The Common Blue Butterfly, Polyommatus icarus, is one of the UK’s most widespread and easily found representatives of the little, cute and brightly coloured Lycaenidae family of butterflies, also including butterflies such as the green hair streak and small copper. They can be found up and down the country almost all summer in everywhere from highly managed nature reserves to the grassy “wasteland” field behind your house. The adults feed on nectar from a large range of flowers including birds-foot trefoil to the far commoner but much loathed ragwort. They are most easily found on warm sunny days when the temperatures are high enough for them to be active and visible, but this activity however, does make them a challenge to photograph!
Recently, walking through a small set aside field on my way to some local farmland, I disturbed a little female as she was settling down for the evening. The sun was already low in the sky and temperature had dropped meaning that this butterfly wasn’t going to be fluttering off anytime soon… a perfect photo opportunity! Quickly I swapped to my Nikkor 70-300VR and whipped out my now 4 year old raynox DCR-250 diopter lens and set about the not all that easy job of taking macro shots in low light and breezy conditions! I stopped down to f/8-11 to attempt to retain some depth of field and increase the amount of butterfly in focus, but didn’t dare close the aperture much further for fear of having to increase ISO and getting less detailed images. Focusing with the light breeze frequently buffeting the butterfly around was very hit and miss, so I stuck to burst mode and took a horrific amount of shots so I could hunt out the good’ns!
The sunset was setting directly behind the butterfly, but was obscured by a tall conifer tree, but luck was on my side! The sun began to peak out between some of the branches adding a glimmer of deep orange light to the background, and with some careful framing, some nice bokeh as well. It’s not too often a cooperative animal and nice lighting come together in such harmony!
Unfortunately I accidentally bumped into the grassy blade she was sat on and spooked her into fluttering else where, this time landing in front of a white painted house. I carefully, and somewhat guiltily, set up again and took the shot below with the bright white house as the background. In colour this background looked pretty unnatural compared to the orange and greens, but the heavy contrast between the butterfly and the background lended itself nicely for a black and white shot- not something all that common in insect photography!
After taking this shot I decided it was about time I left this little lady in peace, not wanting to spook her into moving again and wasting any more energy that she will need to get through the night! You will still be able to find common blues fluttering around your local area right now, and are stunning little butterflies to photograph. So set out on a sunny day or evening to a local piece of wasteland, or even a quiet roadside verge, and see if you can track down one of these common little gems!