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Fish & Wildlife | NW Life | local | Oregon Field Guide

Butterfly Watching


Producer - Vince Patton
Videographer/Editor  - Michael Bendixen
Videographers: Todd Sonflieth, Tom Shrider
Additional Video & Photos: Chris Carvalho, Vince Patton  __________________________________________________

Two Fritillaries feed on pearly everlasting at High Prairie, Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon.

Two Fritillaries feed on pearly everlasting at High Prairie, Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon.

Chris Carvalho / Lensjoy

Nature photographer Chris Carvalho used to collect butterflies. Now he just collects images of them. Going on a hike with him often doesn’t end up covering much ground because butterflies easily distract him. His macro photography reveals a world of colorful wings and complex camouflage.

Carvalho has perfected the art of stalking and photographing his prey. He generously offered to share his secrets, which includes using a flash even outdoors.

Carvalho wrote up these tips to share:

What to Bring

Binoculars that focus up close (5 or 6 feet), a point-and-shoot camera with good macro focusing, or a digital SLR with a long (120-200 mm) macro lens, with a tall flash that mounts in the camera’s hot shoe (when focusing up close the lens will cast a shadow that makes pop-up flashes useless.)

Where to Go

Butterflies are easiest to find outside of cities. Seek out roadsides with flowers, or any meadow in bloom. In Oregon, try High Prairie near Mt. Hood’s Lookout Mountain or Lolo Pass Road. In Washington, good places are Silver Star Mountain and the roads leading to it, and the Swale Canyon Trail of the Klickitat River.

Painted Lady on aster in Aloha, Oregon.

Painted Lady on aster in Aloha, Oregon.

Chris Carvalho / Lensjoy

How to Photograph

Turn on image stabilization if available. Shutter speed of at least 1/125 second and a small aperture (high f-number) give best depth of field. For point-and-shoot cameras, f/8 works. For digital SLRs, choose f/22 or greater. Autofocus is the best unless you have a subject willing to stay still a long time. For most digital SLR cameras, good starting settings with flash are ISO 200, f/22, and 1/125 second. Turn on the camera’s histogram feature and learn to use exposure compensation to get the best results.

Depth of field is shallow for macro photos. Keep the back of the camera parallel with the desired plane of focus (usually the butterfly’s wings) in both the vertical and horizontal directions.

If picture backgrounds are dark when using flash, do one or more of the following:

  • Increase a digital camera’s ISO sensitivity.
  • Open the aperture (select a smaller f-number.) However, doing so will decrease depth of field.
  • Photograph in direct sun, not in the shade.
  • Choose your composition so the butterfly is close to the background, such as when it’s on the ground or on a low-growing flower.
  • Check your images frequently in the field and adjust settings if problems are noted.

Butterfly Photography by Chris Carvalho.

Here are some additional resources to learn about butterflies:

 The Xerces Society

 North American Butterfly Association Eugene-Springfield chapter

 Washington Butterfly Association

 Butterfly Food Plants

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Part of Episode

McKenzie River Trail; Butterfly Watching; Lizard School

Oregon Field Guide: Episode #2510
Original Broadcast: February 20, 2014