Interview with BlueSteel
How long have you been interested in photographing butterflies?
I am relatively new to Photography , by chance ,in the later part of 2005 I shot a Butterfly with a PS camera, While seeking to identify the species I was directed to Butterfly from ClubSnap, I stay too long admiring their beautiful butterfly shots , and they infected me with a serious case “Butterfly Flu”.
What do you like particularly about it?
Initially it was the beauty of the various species that attracted me to this genre of photography. In my pursuit to record as many of the Singapore species as possible , it led me to studying their lifecycle, their behavior and habitats so as to increase my chances of nailing them. Butterfly photography is not unlike bird photography , it require much patient, perseverance and understanding of the species you are after. It is a challenge stalking them , the trek in search of them also provide me with some exercise and the excuse to run away from the urban setting to be outdoor and closer to nature.
How many species have you gotten so far? which are those that are most memorable and precious to your collection?
My recent count was around 260 species against the current Checklist of 292 species. Every keeper is memorable and unique in their own ways, it could be the beauty of the subject and/or the work involved in capturing them . Of the more memorable and precious ones are some of the new and re-discovered species I’d help to track down. These are The Harlequin , The Straight Judy, The Banded Royal , The Green Oakblue , The White Four line Blue, the Glistering Cerulean and a few others . They are special because some are thought to have been extinct or they are new species that were missed by earlier researchers and authors of the Singapore Butterfly checklist.
Care to share the tricks in photographing butts? any advise for beginners?
There are no tricks in shooting butterfly, once you have mastered the fundamentals of macro shooting, it is taking the time and interest to treks to likely places to locate them . Some knowledge of their habitat and behavior will help you to narrow down your search. There are some basic techniques in how to look for them, managed your set up and close in for the shoot . For newbie into this genre of photography and wants to know how it is done, I wrote a small article on “Butterfly Stalking” at Butterfly of Singapore Blog that could be of help.
Were there any photographer(s) that you like and influences your style?
I do not follow any particular photographer or style. Given the same subject each of us see in our mind’s eyes different possible ways of projecting the subject in the way we think is unique or artistic, so in fact each of us have our own individual style. I am open to all techniques and approaches, they all have their applications, my personal view is these should not become a fixation and constraint to the way one shoot . To me every photographic opportunity is a unique combination of various elements, there are no hard and fast rules of how one should approach it and what equipment one should use.
I travel light and let the subject dictate how I shoot instead of being constrained by the equipment or the way I want it to be taken. I accept what is a given and make the best use of the opportunity to present the subject as best as I can see it . The skittish nature of butterfly make shooting it a fairy dynamic exercise. I use very simple setup and let the camera does the work with auto-focus and exposure in AV mode, and concentrate on composition. Perhaps being dictacted by the skittish nature of the subject, I avoided being fixated that I have to have certain equipments and certain long held belief that macro should only be done with manual focus F/16 and above , sturdy tripod, focusing rail, MLU, release cable , multiple flash lights. One can get hopelessly tangled up with these “standard” equipments and left standing foolishly in the field when chasing butterflies.
To improve myself I read photo critiques on both local and international nature photography sites, to pick up and learn the finer points of good composition, techniques and presentation. I am a firm believer of hands-on learning and post-shot critique to flatten the learning curve and I had benefited a lot from the well run critiques on some sites. With the internet , one can eaily become a “NATO critique” and talk for hours on setup, the how and what, or even critique or “wishing” a shot to perfection. I believe in hands-on , I practice and shoot very often …… hands-on pratice and critical self review beats phototalking any day.
Care to share your macro setup? What is the equipment that you cant leave home without?
After wearing out a Canon 20D and a 40D in the last 3 years I am onto a Canon 1D3 + Tamron 180 mm and EX580 II. The 180 is the only lens I have as I shoot almost exclusively butterflies ,it has a longer working distance for shooting butterfly and it is legendary in it sharpness and bokeh. My 1st two months of field experience in chasing butterfly convinced me that I have to travel light and handhold the shots. Most butterfly are unlikely to stay long and you have a few second to frame and take your shots before it flutter off. Additional gears will impede my mobility in the undergrowth and wear me down on a long trek. I also carry a cheap lightweight monopod with a mini ballhead , a small slingbag to hold water,sweat towel and odds and ends. The monopod is used more as a walking stick and butterfly “stirrer” than what it intended for. I am onto my 3rd Lenshood and 4th monopod , previous ones were all lost during butterfly chases in thick vegetation. I do not leave home without my setup, it is always in the car boot and ready to shoot.
Which is your favorite species of butterfly and why?
My favorite butterfly is the Leopard Lacewing, this one of our recent new migrant species, it is a hardy, colorful and showy butterfly originating from Thailand, that over the year has traveled down the Peninsula of Malaya to Singapore . First sighted in Dec 05 , in late 2006 “The Butterfly Fairy” smiled on me … I stumbled into a few individual in western Singapore . Subsequently I managed to identified their hostplant and bred a number of the caterpillars. In doing my small part in helping this hardy species, I introduced them to a few locations in northern and western Singapore , and the southern Ridges where the hosplant was also found. I am glad that this new beautiful species is doing very well over the last 2 years and it is becoming a common sight on our island , most likely it will continue to multiply and stay and become our “new butterfly citizen”.
While pursuing your hobby, what is your most memorable moment to date?
The most memorable moment was with the Red Harlequin in Selai, Endau Rompin National Park in August 08 . This very rare ” Jewel of the Jungle ” flew past me along a track with rays of late afternoon light illuminating its brilliant and unbelievable colors. As if tempting me to chase her , it flutter nonchalantly from leaf to leaf under the dark forest understory. I tracked her through thick undergrowth scattered with thorny rattan plants for close to an hour ,and managed a few shots under fast fading light . Though covered with numerous scratches from the chase , I must have slept with a big grin that night knowing that I had some reasonable shots of this rare butterfly!
What are the challenges you’ve faced?
The main challenge, if I can call that, is my total ignorance of Photography and the subject matters. From not knowing the relationship of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, it took me some self learning and hours of hands-on practice on the DSLR to get comfortable, over the last 3 years I have acquired sufficient knowledge and hands-on to shoot reasonable well.
Next is learning enough on photoshop for post processing to get by. I was blur as a sotong in post processing softwares, and I am still loss like a squid in as far as layering and masking. But thanks to easy-to-use photoshop Plug-ins, I managed to get by and continue to stumbled along, learning by the day in processing the shots.
The greatest challenge is soon after taking up the hobby, while monitoring the Harlequin and the Straight Judy I realized there will never be enough light in the shade, I spent hours and numerous trips practicing and refining my handholding technique shooting these two shade lovers. I am glad that the thousands of shutter counts on these two species had helped me become more confident in handholding butterfly shot.
As to the subject matter the butterfly, it is a natural progressing that I became more and more interested in learning more about them , study the “prey” so to speak. I will continue to learn more of these beautiful creatures through books,field observations and from the experts at ButterflyCircle. Hopefully the knowledge I picked up can be put to good use in the future in helping to conserve the rarer species.
Please share with us a couple of your favorite images accumulated over the years.
Sure! Let me share some of the rarer species that I have shot locally and in Johore:
Red Harlequin (Para-laxita telesia lyclene) Female
ISO 1600 1/30s F/5.6 Fill-flash, Handheld. Selai , Endau Rompin, Johore. This is a very rare butterfly and reside in the depth forest , some spent years trying to see or photograph one. Lucky me this one flew in front of me.
Rapala domitia domitia (Yellow Flash)
ISO640 1/200 F/5. Fill-flashed , Handheld, USR Singapore. A very rare and skittish BF . It was 3rd time lucky, third encounter in 3 years and managed a reasonable shot.
Abisara savitri savitri (Malay Tailed Judy)
ISO1000 1/40s F/6.3 Fill-flashed , Handheld. CCA, Singapore. This butterfly is one of the most
elusive of the Abisara species , found in the deeper part of CCA and a difficult subject to track
and shot. This one was caught day dreaming.
Euripus nyctelius euploeoides (Courtesan) Male
ISO200 1/250s F/5.6 Handheld, Southern Ridges , Singapore. By chance shot this in an urban park in
2006 , this shot was taken in Jul 08 . I am still monitoring the presence of this , it has reappeared on and off in the last 3 years.
Pandita sinope sinope ( The Colonel ) Male
ISO200 1/125S f/9, Handheld, Western Singapore. A rather rare butterfly , like the equivalent in the
military this species is also a high flyer. Very difficult to shoot as, at most time, it mantain at a high perch beyong reach.
Zeltus amasa maximinianus (Fluffy Tit)
ISO400 1/80s F/8 Monopod , CCA Singapore . This species has one of the longest tails amongst the
lycaenid relative to is size , a tree top resident most of the time. The long tails flutter with the slightest of breeze and it is a nitemare to have them clearly display, caught this specimen with the full glory of its long tails during a lull in the wind
Abisara kausambi kausambi ( The Straight Judy ) Male Pending confirmation
ISO800 1/80s F8 Handheld Southern Ridges Singapore. This particaular species was missed by earlier
researcher and authours of Singapore Checklist. Has been monitoring this species in the last 3 years
and through local and international experts we are in the process of positively identifying it.
Pachliopta aristolochiae ( Black Rose )
ISO400 1/125s F3.5 Handheld, AHBT Singapore. Some specimen of the Common Rose in AHBT were noted to have an all black hindwing, temporarily we call it The Black Rose pending further investigation .
Taxila haquinus haquinus ( The Harlequin ) Female
ISO200 1/60s F8 , Monopod . One of few hundreds raised through captive breeding and resettled under
the “Save The Harlequin” Project. http://butterflycircle.blogspot.com/2007/11/saving-harlequin-part-1.html
Cyrestis themire themire ( The Little Map )
ISO800 1/125s F/8 Handheld, Panti Forest , Johore . This shy little BF always hide under the leaf .
This pose a big problem in shooting them, this is a better shot of many failed attempts.
Which are the good places in Singapore for newbie to hone their butterfly macro skills?
There are lots of macro opportunity in Singapore , every green pockets and parks is a potential heaven for macro lovers, one just need to stand and stare and be curious to find an endless variety of macro subjects.
For butterflies, The Southern Ridges of Kent Ridge , Telok Blangah Hill and Mount Faber Park have more butterfly species count than the whole of United Kingdom (around 60). The Alexandra Hospital Butterfly Trail(AHBT), close to the ridge line, is a good hunting ground for newbies ,it is easily accessible and at any one time you should be able to find a few species of the 101 species we have recorded over the years.
Thanks for the interview.
It is my pleasure!
Most BlueSteel’s work is published in BC http://www.butterflycircle.com, do check them out and their forum too!