I've been enjoying photography for many years; Starting as a 6 yr. old with a Brownie box camera, then progressing to a Konica C35 range finder as a young teenager.
Now, many years later, I shoot with DSLRs, and an assortment of lenses ranging from wide angle to telephoto. I also own a couple of point and shoot cameras, which I use when kayaking or when the bulk of a DSLR and lenses is inconvenient. (These point & shoot cameras, while limited in what they can do, are very easy to use, convenient to carry, and take very good pictures.) (There biggest failing, in my opinion, is that they cannot be used for photographing tall buildings, as they distort the lines of tall buildings.) (Vertical distortion)
Tip # 1 - When I first started photographing butterflies, I had no doubt that a telephoto lens (70 - 300 mm in my case, ) was the best lens choice. I shot butterfly images with this lens on several occasions, and realized that only about 30% of the images that I shot were usable. The rest were blurry or out of focus.
I then decided to shoot with my 100 mm macro lens, which gave me a better ratio of usable to non-usable images.
Tip # 2 - Even though I had managed to increase my usable image ratio by going to a macro lens, I was still at less that 50% usable images, so I started trying to find ways to have better success.
I decided to switch from shooting in auto mode, to shooting in fully manual mode, which allowed me to set my shutter speed as needed.
I decided to shoot at shutter speeds of 1/250 - 1/500 of a second, depending on what the light was like, and what type of butterfly I was trying to capture. This was a critical move in getting my usable image ratio up,
Tip # 3 - the next realization that I came to in my search for better butterfly images, was that I needed to shoot with a smaller aperture (f-stop), so that I could have focus deeper into the image. The problem became using a smaller aperture with a faster shutter speed, which could easily cause images that were too dark. I increased my ratio of usable images again, but was coming up with some dark images.
Tip # 4 - in order to resolve the dark image issue while shooting in manual mode, using a faster shutter speed and using a smaller aperture, I realized that I needed to increase the ISO setting, sometimes as high as 1000 or 1200, depending on the shutter speed that I was using. (typically, with a shutter speed of 1/500, and an aperture of f/8, I now set the ISO at 600.)
Tip # 5 - my next experimentation was in using quick bursts of shutter to catch the butterflies in fractionally different positions, thus giving the camera the chance to catch the butterfly in the optimal position for the image that I want. I shoot in 3 shot bursts, as this does not inundate me with unusable images.
Tip # 6 - I've read that many photographers like to use a tripod or mono pod when shooting butterflies. I've tried both, and find that generally they are too slow and cumbersome for me to use effectively to follow butterflies with. Certainly try using one or the other, as they might work for you.
Currently, about 75% of the butterfly images that I shoot are both usable and enlargeable, which is generally what I do with all of the images that I publish.
While I am satisfied with my + /- 75% success rate, and intend to keep shooting in bursts of 3 on my butterfly outings, I believe that there are other techniques to use to get some truly optimal images, though it will take trial and error to determine what they are.
I hope that these tips have been useful to anyone trying them, and I will continue to post other butterfly photography ideas as I learn them,