09.25.16: Tiger swallowtail

Tiger swallowtail butterfly on a thistle plant, Sharon Woods Metro Park, Westerville, Ohio. 


Technical information

Aug. 25, 2007,
10:23 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) 


1/800th second


I have a number of butterfly photos in my files. I consider each to be a lucky accident because I never set out to photograph butterflies. But if I encounter a butterfly in the right spot (on a plant close enough to get a good shot and with an uncluttered background that allows the butterfly to stand out), I’ll get the shot. 

That’s why almost all of the butterfly photos in my files were captured using the Canon EF 600mm f/4L telephoto lens I carry when I’m photographing 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.

This is a photo of a female tiger swallowtail butterfly feeding on a thistle plant in a local field. It’s easy to tell the female tiger swallowtail from the male because the female has the iridescent blue spots near the tail. But at times it is difficult to identify the female as a tiger swallowtail because the female is dimorphic. Some are yellow with black stripes, as this one was, which — except for the blue spots — is identical to the male. But others are others are almost all black with the blue spots. I have photos of both, but the yellow morph female is much more photogenic.

When I was shooting this photo I liked what I saw through the viewfinder. The pinkish-purple flower head of the thistle contrasted nicely with the green field and yellow butterfly. The background was dropped to a defocused blur and didn’t distract from the subject.

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.