Weekly Photo Challenge: Butterflies in Motion

“Life is in infinite motion; at the same time it is motionless.” ― Debasish Mridha

This month Meijer Gardens is home to thousands of butterflies, which are emerging from their cocoons in the Tropical Conservatory.  The butterflies are almost constantly in motion, as they flit from flower to flower.   Needless to say, this presents a photographic challenge.  After two unsuccessful attempts at photographing these lovely insects, I checked with the experts, followed their tips, and got much better results.  Here are a few of my better shots and some guidelines from the pros:

1.  Don’t move around.  Pick a spot near nectar-rich flowers and wait for the butterflies to land.   If you walk around, you won’t have enough time to stop, focus, and capture the elusive butterfly.   In the first image below, I took a series of shots with my Samsung Galaxy S5 and processed them as an animated .gif.  As you can see, the butterflies are barely a blur.

Butterfly in motion

Butterfly in motion.  Shot with my Samsung Galaxy S5

2.  Look for sunny spots.  Butterflies like the warmth of the sun and draw energy from it.  The two Postman butterflies in the next shot pause for a moment to sun themselves. The black areas on their wings are an evolutionary mutation to absorb more heat.

Two Butterflies In Motion and At Rest

Two Small Postman Butterflies In Motion and At Rest.  Shot with a Canon 70D.

3.  Look for a spot near water.   Butterflies often stop for a drink–as you can see in the next shot of a Doris Longwing butterfly lingering on a wet leaf.

Butterfly Landing

Doris Longwing Butterfly Landing.  Shot with a Canon 70D.

4.  Get down low–on the same plane as the butterfly.  I took this shot of a Golden Birdwing while seated on a bench near a stream.

Butterfly Lift Off

Gold Birdwing Butterfly Before Lift Off.  Shot with a Canon 70D.

 5.  Be patient.  This striking blue Doris Longwing caught my eye when I first walked into the Conservatory, but it took me over an hour to capture it on my camera.

Butterfly Close Up

Blue Doris Longwing Butterfly Close Up

6.  Lighting and Camera Settings.  Because the morning of the shoot was cloudy and rainy, I decided to heed the advice of a staff person at Meijer Gardens who told me that the butterflies hibernate on cooler, damp days.   I waited until later in the afternoon when the weather cleared.  This turned out to be great advice because the butterflies were active and the sun was not too intense.   When the butterflies were resting or feeding, I shot at slower speeds. When they were in motion, I shot at high speeds–over 1/800th of a second.

Spending a few hours in the warm, sunny tropical space with these gorgeous creatures was like taking a trip to an exotic island. In the process, I also learned a few things about butterflies.  Did you know that some of them have protective mechanisms against predators like a bitter taste?  Did you know they’re found all over the world, except Antartica?  Did you know there are thousands of species of butterflies?  How many exactly?  Well, all you amateur entomologists, take an educated guess. For the answer, click here.  Did you know that many butterflies are migratory and travel great distances?  I didn’t until now.

For more information about the Butterflies Are Blooming Exhibit at Meijer Gardens, click here.

To learn more about butterflies in North America, click here.

For more butterfly photography tips, click here.

To see more interpretations of this week’s motion challenge click here.

I’d love to hear you thoughts about my butterfly “experiment.”  And have a great week, everyone!

26 replies »

    • Hi Maria! I’ve never tried PS to create a gif. I’ll look it up. I’ve also seen some online gif generators. Gifs are new for me, but I really like them. We have that in common!–Patti

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  1. These shots are fantastic, Patti. How clever to process the first photos as a .gif.

    I can see that patience and calmness is definitely key. Did you use a tripod? (I’m not a skilled photographer, so I hope that’s not a silly question.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jackie. Thanks so much! I’m just exploring gifs and they are a lot of fun. I didn’t use a tripod. That’s not a silly question at all! The museum only allows tripods with special written permission, so I just used railings or benches or whatever was handy to steady the camera.–Patti

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