JOE CUNNINGHAM
PHOTOGRAPHY

The Butterfly

2019

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.

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