Kevin Painter - Butterfly Photographer

Do you know what a Cassius Blue butterfly looks like, or where you could look to find it? Butterfly Photographer Kevin Painter does. It is a tiny light grey butterfly with dark grey markings, and blue on the inside of its wings. "It is very common in most Panama gardens but they are so tiny that all most people see are small flashes of blue. They live, feed and hatch on the Plumbago plant. Their caterpillars are tiny green bugs. Please don’t spray them, or you will kill the whole colony that lives with you”. Kevin Painter’s butterfly photos are sharp images, full of detail, showing the complex patterns and coloration of these marvelous, hard-to-capture insects. They catalog the world of Lepidoptera and captivate the artistic imagination. People around the world follow his photos. They have won contests and one photo of the Enos Thara butterfly is the only one ever taken to date.


Butterflies can be difficult to photograph. They move quickly and like hummingbirds, and have a short life span. If prey has not eaten them, the majority of butterflies live for about 2 weeks. Most nature photographers would have a few lucky butterfly images. Kevin Painter, however has thousands of good butterfly photos. That should tell you that he has been at this for quite sometime.

Photographing butterflies is Kevin’s way of giving back to nature. His full time work is developing real estate.

“I was developing a property in Florida, when my digger hit a Lantana plant. About 50 butterflies flew out. On my way home, I could not stop thinking about it. The next day, I started purchasing Lantana plants to populate the area and I began my study into the field of Lepidoptera. Photographing didn’t come till much later. I started out breeding butterflies, but I learned a lot about photography through an interest in wanting to get a better look”.

Kevin tells us, "Every species of butterfly has a different host plant. A caterpillar will die if you take it off one plant and put it on another. Butterflies know the plants to lay their eggs on."

“When I came to Panama, I thought I knew a lot about butterflies, but Panama has about 1860 species of different butterflies, and there are a lot of sub-species and mimics. I had to start researching and learning again”.

For Kevin, research means fieldwork. Spending hours on multiple trips to gardens and jungles observing, photographing, identifying and cataloging. He hopes someday to put out a book on butterflies of Panama. “I’ve got a long way to go”, says Kevin, "I’ve been photographing butterflies in Panama for 7 years and probably only have 400 species photographed".

“A secret to taking great butterfly photos is attracting them”, says Kevin. “If you grow the host plant, you will get butterflies. Passion Flower, Lantana and Lemonsea are common plants that anyone in Panama can grow. When the caterpillars arrive, they eat the plants, and this is when people tend to spray, never allowing the butterfly to emerge. If you let the plants be eaten, they will come back in a month and you will have butterflies”.

“Taking butterfly photos is a game of patience. You have to be there when they hatch. When a butterfly first emerges from the cocoon, their wings are wet and they stay in one spot moving their wings up and down to dry. If you are there at that time, you can get close. I’ve been so close, I’ve had to remove the lens hood from my camera so that I don’t touch the butterfly”.

Kevin uses a Canon 100 mm macro lens to photograph butterflies. He generally uses an aperture of F/11 and an ISO of 400-500 to get crystal clear shots. In fact his image of the tiny Cassias Blue butterfly is so sharp, you can see the fine hairs at the edge of its wings. "I start out at about 3 to 4 feet and am focusing all the time and coming in”.

"Everyone needs to attract butterflies.” Says Kevin, "We need butterflies - and bees because they fly from place to place pollenating plants. Human food plants depend on this pollination to keep happening. We need butterflies and bees to be in plentiful so that we can survive".

Kevin Painter is the developer of the Azura Residential Project in Rodeo Viejo, close to Coronado. "I put back more than I take out. The Azura land was scrub land. We are putting in gardens to attract nature”. His development hosts a greenhouse that grows plants to attract butterflies and birds. He guarantees that the houses will have butterfly gardens.

You too could have a butterfly garden, if you follow Kevin’s advise. Or you could simply enjoy his amazing photos by following his Facebook feed.