July 11, 2019
Lyndale Avenue, Minneapolis
After dinner on a warm July evening I wandered out with my camera into Uptown and headed down Lyndale Avenue. I had a few lenses with me, but when the Monarch butterfly appeared, I had the worst possible one attached to the camera. The 50mm Noctilux f/0.95, while capable of producing images of sublime beauty, is the last one you’d pick to shoot a small moving target. Wide open, its depth of field is only 19.8mm (about the length of your thumbnail). The chances of nailing focus on a small, ever-moving target such as a butterfly at that setting are almost nil. But the little creature stayed near me as I stood shooting at it on the sidewalk in front of the Wedge grocery store. All I could do was approximate the focus distance and then hold the shutter button down, firing away at five frames per second while keeping the lens aimed at it like a gunner while it orbited me and lead me up the sidewalk and then reversed the other way. Back and forth and around in circles we went clickity-clickity-clickity.
This went on for some time and passerby on the sidewalk stopped to watch. I was blocking up the sidewalk chasing it everywhere to and fro as a small crowd formed, with most people wondering what I was doing. I must’ve looked like a performance artist until they noticed the butterfly. After a few minutes of chasing and shooting, the butterfly rose and disappeared over the top of the grocery store. I stopped and my shoulders slumped in defeat. There was a moment of silence then a huge round of applause.
When I got home and imported the photographs into Lightroom, I had over eighty pictures: of the store, of the street, of the sidewalk, of the bushes, of the people watching. All of these had one thing in common: They all had a transparent blurry orange blob in them, except for one. There was one perfect shot with near-critical focus, of the butterfly head-on. Is it a cliché photo? Perhaps. But I grew up out in the country and spent many hours chasing butterflies around in the pasture with my camera for a net, an activity I still cannot resist. And when I catch them, it’s a little triumph.