As you have seen in my earlier blog posts, I am fond of using long lenses for macro photography. My favorite is 300mm lens as it gives you a sufficient distance from the insect and does not distract it. Disadvantage being a heavy rig you can’t hand hold it. It is not a true 1:1 macro by definition. But you get sufficiently close-up photography. My earlier lens 300mm f/4 was excellent in that aspect. Now with my 300 f/2.8 I use a 1.4x tele converter and reduce the minimum focusing distance.
On that day I was looking out for butterflies I found a pair of Tawny Coster (Acraea terpsicore) Butterflies perched on a dry foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) plant. I was using my Canon EOS 1D Mark IV fitted with Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM + Canon EF 1.4x III Extender on a Benro C45T Carbon Fiber Monopod. To know more about this butterfly you can check my earlier blog on Tawny Coster here.
In my earlier Tawny Coster shoot I had used almost a similar setup. Now with Canon EOS 1D Mark IV and 1.4x TC focusing was much faster and total usable shots from a shoot went up dramatically. Canon 5D Mark II used to hunt for accurate focus which was not the case for 1D mark IV. Canon 5D mark II might be a fine camera due to its full frame sensor and exquisite details, but when it comes to sharp and quick focus it is difficult to beat 1D Mark IV.
As soon as I started photographing these two males who were sitting perched on a dry branch, another male tawny coster butterfly wanted to use the same perch. This gave me a great chance to capture butterfly in flight. Unlike birds in flight, butterfly wing movement is quite quirky. Butterflies have strong muscles in their thorax which force their wings up and down on a fulcrum basis. They actually go in a slanted figure 8 motion that propels them forward through the air. It is difficult to get butterflies wings in nicely aesthetic position while in flight unlike birds. Using flash photography you could easily freeze their movement, but here I was shooting using natural light. Since I needed a greater depth of field I was using f/10 aperture. 1/250th or 1/320th was insufficient to freeze their flight completely.
As soon as the new entrant reached their perching spot I could see the perched males becoming agitated and trying to ward off the intruder. He tried to displace both the incumbents without any success. This fight went on for quite a few minutes. He tried all his tricks without any use.
Male butterflies usually sit in these perches waiting for passing females to mate. Their pheromone guides female butterflies and attracts them towards males. Males usually choose a open place near a free path stalking for females. This is useful for us photographers as it gives a great opportunity to capture them. Unfortunately these two males that day had chosen a dry plant which was in a very crowded place. If I was using any shorter focal length lens my background would have been cluttered by the dried twigs in the background. 300mm + 1.4x lens setting gave me a beautiful creamy bokeh. I was using natural evening sunlight to shoot these photos.
After prolonged struggle to displace these males failed, the intruding male chose another twig to perch. This in my opinion was a better place, but photographer’s and butterfly’s judgment do differ. For me the greenish background of the new perch was very eye catching on the tawny color of the butterfly. There was no way of finding out what the butterfly would have thought. Wish I could speak their language!