Catching the prey

Once you've selected the set up you wish to use it's then a matter of arranging the shot. This is no easy task; the particular species that you really want to photograph is often not keen to stop for very long. Larger species (esp. Fritillaries) fly quickly and only stop for very short periods of time to nectar, if you try to follow them you end up running for some distance and by the time you've caught up they're on the wing again, very frustrating. There are a couple of possible answers to this. Newly emerged butterflies often settle for a reasonable period and make a good subject. Early in the morning doesn't seem to work for me, I've been out an hour after dawn only to see things racing across the downs as if it were midday! Quite a good tactic, that requires some patience, is finding a favoured nectaring spot, get positioned so you can get to a number of possible landing sites and wait. This can produce excellent results if you have the time. Dull weather can also sometimes yield results, butterflies move less often, and once you find them they'll be an easy target, even better if the sun then comes out from behind a cloud with your subject positioned perfectly in the viewfinder. I don't subscribe to any method that requires any kind of capture and release.

It is also important to consider the amount of depth of field you have, you'll need to get exactly perpendicular to an underside, or exactly above an open wing shot if you want to maximise the amount of focused wing. Using a flash can help but often these produce 'unnatural' looking butterflies. I much prefer to use natural light, then the butterfly normally appears much as it did to your eyes in the wild. Shot composition is also important when considering depth of field. If you try to fill a frame with a butterfly, using large magnification, you will struggle to get more than half of it in focus. It is better I think to move back a little and try to use about half a frame, this also has the advantage of giving some context to the picture, i.e. what the butterfly is settled on, which I think adds hugely to the overall effect.

Cyrpus grayling shadows.

The angle which the sun hits the wings has an impact. Noon day sun on a Grayling, with its wings angled to leave no shadow on the ground can produce the effect pictured above. This results in a loss of details as well as the veins standing out. The solution, well hazy days with no shadows works, early morning / late evening can also be better as the suns rays come from a lower angle.

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All pictures in these pages copyright to Simon Coombes. Permission must be sought and obtained for any use.