Canon 10D, handheld
Sigma 24-135 at 35mm
1/60 at f4.5
ISO 400

Put it together
malachite butterfly broadleaf

The most important thing in good photography is composition. Others might disagree – they're wrong ;-). Technical savvy, knowing how to measure light and exposure, sharpness and color... they're all well and good, and shouldn't be ignored. But composition should be at the top of your list.

This is an example I particularly like. The leaf uses the frame space well, and is very dynamic and dimensional. The background is unfocused enough to be undistracting, and carries the idea of a deep rain forest – this is helped by the water drops on the leaf. And the butterfly isn't in the flat "pinned on the board" look that shows off the colors well but looks boring, and is instead facing into the pic, using the direction that the leaf points but above it as well. The focus brings out both the butterfly and the textures of the leaf, but fades off too, implying more depth and distance. The lighting is muted, but that fits with the water drops. To me, this gives the impression of the butterfly lazily fanning its wings before taking off into the post-storm morning. If you got something different from it, don't hesitate to let me know – I'm always keen to hear what impressions particular photos evoke.

This is a malachite butterfly, Siproeta stelenes, taken within the Butterfly House of the NC Museum of Life & Science in Durham. I leaned way out off the path at an awkward angle to produce this composition, but I think it was the way to go. It's not that this was a particularly difficult image to get, but that I made the effort to put it together in a way that works for me, and hopefully others as well.