Shooting Butterflies At Night – Photography Tips

An adventure starts when you are at night in a forest to shoot photos of night butterflies. Because In the dark you don’t know what will appear in front of your lens. But what do you need to do, is try this kind of photography.

As you see on the photo: two pair of sheets, and two daylight lamps, with the energy source of an accu. We are there before dark, with of course permission, so we had some time to select the right place to setup our equipment.

Tip  – Do not sit in the middle of a forest, but on the edge where there are more night butterflies active, because they fly in and out of the forest to the fields. These butterflies are attracted by light, so you will get more success in this position. We did try several locations, but this is the best position. I go also with two other guys, Kees Schelling and Gerard van Poppel, there is a lot of fun during the shoot!

For light we use a led ring light  – this gives continues light, and when you look through the viewfinder of your camera. You can see the butterfly brightly,  so you can focus manual the sharpness, and you also can follow the butterfly easy.

But to get a bright photo, the ring led light is not enough, we also use an external flash on the camera. This gives bright white light, and the white sheet reflect the light so you get a clear background on the photo.

The combination of your ISO and level of the ring led light is important, because  the light can be too harsh for smaller butterflies. A lot of them are also 10 mm in size, up to to 50 mm, and the antenna are sensitive for too much light that results in you losing detail of antenna and legs. So you will never use the full size of level with the ring light, it will be between 60 – 90% of level.

Sony 58 +Tamron 90/2.8 macro F/10 1/160 sec. ISO 200 Flash

We soon notice that there is always some wind, so the sheet moves slowly forwards and backwards. But we want a sharp photo of the butterflies. So keep some distance and use some space around the butterfly, to crop the photo with lightroom.

It depends on the wind if you can get close enough, but with F/10 your depth of field is less than 8 mm, you must react quickly when the focus is sharp, when you press the button of your camera wind can come at that moment and your butterfly image will not besharp.

Sony 58 +Tamron 90/2.8 macro F/10 1/100 sec. ISO 200 Flash

A nice composition is also when you take pictures of the head, but it’s important is to use manual focus. Because the autofocus would only make you able to take a photo, if the camera recognizes the focus is sharp  – it is about 1/100 a second with the wind.

Manual focus will give you the opportunity to take an image at the moment you see it sharp through your viewfinder. Shoot several photos to see at home on your computer which one is sharp. The screen on your camera is a small size, and you need your time to shoot photos and not looking continually if the photo is good. It could be possible that at that moment a great moment has passed bye.

External flash: the external flash must be set in the right level of source. Because too much flashlight, you lose detail and get a overcast of light on the butterfly and the white sheet.

Too little flashlight gets grey and lots of shade in the image, you must do some test shots to see what is the best level for your flash. If you use the TTL setting, then in the camera menu you can set the level of your external flash lower or higher.

Other flashguns allow you to set your flash in manual, and set the level from 1/1 (full light) – 1/64 (low light). Start with ¼ level and take some test photos, to bright means you has to set the level at 1/8 or 1/16. Try and error makes you see what would work the best for you.

Sony 58 +Sigma 10-20 4 – 5.6 F/7.1 1/100 sec. ISO 200 Flash. F/10 1/100 sec. ISO 200 Flash

One of the great things is shooting photos of insects in flight, I was lucky that that I could shoot a photo of this Drinker moth. He was flying around the lamp, I toke huge volume of photos and lucky one this photo was sharp!

Sony 58 +Tamron 90/2.8 macro F/10 1/80 sec. ISO 200 Flash

During night there are more insects active than only butterflies, wasps, ants, hoppers etc. you find them also active. Also I found these common Cockckhafer, and with some luck I took photos in flight. With the wings outside the photo has also a scientific value.

So why not get outside some night and shoot some of these creatures for yourself!

Article by Edwin Brosens

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