08 February 2017

Butterfly Photography 101 - Part 6

Butterfly Photography 101
Part 6 - Composition Techniques in Butterfly Photography 2/2

Last week, we introduced some of the more commonly used composition techniques in butterfly photography. Continuing our discussion, we feature some of the more unconventional guidelines that you can consider when composing your butterfly photos. As mentioned previously, 'the only rule is that there are no rules' and all these tips are just composition tools that you have at your disposal to enhance the presentation of your butterfly photos.

Tip #6 - Applying Symmetry

An open winged Silver Royal depicted symmetrically and centrally in the frame

Butterflies are bilaterally symmetrical, where the wings on the left are mirrored along a central axis to the wings on the right. Symmetrical forms convey balance in and of themselves, but they could appear too stable and too balanced, leading to a lack of interest in the composition.

Another centrally composed shot of a Common Mormon emphasising the symmetry of the butterfly's wings

However, making use of the natural symmetry of the butterfly can sometimes allow the viewer to focus on the beauty of the butterfly without any distractions. Placing the butterfly in the middle of the frame and cropping it close, makes for a straightforward composition that can sometimes be refreshingly simple. For symmetrical butterfly shots, usually taken of the uppersides of a butterfly's wings, and depending on the shape of the butterfly's wings, a square crop could be considered in composing the shot.

Tip #7 - Leading Lines

Like in the visual arts, there are often opportunities for the butterfly photographer to apply leading lines towards or away from the butterfly to create dynamic interest to the photo. The use of the natural lines on a leaf or other "props" that a butterfly perches on, can draw the viewer's attention on the subject, whilst the leading lines accentuate the butterfly's position in the frame.

Lines need not necessarily be straight lines. Using sinuous curves that draw a viewer's eyes towards the subject butterfly often tends to create a more interesting and dynamic composition. Using these geometric linearity of supplementary elements in the natural world helps to put a complimentary context to the subject in its environment in butterfly photography.

Tip #8 - Standing Proud

A field shot of a Vinous Oakblue as it is seen, perched on a leaf that naturally slopes downwards.  It is a matter of personal preference whether the photographer would want to tilt his camera to depict the butterfly with the leaf appearing horizontal

Ever so often, a butterfly photographer will encounter a butterfly perched on a drooping leaf and literally end up looking downwards. Some photographers feel that this is how the subject should faithfully be depicted - as it is seen and photographed in the field. However, this makes the butterfly appear as though it is about to slide off the leaf.

The original field shot of a Branded Imperial perched on a drooping leaf

Rotating the camera Anti-clockwise, this shot presents the butterfly perched on an X-Y axis and appears comfortable on its flat and horizontal perch.

Rotating the camera body another 5 degrees anti-clockwise puts the butterfly standing "proud" and looking slightly upwards gives an "uplifting" composition compared to the original shot

Sometimes, all it takes is a slight rotation of the camera body by a few degrees to make the butterfly appear 'proud' and looking upwards, giving it a much better composition with the subject standing upright. Although a matter of taste and preference, take a look at the comparison shots and decide what compositional position of the butterfly works for you.

Tip #9 - Alternative Crops

An opportunity to shoot three individuals of the same species lends itself to a different crop to emphasise the subjects all lined up in a row

Coupled with the symmetry and shape of different species of butterflies, it is sometimes better to crop the frame other than the usual 4x6, 4x3 format. There will be opportunities to change the standard crop to better emphasise your subject (or subjects) in alternative formats other than the conventional crops used in photography.

A portrait crop of a Blue Pansy perched on a vertical grass flower

Consider using a portrait crop instead of a landscape crop, when composing a shot of the butterfly and various elements that the butterfly is perching on. In situations where the butterfly perches on a vertical object, rotating the camera 90 degrees to the portrait position often yields a more well-balanced composition.

A square crop shot can sometimes be used to capture a balanced composition

Using a completely geometric square crop may also work for different compositions of the butterfly. The square crop tends to work well with a symmetrical shot, placed either along the X-Y axis or along diagonals.

Tip #10 - Looking for Fresh Angles

An unconventional underside view of a Commander as it feeds on the fruits of the Singapore Rhododendron

Out in the field, there are often many opportunities for you to be creative and experiment with unconventional angles at which to shoot your subjects. Change your perspective from the usual tried-and-tested compositions to create fresh ideas to showcase butterflies. There will be occasions when the butterfly poses in various uncommon positions for you to capture a new point of view.

Using backlighting and shadows of the wings against the leaf, this part view of the Commander presents the butterfly in a more sinister mood

Do not be afraid to challenge the guidelines of visual composition that have been discussed in Parts 5 and this article. As could be expected in any creative field, sometimes breaking the rules in butterfly photography can result in novel and innovative ways of presenting a subject that can be pleasing to the eye and delighting your audience.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Sunny Chir and Khew SK