Four more beauties from Cambodia

On this holiday I reached a personal milestone: I passed the 300-butterfly-species marker. In Cambodia alone, I added over 70 new species to the list.

Two types of location proved to be the best for spotting butterflies:

  1. muddy banks near waterfalls or rivers
  2. buddhist monasteries.

Every butterfly lover will recognize the former, so let me explain the latter: many monasteries in the countryside are built on sandy soil, which enables flowerbeds to exist, which in turn attracts butterflies. These monasteries are also peaceful and quiet, accessible to the general public, so make for excellent butterfly watching. Only the monasteries in Phnom Penh were built on concrete or stone, so I had no luck there.

While on a jungle trek, we had lunch at a river bank teeming with butterflies. The only difficulty was choosing which one to go after! Below is the Common Ciliate Blue (Anthene emolus) sipping minerals from some plastic left behind by other tourists.

Common ciliate blue anthene emolus

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/400   ISO 100

At the same location the Common Tit (Hypolycaena erylus)

Common tit hypolycaena erylus

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.0   1/250   ISO 100

Once we had returned to our nice little bungalow in Chi Pat village community, I finally managed to photograph a butterfly against my favourite black background. Below is the Lesser Grass Blue (Zizina otis). This small blue is widespread across the country.Lesser grass blue zizina otis

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/7.1   1/160   ISO 100

Cambodia also offered me a colourful farewell present. On our final day in Phnom Penh, in the garden of our hotel in the middle of the city (of all places!) the beautiful Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete) was looking for a place to sleep and landed on a leaf right in front of me. I sprinted back to my room, grabbed the big white 300 2.8 and ran back. Still there! Wow! Breath in….breath out. Blast away. Got it! Look at the screen: sharp. Yes! Look at the screen again: ISO 6400. Grainy, ouch….I have set my tele to a minimum shutter speed of 1/500 to avoid motion blur. It works like a treat, only if daylight fades your ISO increases dramatically. At home I applied 90% noise reduction and the picture cleared up magically. Thank you Canon & Adobe. Thank you Cambodia for a wonderful holiday!Painted jezebel delias hyparete

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.0   1/500   ISO 6400

Easter present

An orange tip against a black background

The Orange Tip (Anthocharis Cardamines) and I have a difficult relationship. There are plenty of them around all over The Netherlands, but somehow I need a lot of effort to find one. This morning the alarmclock went off at the very decent time of 03:45. My wife gave me a quick kiss, declared me a fool and slept on. I drove for an hour to the province of Noord-Brabant not too far from the border with Belgium. Traffic was light so I arrived a little on the early side and had to wait for it to get light enough to spot butterflies. Then it took me more than two hours to locate this female Orange Tip.

But that’s as far as complaining goes. In my first shot, I used the bark of a tree as a dark background while the butterfly is backlit by the rising sun. Another one for my beloved black-and-white gallery.

Orange tip anthocharis cardamines butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/200   ISO 400

For the second shot, I switched position to have the sun in my back. Then waited until the sun shone at the right angle to turn the background into a beautiful soft yellow. The sun was still at a low angle, so my camera put the Orange Tip in the shadows. A little bit of flash worked miracles.

Orange tip anthocharis cardamines butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.0   1/250   ISO 400

After these pleasant shots, the wind picked up, the temperature rose quickly and every insect starting flying madly, so I called it a day.

Black and white

Four butterflies against a dark black background

The world-famous Dutch painter Rembrandt is the undisputed master of light. Living in Amsterdam gives me the opportunity to see his paintings regularly in the Rijksmuseum. The way he makes the subject stand out, the spotlight on the face often against a dark background, the surroundings out of focus, it is brilliant. Many times more brilliant than my humble efforts in butterfly photography…

Anyway, as my style progresses I notice that I simply love to picture butterflies touched by soft sunlight against a dark or black background. It focuses your entire attention as a viewer on the butterfly itself, its beautiful colours, the dense network of veins, the sheer beauty of nature’s creation.

On the first day of our hiking tour through Mercantour NP, I had already noticed many butterflies on a steep hill close to our gîte d’étape. When we returned there on the last day, I set my alarmclock to 5 AM and went up. Found this Bath White (Pontia Daplidice) pretty fast. The sky was cloudless…except for that part of the horizon where the sun would rise. My bad luck. I had to wait for 45 endless minutes for the clouds to drift away. And was rewarded for my patience with this fine view.

The butterfly Bath white pontia daplidice in early morning light

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/1250   ISO 250

Returning for breakfast I literally almost stumbled on this Escher’s Blue (Polyommatus Escheri). Never spoil a good picture opportunity, breakfast would have to wait.

The butterfly Escher's blue polyommatus escheri against a dark background

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.0   1/2000   ISO 200

The very last day of our holiday, in the Italian Dolomite mountains, this Silver-Washed Fritillary (Argynnis Paphia) was searching for food on the edge of the forest. It was around 32° Celsius, the butterflies were spooked by the slightest movement so the big white 300mm came to the rescue.

The butterfly Silver-washed fritillary argynnis paphia upperwing

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM   f/7.1   1/640   ISO 1250

One of my long-time wishes was a good picture of the Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria Lathonia) with its pearly underside. Finally fulfilled!

The butterfly Queen of Spain fritillary issoria lathonia against a black background

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM   f/5.6   1/500   ISO 160

How do you achieve this effect yourself?

  • Many flowers grow along the edges of forest as this is where they can catch the sunlight. If you see butterflies foraging for nectar along them, check which flowers provide a dark background and just simply wait for a butterfly to pass by
  • Remember the location and return in the next season to improve on your results. Sometimes I need a couple of attempts over the years to achieve the desired result, sometimes I get lucky in one try as in the case of the butterfly photographs above
  • Underexpose by at least one stop to avoid blowing out the highlights. Check your histogram and adjust for the correct exposure

Mission (un)accomplished

The map butterfly as a bonus

Sometimes the lousiest of locations can yield the biggest returns. This was a small field in Amsterdam directly off the highway. Stuck between a busy road and industry. The first thing I found was a used sleeping bag, next was some garbage. Not exactly very promising. I was looking for the rare White-letter hairstreak (Satyrium w-album) but did not spot one.

However, there were some usual suspects around such as Meadow Brown and Large White. And three Maps (Araschnia levana). Its a common butterfly in Holland but I never managed to take a decent picture with its wings closed, in soft light and with a nice dark background. So, the hairstreak mission will be saved for another day, but cycling happily home I did.

The map butterfly (araschnia levana) against a black background

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/6.3   1/250   ISO 400