Last month our article on backyard bird photography was published in NANPA eNews, and we described some benefits of shooting in your own backyard. This article is a continuation on backyard photography and includes three attributes of the backyard that make photographing butterflies in this venue especially appealing.
These attributes are immediacy, intimacy and control.
The ability to access our backyards immediately permits us to go out and start shooting whenever we see butterflies. The need for speed is propelled by the fickleness of butterflies as well as their short lives and quick physical deterioration.
Getting birds into the backyard is relatively easy. Put out seed and suet and you can be pretty sure that some species will show up. Butterflies, however, are seasonal and are not dependable visitors even when in season. Temperature, sun, wind, rain and predators are just a few of the factors that influence whether and when butterflies will be present during the season. Even in such butterfly-rich venues as Texas and Florida, the presence of a good number and variety of butterflies is not guaranteed just because a photographer shows up with a camera.
The strength of a backyard is that it is the quickest and easiest place to determine whether there are butterflies. Just look out back and do it often. When in the backyard for any reason, have a camera nearby.
The average life span of most butterflies is around two weeks. Butterflies grow old fast. A freshly minted butterfly is pristine and beautiful, but as soon as a day or two later, its wings may become tattered, scales flake off and color fades. Swallowtails may lose their tails. Some work can be done in the Photoshop beauty salon, but we prefer natural beauty.
If you like your butterflies up close and personal, backyards have an advantage. In public gardens, photographers cannot always get as close to a subject as they might like. Also, walking all around a bush to photograph butterflies nectaring on the other side may not be possible. Public gardens generally frown on photographers stepping into their flower beds.
In your backyard, you can step wherever you desire, and you can become familiar with the photographic strengths and weaknesses of the environment. You are able to observe the movement patterns of recurring species and even of individual butterflies by being in your backyard frequently.
Some photographers purchase or raise butterflies. If you are relying entirely on the natural environment, the when and where of the butterflies’ appearances cannot be controlled. The environment, on the other hand, is subject to some control when it is the photographer’s backyard.
In public gardens, distracting elements from people to signage to statues to hot spots or dark voids are challenges to capturing the images you seek. The photographer has no control over these elements.
Control in a typical suburban backyard comes with some effort. Usually some form of butterfly-friendly plants must be planted to attract butterflies. You can find lists of such plants as well as articles and books on butterfly gardening in a Google search (or other search engine). Any competent local nursery can provide the plants and help with advice.
Like Claude Monet, the French impressionist painter who is famously remembered for planting a garden so he could paint it, a backyard photographer can choose and arrange plants with photography in mind. Color, structure, shape and background all come into play. How will these plants look in photographs, especially those that feature butterflies as the main element? Light and height and the ability to move around can all be taken into consideration.
We have highlighted some strengths of backyard butterfly photography, but we have not forsaken other venues. We often photograph butterflies in public gardens and in meadows and other wild, uncultivated places. Diversity enhances portfolios and provides challenging and interesting experiences. But don’t ignore the fact that good butterfly photography may be as close as your own backyard.
Bob and Jorja Feldman are photographers with a passion for creating beautiful images reflective of the natural world. They are frequent contributors of articles and images to Nature Photographer magazine; their images have also been published by National Wildlife and Audubon. They are photographers for the Ann Arbor Observer and author its “Outside” department. Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org