On As­sign­ment

Wildlife and macro pho­tog­ra­pher Paul Har­court Davies de­scribes a mem­o­rable but­ter­fly hunt in the Apen­nines

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Paul Har­court Davies re­calls a mem­o­rable but­ter­fly hunt in the Apen­nines

Light­ing chal­lenges

In th­ese sit­u­a­tions it is best to set your scale of mag­ni­fi­ca­tion first and then fo­cus by

gen­tly mov­ing in

The first time I saw an Apollo but­ter­fly ( Par­nas­siusapollo) high in the French Alps my world stood still, and I have been seek­ing them out ever since.

To­wards the end of the day is the best time to pho­to­graph Apollo but­ter­flies, when they set­tle on this­tles in alpine mead­ows and feed on nec­tar. In the past I had al­ways used a tele­photo macro, but be­cause I am of­ten in the busi­ness of re­veal­ing how smaller crea­tures re­late to their wider sur­round­ings, and there­fore telling a story, I be­gan to hatch a plan to pho­to­graph the Apollo in its nat­u­ral haunts us­ing my wide-an­gle macro. This way I could set it among the high moun­tain peaks and get a shot or two for the ebook I was preparing on wide-an­gle macro with Clay Bolt. Serendip­ity, that busi­ness of making chance en­coun­ters, has been a great per­sonal friend to me, and I had found a small colony of Apollo but­ter­flies the pre­vi­ous July, when fol­low­ing my nose to a slope on Mount Ter­minillo – part of the high Apen­nines, not far from Rome.

Fish­eye scram­ble

Things never hap­pen to or­der with na­ture pho­tog­ra­phy, and it took some five vis­its over a pe­riod of two weeks to get what I wanted, with a car jour­ney of some three hours from my home in Um­bria. On my fifth visit, I had arisen at 4am, to ar­rive be­fore 8am, just as the sun was hit­ting the slopes. Apollo but­ter­flies come out in the sun, but patches of sun­light ap­peared only briefly as clouds went scud­ding across the sky. The pat­tern had been the same on the first four vis­its – a few Apol­los seen fast-fly­ing and dis­tant, but, as com­pen­sa­tion, there were al­ways other but­ter­flies and in­sects and an abun­dance of colour­ful Alpine flow­ers to pho­to­graph.

By 5pm res­ig­na­tion to fail­ure was set­ting in and I de­cided to pack up, just be­fore the sun dis­ap­peared be­hind some pin­na­cles of rock.

As I trudged reluc­tantly back up the slope with my tri­pod and over-laden back­pack, the sun ap­peared, as if to taunt me: sud­denly, a fe­male Apollo rose up from the grass just ahead and set­tled on a nearby mullein flower. To get this po­ten­tially great pho­to­graph, the scram­ble was on to get out my Nikon D7100 and a 15mm f/2.8 Sigma di­ag­o­nal fish­eye, which has an ex­cep­tion­ally good close-fo­cus. In th­ese sit­u­a­tions it is best to set your scale of mag­ni­fi­ca­tion first and then fo­cus on the sub­ject by gen­tly mov­ing in. This min­imises those hand move­ments that might frighten off the but­ter­fly. Light­ing was in­evitably go­ing to be tricky, as the back­ground moun­tains were still in sun, while but­ter­fly and fore­ground were in shade. To lessen the con­trast and add a slight punch to the sub­ject, I de­cided to use my Nikon R1C1 macro flash unit as a fill, hold­ing it around the lens with one hand, with my other hand on the shut­ter but­ton… cum­ber­some, but needs must.

Drop­ping to my knees I shuf­fled for­ward on sharp stones to get about 10cm from the sub­ject. I man­aged one shot be­fore the but­ter­fly took off, thanks to shut­ter noise. How­ever, it landed again close by – which was the story for the next 10 min­utes, as I fine-tuned the de­gree of fill that the flash gave.

There were definitely a few keep­ers among the files, but in my com­plete pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the mat­ter at hand, I hadn’t looked at my blood­ied knees, which had been shred­ded by the lime­stone… no pain, no gain, as they say. To see more of Paul’s work visit www.paul­har­court­davies.com The Apollo might have been elu­sive on the first four oc­ca­sions Paul vis­ited, but there are other sub­jects to be found high on Mount Ter­minillo Th­ese but­ter­flies come out in the sun; if the weather con­di­tions aren’t right, there’s lit­tle chance of get­ting a good pho­to­graph of one

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04 Th­ese flow­ers sug­gest this is a good place to look for Apollo but­ter­flies – their cater­pil­lars use this par­tic­u­lar plant for food The shot Paul was look­ing for: a beau­ti­fully crisp im­age of the Apollo but­ter­fly, with its nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment vis­i­ble be­hind

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