly important,’ he states, ‘however I’ve seen a million photos of rhinos, in addition to tigers. I’ve seen a tiger playing Rachmaninov with three penguins on its back, if you understand what I suggest!’

Andrew fears his book will end up being an epitaph to butterflies if people stop working to act. ‘When I think about it, I begin sobbing,’ he admits. ‘I do not believe you can work as a wildlife professional photographer for several years without getting involved in conservation or trying to raise awareness. If you’re not adding anything to the formula, then it strikes me as slightly egotistical.’

The eye of a Speckled Wood
Olympus E-M1 Mark III, 60mm, 1/400sec at f/5, ISO 1000
The eye of a Speckled Wood

The significance of butterfly discussion in photography

Glanville Fritillary wideangle flight sequence
Andrew is exceptionally grateful for the assistance he received while dealing with the book and is keen to tension that members of the butterfly fraternity were generous when it came to sharing information. As a ‘pay-it-forward’ gesture, he chose to consist of location information along with the images that appear in Butterfly Safari.

‘ To be honest, if you visit the Isle of Wight and ask a bus motorist where to find a Glanville Fritillary he or she will instantly state “Compton Bay”,’ he chuckles. What’s more, person science has an essential function to play in butterfly preservation.

Glanville Fritillary wideangle flight sequence, Compton Bay, Isle of Wight/ OM Digital OM-1, 12-100mm, 1/5000sec at f/8, ISO 1600

Andrew is a busy male: he squeezes our conversation in between photographing Marsh Fritillary larvae in Wiltshire and Purple Emperor larvae at a concealed location. His enjoyment is palpable, and his enthusiasm will soon be channelled into another butterfly book, due out next year.

‘The objective for me is not to have a single image from Butterfly Safari in this new one. As Andrew and I say our bye-byes, I can’t assist believing about all those afternoons on sun-baked hills that await him.

Chequered Skipper flight sequence,


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