A Trio of Pipevine Swallowtails

I recently made a short trip to Oxley Nature Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma specifically to hunt butterflies to photograph. This time of year, the Tall Thistle is blooming at Oxley, and it attracts literally dozens of butterflies intent on feeding, and who pay little attention to a photographer. With a little patience, you can get about any type of shot you want.

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Technical Details

Canon 60D, Canon 70-300mm IS USM Zoom, f/8, 1/3000 sec., ISO 1000, 11.5 Ev step. Processed in ACR and PSE 2020 for exposure and cropping. Topaz DeNoise


Great capture, Terry! Looks like to me you had a lot of patience. Three swallowtails in one image. The soft green background really gives the butterflies some nice definition. Very nicely done.

Very engaging “curved symmetry” here! Butterflies are sharp, the thistle is very pretty without being distracting and the bud balances the composition very nicely. Well done!

The variety of angles makes for an energetic still if that makes any sense. It’s almost like a composite photo with three separate shots blended together, but I’m glad you hung in there to get it in one. It’s a bit noisy, but good detail in all three hungry critters. Which Denoise setting did you use? Lately I’ve been favoring Low Light for its detail and color preservation.

Grabbed my attention in the thumbnails. A very attractive image. Well done.

Thanks @linda_mellor. It was amazing how many butterflies were on and around these thistles!

Thanks @Diane_Miller. I wondered how folks felt about leaving that bud. but, like you, I thought it balanced the comp.

Thanks @Kris_Smith. To be honest, I don’t know which DeNoise setting I used. I was using DeNoise as a stand alone app prior to discussions with @Diane_Miller. I figured out how to add it as a Plug-in to PSE, but when you use it as a Plug-in, it doesn’t add the tag name to the file. I usually use Low Light or Clear. I used Low Light exclusively for some time, but then began getting comments that I was losing detail in my photos - particularly bird photos. I’ve tried using the Masking feature, but apparently haven’t used it correctly, and can’t find a good tutorial on using it. I’m at a love/hate relationship with DeNoise at present. I ran the file through DeNoise again, and played around with the settings. Here’s the result in Low Light:

Thanks @Allen_Brooks. Glad you like it.

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Definitely less noise to my eye and the detail is comparable, too. I find the masking to be a PITA in Topaz to be honest. It is a binary option when sometimes I want to direct the amount of NR/Sharpening in each part of the photo. Wouldn’t that be nice? That way in the background say, you could do heavy NR and in the subject maybe lighter to preserve some detail. Who knows, maybe in their upcoming unified product for sharpening, NR and upsizing it will have that feature. In the mean time, I think Dave Kelly’s You Tube channel might be helpful for you since he does a lot with Topaz products. Here’s the link -


I’ve never tried the built-in masking because I never needed to. I make a copy layer (always do this first thing after opening in PS) and run Denoise on that, then it’s very simple to mask any areas that look overdone. I can toggle the mask on and off with the Shift key and it doesn’t need to be pixel-level precise. Some parts of the mask can be at partial opacity if necessary.

I like the thistle bud but wondered if it was too bright. I toned it down here (painting a quick mask and making a Curves adj layer for the resulting selection). Also used a 50% clone tool to soften the grass blade in the LL.


This is a wonderful capture Terry! I love the “Curved symmetry” as Diane said. The second version with Low Light setting on DeNoise improves it without much loss of detail. I like Diane’s subtle change to the bud and grass blade. I don’t see any other nits. Well done!

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Terry, how cool to get three Pipevines, nice and sharp, in the same photo. The big thistles are very good late summer polinator attractors and this shows that well. The burned-in thistle bud is a nice, subtle improvement. I think (but don’t know because I’m not a PSE user) that you can create Luminosity masks in PSE. Those are very good for controlled dodging and burning since you can target specific levels of luminosity. A quick web search should tell you if they exist and how to create and use them.

I think this might work - looks to be for Photoshop Elements -

Thanks @Mark_Seaver. I have looked long and hard for a native plant supplier that grows and sells native thistle, and have so far struck out. I may ask the folks at the nature center if I can harvest some seed. If I had some thistle in addition to the Ironweed I grow, I’d probably have more butterflies than I could photograph! I’ll bring @Kris_Smith in on this next part: I know Luminosity Masks are available in PSE. And, in fact, I downloaded those TK actions from @Tony_Kuyper website, and added them as a plug-in to PSE some time ago. I even thanked Tony for making them available. It’s just learning how and when to apply them, now because there are a lot of them. Looks like he has a tutorial on his site I didn’t see before. Thanks for mentioning this though, Kris. It made me go back and look at these, again.

Getting three butterflies in one image is surely nice, and to get all three sharp is extra nice, Terry. Just a beautiful shot.

Thanks @Shirley_Freeman. I was pleased that all three were sharp.

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Thank you @Shirley_Freeman for the EP!

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