Photography Tips

Plant and insect identification from photos can be difficult, so it is important to include high quality photos that highlight the most important features of your plant or monarch, as well as the environment in which it occurs.

Photography Tips:

  1. Take multiple photos of key features. For milkweeds, this includes the flowers, seed pods, leaves, and growth habit. For monarchs, this includes eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises, and adults.
  2. Use your camera’s macro setting to get crisp, close-up photos of egg structure, caterpillar stripes, the golden spots on the chrysalis, or flower structure.
  3. If you are taking a photo of an adult monarch, try taking multiple photos in succession while slowly moving a step closer to your subject for each shot and re-focusing the lens.
  4. Take a few photos that show the milkweed or monarch in context with the rest of the landscape.
  5. From your set of photos, select your top three images that best show important identifying details and the habitat in which it was found.


  1. Depending on the environment that your milkweed is growing in, leaf shape can vary considerably between plants of even the same species of milkweed.
  2. Milkweed flower structures, fruits, and seeds will usually remain consistent, and can be the most useful tools for identifying a milkweed species.
  3. If your milkweed is not in bloom, it is important to get detailed photos of the leaves and plant structure as a whole.
  4. Good habitat information may also be critical for identifying a milkweed species (for example, if the milkweed is found in a desert wash, this can narrow down the number of potential species).
  5. Adult monarchs can be relatively difficult to take photos of unless they have landed to drink nectar or lay eggs. If you do see a monarch near a patch of milkweed or nectar plants, approach slowly and avoid letting your shadow cast over the butterfly.
  6. Taking photos of butterflies is easier when it is cooler outside and they are less mobile, such as early in the morning.
  7. Taking a photo of the upperside (dorsal side) of a monarch’s wings will also record whether or not you saw a male or female (see photo below).
  8. Take care not to disturb any insects or other wildlife that may be nearby.
Female (left) versus male (right) monarchs. Photos: TexasEagle

Female (left) versus male (right) monarchs. Photos: TexasEagle/flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0.