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The Challenger

by roarmagne

Sometimes a good picture is all about good planning, and sometimes you are just lucky to be at the right place at the right time.
During my holidays I usually spend a great deal of time at our summerhouse in Hvaler, Norway. This is a great place for finding several types of butterflies, including some rare species. I eventually discovered the best spots to find butterflies, and also noticed that they were increasingly paying attention to each other. That's when a quite simple idea came to me: I wanted to take a photo of two butterflies mating. 
Nikon D90  .  Sigma 105mm f/2.8  .  105mm  .  1/800s  .  f/6.3  .  ISO400

I needed to wait for an early evening when the sun was not too strong and better yet, when there was very light cloud cover, producing an ideal soft light. I took some test shots on my way to the location, evaluating the light and making some adjustments to get the correct aperture, shutter speed and ISO. I wanted a fast shutter speed because I expected the butterflies to be eager and restless. I selected a medium aperture of f/6.3 as a compromise between sufficient depth of field and a pleasantly blurred background, given the expected distance of 8–16 inches (20–40 cm) to the subject. 

"After several failed attempts to approach flirting butterfly couples, I finally got close enough."

When I arrived at my location, it was time to slow down and watch for butterflies. Once I spotted butterfly activity, I tried to evaluate the angle of the light and approach them slowly without scaring them. Holding the camera steady takes practice, and you must constantly remind yourself to use good technique: left hand supports the lens, right hand supports the camera body and releases the shutter, elbows tucked in or on the ground, and eye firmly against the viewfinder. After several failed attempts to approach flirting butterfly couples, I finally got close enough. All that remained was finding the perfect angle for a focused and well-composed image of both butterflies.

"Suddenly it happened! A third butterfly landed on the branch nearby with a clear intention to challenge the male butterfly."

I took numerous pictures of two butterflies, constantly seeking a better angle and a steadier grip. Suddenly it happened! A third butterfly landed on the branch nearby with a clear intention to challenge the male butterfly. I had encountered "The Challenger." This scene only lasted a few seconds, but I was ready because of my planning and patience. However, you can never really plan fully for an event like this, and taking this picture also involved a lot of luck.

I was really happy about the shot, and a print of it is hanging on a wall in my summer house. It also was published in the photo book In Pursuit of the Sublime, which of course made me really proud.
The image was processed in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop Elements.

1) Once I had the shot I went home and imported it to my computer. I made small adjustments to the Exposure and White Balance in Adobe Camera Raw before I took the image into Photoshop Elements. 

2) In Photoshop Elements, I cropped the image a little bit before I started working on the contrast. 

3) I prefer to work in layers in a nondestructive way, so I duplicated the background layer and set the blending mode to Soft Light. This gave a bit more contrast and “bang” to the colors, and the effect could easily be adjusted by changing the layer Opacity. 

4) I finally increased the sharpness selectively by making another duplicate of the background, applying the High Pass filter with a Radius of 2 and setting the layer blending mode to Overlay.
1) For this shot I prepared by having my camera ready, settings dialed in, fully charged batteries and a large memory card. 

2) I did not bring a tripod because I needed to be light on my feet and ready to make quick changes. 

3) When traveling in rough terrain like this, be sure to wear a sturdy pair of long pants and boots.
I'm an amateur photographer from Norway who started out with my dad's Nikon F801, black and white film and a darkroom during my school days in the '80s. After school I took a long break from photography, but in 2007 I discovered the Nikon D70s and an opportunity to immediately learn from my previous experience. I was once again hooked on photography. I love traditional nature, landscape and macro shooting, as well as portraits and experimental editing. Apart from my photography, I work in a hospital as a medical doctor.
Nice write up. It provides your thought processes regarding the pre-visualisation and conceptualisation of the image, your process for capturing the RAW elements of the and the post-processing technique that you used in order to produce the final resulting image. And the final image is a great result :-). Well done!