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A Colorful Butterfly Garden Reaps Many Photographic Rewards

Butterfly on Purple Coneflower

In order to make your backyard more of a butterfly habitat, you need to know which plants they lay their eggs on (so the caterpillars can feed on them) and which plants have nectar the butterflies like to eat. The following are listed in order of popularity among the most types of butterflies. However, I wouldn't want some of these plants in my yard since a few are weeds.

Popular Host Plants:

clover, hackberry, cassia, nettle, purple top grass, hollyhock, willow, elm and poplar.

Popular Nectar Plants:

aster, dogbane, buddleia, joe pye weed, milkweed, goldenrod, clover, thistle, butterfly bush and zinnia.

Of course, there are many more plants they will use. Other common flowers they like to eat from include wild rose, daisy, phlox, sunflower, cosmos and marigolds. We frequently had numerous butterflies on our robust marigolds this past summer. Below you will see photos of our shasta daisies, straw flowers, phlox, purple coneflower, marigolds and cosmos.

shasta daisy

butterfly on straw flower

phlox butterfly profile on purple coneflower



Butterflies are drawn to mud puddles or any shallow spots of water where they can get a drink. They also land on sun-drenched flat rocks to rest and warm up. Setting out rotting fruit in a bowl will attract butterflies, but it may also collect flies. I've seen beautiful glass flowers with pointed stems you can stick in the ground to hold diluted juice that might work, too. Keep in mind that if you feed birds, some of them eat insects, including butterflies.

Lighting and Field of Focus

Flowers in direct sun are the best for butterfly photos where there is plenty of light for setting the aperture to f/16 - 18, enabling you to get most of the wings in focus. As long as I move slowly, it has been easy for me to get close up shots of butterflies in my gardens. Once they get used to my presence, they are more inclined to stay for awhile on one blossom or plant.

butterfly on mums

I take many pictures because the insects move rapidly, even if they stay on one flower for awhile, and I never know which photo will have just the right background and focus until I examine them closely on my computer. Since the background is usually composed of multiple leaves and petals, crop out anything that makes the picture too busy. Or, using PhotoShop, blur or darken sections of the background to help the viewer appreciate the beauty of the butterfly. See what cropping and blurring of the background can do to help the viewer focus on the butterfly.

butterfly with busy background

butterfly with cropped and blurred background

Sometimes I use my 300mm zoom when photographing butterflies outdoors since I usually can't get as close to wild ones as I can to those in butterfly houses where they are tamer. However, a standard lens will work better and provide sharper images (less chance for camera shake than with a zoom lens) as long as you can get within 3 feet or so of your subjects.

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