Photographing Gulf Fritillary Butterflies – Fredericksburg Tx Hill Country

Gulf Fritillary on Zinnia blooms


Here in Texas and in the southern states, the Gulf Fritillary’s population peak around August through November, so now is the time to go out and photograph them!

Adults can survive for a few weeks, but they cannot survive below 21 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although smaller than Monarchs, the Gulf Fritillary butterflies are sometimes mistaken as Monarchs. Their wings are mostly burnt orange on the top-side, but when you observe and photograph from a lower perspective, you’ll see their beautiful patterns underneath their wings as well as their orange and white striped bodies.

Here are some ideas!

Try setting your camera’s height at the subject’s level, or below, and aim the lens slightly upward towards them.

With a low perspective, sitting in a chair (or on the ground) may help.

This lower point of view will help butterflies appear larger, which helps create more impact, and enhances their beautiful markings and patterns.

Although I enjoy fast prime lenses, try using a standard zoom lens that allows you to zoom-in on the subjects. If your too close to the blooms/subjects they can move away. I’m using my old-faithful 70-200mm lens here.

The backgrounds in your images are very important, yet are often overlooked. When viewing the images, if the background is cluttered, has distractions, ‘hot spots’, etc… they will all compete with the main subject for attention. Also, a bright sky can trick your camera’s meter reading, darkening your main subject and producing less than desirable results.

Its best to study the background, and plan accordingly before taking the photos. This will make your subject ‘pop-out’.

Full automatic mode can definitely grab some good photos with today’s smart cameras. But try exploring your camera skills by using settings such as Aperture Priority mode. Set your camera on AP with an f-stop such as F2.8, F4.0 etc., or as low as your lens allows, aka maximum aperture. The f-stop controls how much light is entering the lens and hitting your camera’s sensor. The aperture opening is made up of a set of blades inside the lens, and a low f-stop (fast lens) gives the image a shallow depth of field, blurring the background (bokeh), which also helps reduce any background distractions.

An f-stop of F22, for example, is great for landscapes when you want everything to be in focus.

For more advanced photographers, try full manual mode! Take a meter reading off of a neutral part of the ground, or a gray card, then dial the exposure settings into your camera that is set on full manual mode. Make sure you have a fast enough ISO and shutter speed to stop the action in the image, unless you purposely want some movement, which is also appealing with butterfly images. So many options – isn’t photography fun?

Its very helpful to get a good white balance reading especially in tricky lighting conditions. I often use a simple white balance card and take a test shot, setting my camera on its custom white balance option.

I also shoot in RAW which allows for a wide range of editing options later on in post production.
See your camera’s instructions for more info on custom white balance.

Focus on their eyes, or whatever is the most important element to you.

For prime ambient lighting, take photos in the early morning or late evening light.

Position the sunlight behind the subject and at an angle so the sunlight filters through their wings, giving them a translucent backlit glow.

Cloudy days, soft light, or flat light can produce nice results too. Try zooming in super tight to focus on just the butterfly, eliminating much of the background.

Try getting your best shots in camera.

A lot of patience is essential with photography, especially wildlife photography! Grab a chair, and enjoy the moment!

Studies show that the butterfly population is decreasing.

To help attract these colorful treasures to your home and yard all year long, try staggering blooms in stages, and use both Nectar & Host plants/trees for butterfly conservation. Here are just a few:

Nectar plants for adult butterflies include:
Zinnias, Lantana, Butterfly Bush, Aster, Thistle, & Verbena, Cactus Blooms, Evening Primrose.

Host plants
Host plants are like baby nurseries, and are crucial for egg laying and caterpillar’s feeding and survival:
Various Milkweed (esp Monarchs), Passion Vine and Passion Flower, Dill Weed, Parsley, Fennel, Queen Anne’s Lace, Goldenrod, Sunflowers, Prickly Pear, Evening Primrose.
Native Oak Trees, Plum, Cherry trees, Pecan, Hickory, Texas Redbud

I hope this helps.
Have fun enjoying the little things in nature!


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