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Michael Barnes

Austinite wins national butterfly photo contest

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A dainty picture of a butterfly netted $500 for Austin’s Julie Shaw, who says she will buy another camera lens for herself, or maybe a camera for her husband with her winnings.

Callophrys gryneus Juniper Hairstreak

“Juniper Hairstreak on Milkweed,” by Julie Shaw, 2016 Rio Grande Prix winner of the North American Butterfly Photo Contest. Contributed by Julie Shaw.

“He is not really into butterflies,” Shaw says. “He prefers hiking, but I like to poke around in the bushes and this slows him down. Maybe now I can convince him to join me!”

Selected from among hundreds of images, Shaw’s “Juniper Hairstreak on Milkweed” was named the Rio Grande Prix winner in the North American Butterfly Photo Contest at the Texas Butterfly Festival recently at the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

It so happens that Shaw is a volunteer at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Her job put her in contact with caterpillars raised for public viewing. She began photographing butterflies with her iPhone so she could identify them in her field guide at home.

“I’ve learned so much,” Shaw says. “In the beginning, I took photos just to help me get to know the butterflies. I took so many pictures, I eventually killed our little point ‘n’ shoot camera, which I replaced with a digital single-lens reflex camera three years ago.”

Her prize-winning photo was taken in the spring at the Wildflower Center, when milkweed was in bloom.

“Milkweed has such pretty and interesting little flowers,” Shaw says. “And the plant seems to be the focus of stories in the news, now, to help the monarchs. Many of the larger butterflies don’t stay still; they flutter and fly away, but this tiny hairstreak was cooperative.”

Marianna Treviño Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, says Shaw’s progression from gardener to butterfly enthusiast is a familiar one.

“The act of gardening slows people down enough to notice insects and ignite curiosity, Wright says. “It never takes long for people to start asking, ‘What is that?’ and ‘Why this plant?’”

Largely self-taught, Shaw has taken only one photography class.

“Our instructor was very knowledgeable, but he wanted us to use a light diffuser and tripod,” she says. “I just don’t want to carry all that equipment around; that would take all the fun out of it for me.”

UPDATE: In a previous version of this post, some of the material was duplicated.