08.21.16: Monarch on teasel

A monarch butterfly feeds on a wild teasel plant in Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio.


Technical information

July 23, 2006,
10:16 a.m.

40°6'50” N,
82°57'30" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 20D

Canon EF 600mm f/4L, Canon 1.4x teleconverter (840mm) 


1/500th second


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, with the offspring completing the journey. 

I found this monarch resting on a wild teasel plant in a field north of Columbus, Ohio. 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) would turn the field and forest 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.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.