How Green Is Green?

black swallowtail caterpillar on parsley stem

The black swallowtail caterpillar is a beautiful insect, and I never get tired of photographing them. I’ve been weeding out the parsley patch little by little in the hopes of keeping it strong (after a bad year last year). It is a host plant for black swallowtail larvae, and usually there is at least a couple in the patch every year. I have already seen one black swallowtail bobbing and weaving, sniffing and exploring the patch, so I expect to see some caterpillars sooner than later.

While I love shooting these critters, they do present a problem that I have not quite figured out yet. As the caterpillar grows the skin between yellow-spotted black bands on its segments becomes greener and greener. The later instars (i.e. stages of development) of the caterpillars end up a very pleasing, soft green. A soft green my camera doesn’t pick up. It comes out as more of a matte, pale white, which isn’t really off from the color of earlier instars, but obviously too light for the later ones. I am not sure what the problem is: color reproduction in the D5000? My flash and/or flash settings? I’m not convinced the flash is the culprit, because it happens in flash fill shots as well as natural light shots. I really don’t know.

Color reproduction, like time itself, goes on whether I like it or not. Thus, the photo above (a full natural light shot) is a rework to account for this discrepancy. (Sorry, no before and after; might add the original later.) Essentially, I fiddled with the white balance, increasing the tint, and I also altered the picture control by adjusting the saturation and contrast upwards. The green of the caterpillar came out enough for me to be happy; the background and parsley stem are probably a little more saturated than I’d like, but they don’t look too bad either.

(As an aside, the biggest problem in this photo probably wasn’t even the color correction, but the softness, a product of the combination of camera shake and using settings to accommodate natural light.)

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