Lights, Camera, Capture!

Papilio xuthus, Asian swallowtail

Around the world, people view the butterfly as representing change, hope, and life. These beautiful flying insects have been the subject of numerous pieces and forms of art and it is no surprise that Kritika Sethia, Legal Analyst at Gall Solicitors, finds so much joy in photographing them.

Chasing Butterflies

Papilio xuthus, Asian swallowtail

Sethia grew up in Calcutta, India, where she has fond memories of chasing butterflies whenever they caught her sight. These vibrant creatures filled her with awe and inspiration especially after learning about their metamorphosis from flightless caterpillars to fluttering visions of colour and pattern. “For me, this metamorphosis became symbolic of how each of us can transform towards betterment and growth,” she shares. While she enjoyed spotting butterflies whenever she could, a task made difficult because of Calcutta’s population and pollution levels, it was well into her adulthood when she first started photographing them. “My first experience with butterfly photography came about in January 2019 when I visited the Iguaçu National Park in Brazil and Argentina. The rich ecosystem of the Amazon rain forest provides an unparalleled opportunity to nature enthusiasts,” she shares. Already familiar with photography from her younger years when she experimented with landscape and street photography with a special focus on framing techniques, Sethia was ready to use her skills to capture these photogenic insects. “This was the first time after many years that I found myself chasing butterflies again. I waited for long durations just to capture images of these beautiful creatures,” she recalls about her trip.

Neptis hylas, the common sailor

A niche form of wildlife photography, butterfly photography is no easy feat. One needs appropriate equipment and the ideal circumstances. “Alongside good equipment and appropriate camera settings, you have to be at the right place, at the right time and make the right moves or not move at all,” explains Sethia. “Butterflies are extremely sensitive to sound and shadows. Therefore, positioning of equipment and controlling one’s movements is essential for photographing butterflies,” she adds. Besides this, continuous practice and being able to work speedily with different camera settings is vital. “It is important to be comfortable maneuvering camera settings swiftly to make the most of one’s presence in a butterfly’s vicinity. Reading and research help in timing the sessions and planning the shots better and do help in developing the skill further,” she shares.

The more she immersed herself into photographing them, the more fascinated Sethia became with butterflies. Over time, she has familiarised herself with some interesting facts about the various species and photographing them, thanks to her consistency and diligence. Some of her key findings include:

  • There are at least 18,682 species of butterflies in the world. Hong Kong has about 240 species of them.
  • Wearing dark coloured clothing is generally better for photographing these extremely active creatures who tend to be scared away by lighter coloured clothing.
  • Butterflies are cold blooded insects who depend on sunlight to raise their body temperatures. Mornings are usually the best time to spot butterflies when they are found spreading their wings to soak in the sunlight. They are likely to be less active in cold weather and during rainy and cloudy days.
  • Butterflies’ wings are covered with tiny scales that are responsible for reflecting light in different colours.
  • Although it depends on the species, in Hong Kong, the best time to spot butterflies is between April to June and October to November. It is also important to plan the time of the day when going for butterfly photography.

Butterfly at Iguaçu National Park

Despite the challenging nature of the activity, Sethia finds these very challenges exhilarating and prides herself on being able to overcome them. Every single photograph of a butterfly provides Sethia with the motivation to keep going and to continue learning. “As a budding butterfly photographer, getting a good click is my reward and the motivation to keep learning. Photographing butterflies is almost a form of meditation for me,” she shares. “The process of focusing on getting the right shot helps in fading out all the noise that has unfortunately integrated with our hectic lifestyles. The experience of being around flowers where I am likely to find butterflies and spotting them has been akin to a zen-like experience,” she adds.

Having moved to Hong Kong not long ago, in early 2019, butterfly photography has also given Sethia the chance to explore greener parts of the city and become more accustomed to its rich flora and fauna. “In fact, if there is a butterfly in my vicinity, it never misses my eye. Be it on my way to the High Court or in the Hong Kong flower market – I try to never miss an opportunity to take pictures of butterflies,” she shares.

Butterfly Photography in Hong Kong

Despite being a concrete jungle, about three quarters of the 1,108 square kilometers of land in Hong Kong is countryside. The city is high on biodiversity with large areas protected as country parks, rocky regions and an abundance of green mountains and waterfalls. There are active conservation efforts in place for protecting the rich flora and fauna, hugely facilitating awareness and potential for nature photography. “In fact, Hong Kong has about 240 species of butterflies. The Fung Yuen butterfly Reserve located in Tai Po is the most popular spot for anyone interested in butterflies and their photography. Hong Kong has numerous hiking trails which very often also provide opportunities to photograph these beautiful beings. Wu Kau Tang (in Plover Cove Country Park) is a butterfly enthusiast’s haven too,” shares Sethia.

Butterfly at Wu Kau Tang

Sethia plans to visit the Fung Yuen Butterfly reserve more frequently and take part in their activities to learn more about butterflies in general and their conservation in particular as well as meet other enthusiasts and photographers. Over the weekends, she makes the most of Hong Kong’s natural reserves by exploring various hiking trails. “That is when I indulge in butterfly and landscape photography as well. I am looking forward to spending this summer to nurture my interest further as April to June are some of the most favourable months to spot butterflies in Hong Kong,” she explains. She is keen on doing hikes as a group or a community to raise awareness and appreciation for nature and its photography. “It will be great to participate in nature walks and hikes which could also be aimed at raising awareness of issues that are worth the attention as well as photography contests that would incentivise more lawyers to explore the rich biodiversity that Hong Kong offers,” she shares. “Recently our firm took park in an initiative for mental health awareness where a lot of us committed to spend 50km in nature in February. That incidentally also gave me an opportunity to indulge the photographer in me and learn a lot about Hong Kong’s biodiversity,” she adds.

One memorable incident from a photography outing in Hong Kong is from earlier this year when instead of having to go after the butterflies, Sethia managed to have these elusive creatures come and rest on her. “One of the things that most experienced butterfly photographers say is that you need to almost blend in the environment so that the butterflies do not perceive you as a threat anymore. This will enable them to remain still even in your presence. On the first day of the Chinese New Year in 2021, I visited the Ho Pui Reservoir. This was the first time I photographed butterflies in flight. I remember I was so still that I almost blended in the space and a butterfly came and sat on me while I was photographing some of them. It was a feeling that cannot be expressed in words,” recalls Sethia. It is no wonder that Sethia equates butterfly photography to meditation, with both requiring stillness, presence of mind and focus.

Papilio xuthus, Asian swallowtail

Legal Metamorphosis

Sethia’s legal career in Hong Kong commenced around the same time as her interest in butterfly photography. Prior to 2019, she worked in Calcutta, India where she worked as a litigator in the High Court. From 2017 to 2018, she read for the Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) programme at the University of Oxford where she focused on dispute resolution. Sethia moved to Hong Kong unqualified to practice in the jurisdiction, however, alike her fondness for challenges in the butterfly photography space, she took this as an opportunity to grow and recently passed the Overseas Lawyers Qualification Examinations (OLQE) and now awaits admission to become a Hong Kong qualified solicitor. She currently works for Gall Solicitors where she assists the firm’s commercial litigation and employment practices. “Similar to law, butterfly photography requires patience and practice to get better, as well as keen observation skills and precision. I believe that the process the mind goes through in acquiring one skill set always adds to its dynamism and supplements its functionality in a variety of other settings,” she shares.

Photographing these delicate, propitious creatures has taught Sethia to realign her focus and prioritise on both her personal and professional goals, for if she digresses, she will miss out on what could have been the best shot (pun intended) of her life.