spring to take the most advantage of the butterfly season. For information, visit •GO TO A BUTTERFLY GARDEN. Public zoos often have their own, though usually open only during the warmer months. Many freestanding butterfly gardens operate year-round. For a state-by-state listing, check out the directory at The Butterfly Farm, • RAISE BUTTERFLIES AT HOME. Caterpillars not only are great to photograph in their own right, but they can be raised in captivity (and photographed in your home) until they turn into butterflies or moths. Some butterfly gardens offer eggs for sale, but watch out: You need the right food plants, and some species may be foreign to your region, potentially posing an environmental threat.

Set your camera

•GO MACRO. You don't need an expensive telephoto lens. Macros in the short tele range are best for butterflies. I do most of my work with

the 60mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, a full-frame equivalent of 90mm on APS-C-sensor DSLRs such as my Nikon D200. If you need more reach, use a macro in the 100-200mm range.

But since most butterflies are large enough to shoot without getting very close, you can use any lens that focuses to about 1:4—including many wide-to-tele and tele kit zooms. An inexpensive way to get closer focusing with standard lenses? Extension tubes (see Nature, April 2008). • FOCUS RIGHT. You want a balance between a blurred background and a sharp butterfly. Try to get three points on the insect in focus. If the wings are held close together, these three should be the eye, tip of the upper wing, and the back of the lower wing; if the wings are open wide, concentrate on the eye and the tips of the two wings.

To keep the background out of focus, set your aperture to f/4.5 or

CEANOTHUS SILKMOTH (HYALOPHORA EURYALUS): Raised from a cocoon, this silkmoth was positioned in front of a black background in a home studio and lit by diffused windowlight and small reflectors. Tripod-mounted Nikon D200 with 60mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens; 1 sec at f/10 through a polarizer, ISO 125.

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CLIPPER BUTTERFLY (PARTHENOS SYLVIA): This clipper MADAGASCAR MOON MOTH (ARGEMA MITTREI): This was photographed by diffused daylight in the Magic Wings species was also photographed at Magic Wings by diffused

Butterfly Conservatory in South Deerfield, MA, an excellent venue daylight. Tripod-mounted Nikon FM2 with 60mm f/2.8 Micro-

for butterfly photography. Handheld Nikon D200 with 60mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens and polarizer; exposure on Fujichrome Velvia 50

Micro-Nikkor lens; 1/125 sec at f/4 through polarizer, ISO 100. slide rflm not recorded.

f/5.6 if the objects in the background are close to the butterfly. Set a smaller aperture if the surroundings are more distant or if you've placed a plain background behind your subject.

Once you've set the appropriate aperture, focus on the eye. Autofocus can be a help if your subject is moving a lot. But, if you're very close, it's often better to focus manually. • EXPOSE RIGHT. In-camera meters can be thrown off by dark foliage, light flowers, or very light or dark backgrounds. I use the spotmeter on the butterfly itself, locking the exposure in aperture-priority mode. •AVOID BLUR. While you may be able to use a tripod in the early morning, when butterflies are almost motionless, working with a handheld camera is a must later in the day. Make sure your shutter speed is at least 1/125 sec when you handhold, faster when shooting a quick-moving subject. While ISO 100 will give you the highest-quality shots, increase the ISO as needed to maintain an adequate shutter speed and aperture.

Get extra pop

•USE FLASH. If you want to shoot in darker environments or in a controlled studio, it's worth investing in a macro flash. Ringlights give a rather flat image and project a shadow behind the subject, so it's much better to use a two-headed macro flash system, such as the Nikon R1 Wireless Close-Up Speedlight System ($370, street).

A common approach is to keep one flash head attached to the lens ring, facing the subject, while handholding the second head to the side and slightly behind the butterfly, aimed at a right angle to the lens axis. This adds a third dimension to your subject and also keeps light from spilling onto a dark background.

Obviously, in the field you won't have the time to figure out camera and flash settings, so determine the settings beforehand. There is really no standard lighting setup—as with all photography, experimentation is the key. ©

Bulgarian-born Andrey Antov has been living for the past 10 years in New England, where he pursues nature photography along with graduate studies in the joint immunology Ph.D./M.B.A. program at Yale University. See more at

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