A Summer With Marbled Whites

This year I wanted to approach my photography a little bit differently by focusing my attentions on just a couple of species and really spending time with them at different times of the day and in different locations. This approach and dedication has really paid off especially with my butterflies which have been my main subjects over the summer months. I have been working at two very different sites, one is a chalk grassland on a hillside in Wiltshire and the other a chalk grassland in Somerset and both have presented me with different challenges but also different shooting opportunities, from sunrise through to after sunset on still days and windy days, in colour and black and white. Some of the images are available to buy as prints, canvas and HD aluminium wall art, just click on the images to take you through to the options.

I'm going to start with the hillside butterflies, these were a challenge due to the very tall grass and quite steep hillsides at times, not to mention the small numbers that would never be in the the same place twice. But after many trips, some successful and some not, I was able to capture a variety of images from newly emerged to settling down to roost at night. The challenge with the tall grass is getting a clear shot of the butterflies, I will never remove or cut any foliage just gently place something (like a jumper) on top so that it can spring back afterwards. Then there is the lighting challenge, I don't use flash as it brings to much of the grass into focus and can also bounce of the grass, later on in the year I will be posting an article about just how I achieved these photos.

In The Grass - Marbled White Butterfly (Melanargia galathea)

These last two are taken as the butterflies settle to roost for the evening, just after sunset once the golden glow had left the fields in the background giving a more painted look.

Settling to Roost

These next photos are from the group on the chalk grasslands in Somerset, a very different flat habitat and one that would allow me to photograph them at sunrise capturing the important moments of the butterfly's daily life being able to warm up and dry out as the sun rises bringing warmth to the day. This site is fairly sheltered so more often than not the butterflies are covered in dew drops early in the morning which look like hundreds of tiny jewels as the light catches them. I spent many mornings laying in the wet grass trying new ideas, compositions and techniques and these are just a few of the images from those mornings. The main challenge here was the sun, it is a site I know well and know exactly the right position to be in to capture the sunrise through the trees, but the butterflies aren't always in the best of positions so you have to just work with it and find the best position by moving yourself (never move the butterflies). As with the hillside butterflies lighting is key, maybe even more so as I'm shooting into the sun (my main light source), this produces beautiful bokeh as the sun comes through the trees and is great for silhouettes, not so great for bringing the details out of the butterfly, but later in the year I will reveal my secrets as to how I achieved some of these photos and how I created soft more dreamy images so stay tuned.

Dew Drop Butterfly -  Marbled White Butterfly (Melanargia galathea) coveredin dew drops drying out in the sun

X-Ray Wings

Marbled Sunrise

Sunrise Dreams - Marbled White Butterfly (Melanargia galathea) in a dreamy sunrise world

Once the dew is gone and the sun has risen, they open their wings to finish heating up ready to take to the wing to feed and find a mate. When they open their wings the light shines through them giving them an almost magical like appearance.

Marbled White In The Chalk Grasslands

In black and white against the bight sky the wing patterns are a thing of beauty

The one thing that I noticed across both sites was the short amount of time these wonderful butterflies were around for, now more than a few weeks before they had disappeared for another year and I'm going to leave you with one last image which was one of the last I took of a marbled white before they were gone. I look forward to welcoming them back next year and seeing them fluttering across the landscapes once more, this year I have tried a lot of new techniques and ideas some have worked and some haven't, but this is the best way to learn and many of my ideas come from spending so much time with my subject in their habitat observing their daily lives and interactions.