David Element



Wildlife Photography and Digital Video Images


_____________________________________________________________________ Butterflies 50 – Cleopatras




                                                                                                CLEOPATRA BUTTERFLY Gonepteryx cleopatra (m)



                                                                                                CLEOPATRA BUTTERFLY Gonepteryx cleopatra (m)



                                                                                                CLEOPATRA BUTTERFLY Gonepteryx cleopatra (m)



                                                                                                CLEOPATRA BUTTERFLY Gonepteryx cleopatra (m)



·         The male Cleopatra Butterfly Gonepteryx cleopatra has to be one of the most beautiful of European butterflies with its bright sulphur-yellow wings and rich orange flashes on the upper-sides but there is a problem when trying to photograph them as they always settle with their wings closed so that the orange cannot be seen. If flash illumination is used then significant under-exposure would be required to prevent the butterflies from appearing very washed-out. One method of showing the colour to good effect is to photograph or film these butterflies backlit by natural light and this had previously been used successfully (and was again on this occasion) but the photographer was also very keen to try to portray them with their wings fully opened during a visit to the Ardèche region of Southern France where this butterfly was one of the commonest species on the wing. The recent purchase of a higher resolution camera (a Nikon D850) has made it possible to obtain images of a much higher quality using natural light than had previously been the case and quite a lot of effort was therefore placed into trying to photograph them with their wings fully opened. Having observed their behaviour at some length it became apparent that there were two possible options for obtaining open-winged images of males and three for females. As the butterflies feed on Lavender Lavandula sp. they would climb up the inflorescences using their wings to assist them before moving on to the next stalk so if timed correctly sometimes the upper-wings would be caught mid-flap. Easy enough in theory but once the presence of an often quite stiff breeze was taken into account rather less so! The other option was to try to take them in flight, so therefore shortly after take-off and hopefully flying in the same plane as manual focussing was needed to minimise the issues associated with auto-focus picking up a background object instead. This proved to be a genuine problem when filming them feeding on the multi-stalked Lavender plants but the bright sunlight made it impossible to see the images on the preview screen required to use manual-focussing. The third option that seemed to apply purely for females was their tendency to open their wings (very briefly) in response to the approach of males but this was very hard to predict – or indeed to photograph. Each of the photographs shown above required good fortune as it is entirely impossible to predict the position of the wings, or indeed if the butterfly will be in focus at all but one of the wonderful aspects of digital photography is the ability to take very large numbers of photographs when compared to transparency films from the pre-digital age and then delete them, so what you see here are the successes. Much smaller in numbers than the failures but very a very worthwhile investment in time given the quality of the results. A comparatively high ISO setting is required in order to obtain sufficient depth of field and no fast shutter-release settings were used (so each is effectively a one-off).  However newer digital cameras with better quality sensors produce superb results at ISO settings that would have produced far inferior and grainy images in the past.


·         David’s film of Cleopatra Butterflies may be seen at: https://youtu.be/2TdyJq6bkYA - compiled from those clips for which the auto-focussing did work properly!



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