How to photograph Butterfly Town USA

Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterflies

Between November to May you can witness a spectacle of life in Pacific Grove. Countless Monarch Butterflies inhabit the trees of Monarch Grove Sanctuary and nearby George Washington Park after migrating here from as far north as Alaska. It takes these fragile beings several generations to return to Alaska, but just one (longer living) generation to return and restart the cycle of life here.

How to get there

Here is a Google Street View of the (somewhat hidden entrance):

Entrance to Monarch Grove

You need to walk down the line between these two fences to get there. It seems to be a city owned property between private residences. You can find parking right outside (turn the view around 180 degrees).

The address is 206 Ridge Rd, Pacific Grove, CA

How to photograph Monarch Grove Sanctuary

butterfly-zoneSince the butterflies cluster together high up in the trees they are hard to see. The underside of the wings looks like brown leaves in the distance. Pick up a binocular and stake out your subjects. Since you are shooting upwards, you get distracting bright backgrounds. Look for a group of butterflies has sunlight on it to lessen the contrast between the background and the dark mass of Monarch butterflies.

The best shot would be a sunlit knot of butterflies against the darker tree background, as our mind tends to move bright subjects into the foreground.

Long lenses and relatively long exposure times (low ISO, small aperture) necessitate a tripod.

Focus on the butterflies closest to you. Our mind does not accept out of focus subjects close to the lens but easier accepts out of focus subjects further back.

Best Time of the Day and Best Season

The Monarchs are here from November to March. If the temperature drops below 55 F (about 13 C), the Monarchs go into a state of hibernation with their wings folded together, revealing only the grey under side. When it gets warmer, they spread their wings and start to flap. Try to arrange your visit around midday to see them flapping.

Time required

It takes about 30 minutes to visit the small area. Even with extensive photography one hour to 90 minutes will be sufficient.


  • Telphoto Lens
  • Tripod
  • binoculars

GPS position

Difficulty Photographing

Big droves of Monarchs hang 20 to 30 feet high in the trees. Even with a long telephoto lens, it is not easy to create compelling compositions. Try isolating interesting looking clusters exposed to sunlight.

Close Locations

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One Comment

  1. Posted 2014/07/24 at 08:19 | Permalink

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