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If you grow cabbages, the sight of white butterflies fluttering about probably won’t produce fuzzy-warm feelings of lazy days and childhood summers. But for the rest of us, they do, pretty much.

Butterflies, of all colours, just do raise the spirits. There’s something about their idiosyncratic flight – as far removed from an efficient “bee line” as you could get – that is endearing. They flutter through life, sipping nectar while hanging out on flowers in the sunshine: perfect, non-stinging insect companions on a summer’s day. They are a part of summer, and the way we see it. 

Through a telephoto lens things are a little different. You enter the butterfly’s world more intimately. They can become even more stunningly beautiful, and they can also become pretty weird. 

(Most of the images on this site have relatively large files. If you’re using a mobile or tablet, pinch-zoom for more detail. If you’re viewing this site on a mobile device with an older OS, there may be compatibility issues. Apologies if that is the case.)

Take the mouth parts of the Painted Lady (above), with those two pointy, horn-type things (palpi) and the proboscis that comes out between them: very strange. But then the two small pear-shaped things hanging from the Meadow Brown’s mouth (above, above bottom right) look even more peculiar. Are they part of the insect or a couple of dangling parasites?

The sense of scale through a zoom lens can also change the way you see a butterfly’s surroundings.

The texture of that diagonal stalk (to the left of the Common blue above) looks as solid as a snooker cue to me. And the intricate pattern on the Knapweed bud makes me think of Faberge eggs. Photographing butterflies in close-up feels like a journey of discovery through what was previously familiar territory.

Happy compositional accidents can happen too when you’re taking pictures in a hurry (before that butterfly flits away). Like the illuminated leaves of the bindweed (below) echoing the wing structure, and colour, of the Brimstone.

Occasionally unexpected creatures appear when you see your picture full screen on a computer.

Like the spider ready to ambush something smaller than the common blue (above).

And another spider, partially hidden under the blanket of umbellifer flowers that a Chalkhill Blue has landed on (above). I’m guessing a spider-hunting wasp (which I think is one of three in the picture) is subduing it prior to implanting one of its eggs which will in due course hatch and consume the paralysed spider alive.

You see a certain amount of the magnified world through a zoom lens when you press the shutter: you have a pretty good idea if the light is working, whether the background is contributing to the image and so on (assuming the butterfly hangs around long enough for you to register these things). But once you’ve downloaded the image onto your computer and you see it for the first time, full screen, the different scale can produce some interesting surprises.

You never know quite what you’re going to get with zoom photography and small nature.

Meeting the Skippers

All text and images © David Hoskins

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