08.22.21: Monarch butterfly

A monarch butterfly feeds on a flower, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

A monarch butterfly feeds on a flower, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.

A meal in a field for a migrating butterfly

Tech specs

  • Date/time: Sep 2, 2018 10:15 AM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: EF600mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x 
  • Focal length: 840mm
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter: 1/1000 second
  • ISO: 800

The monarch butterfly, seen on flowers and in the fields of Central Ohio during the summer months, is unique among butterflies. It’s the only butterfly that migrates north and south, coming as far north as Canada each summer before returning to Mexico for the winter.

But the monarch’s life span is so short—usually no more than two months for butterflies born in early summer—that no one monarch makes the round-trip migration. Female monarchs deposit eggs during the migration north, with the offspring completing the journey. 

It may take as many as four generations of monarchs to complete the migration north from Mexico. Fourth generation monarchs, born in September and October, are biologically different from previous generations. They live eight to nine months, they fly as much as 3,000 miles to reach their winter homes in Mexico and do not mate or lay eggs until the following spring after they fly north and reach areas with milkweed. That starts the new generational cycle.

I found this monarch feeding on a flower in a field north of Columbus, Ohio. What I didn’t know until I saw the photo on the computer later in the day was that I’d also found a couple of busy beetles on the other side of the flower. 

As with many of the butterfly photos in my files, I captured this photo with the Canon EF 600mm f/4L telephoto lens I carry when I’m shooting wildlife. It’s a massive lens, almost 18 inches long and weighing about nine pounds, and it works very well when photographing birds. But if I run across a butterfly in an interesting setting while I’m shooting wildlife I’ll go ahead and get the shot.

It may seem like overkill using that massive lens when capturing a “macro”or close-up of a butterfly, but it works very well. I can get the shot from 15 feet away without disturbing the butterfly.

When I saw the position of this butterfly I knew it would really stand out against the background in a photograph. The combination of the long lens and a large aperture (the opening in the lens that allows light to pass through) turned the field in the background into a green blur, contrasting with the colors on the monarch’s wings. 

Aperture controls light and exposure, but it also controls depth of field — the area of a scene that is kept in focus in a photograph. The larger the aperture, the narrower the depth of field. So a large aperture throws the background out of focus.

It may seem like overkill using that massive lens when capturing a “macro”or close-up of a butterfly, but it works very well. I can get the shot from 15 feet away without disturbing the butterfly.

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