I shoot primarily 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.) (Their biggest failing, in my opinion, is that they are not great for photographing tall buildings, as they tend to distort the lines. (Known as Parallax))
Tip # 1 - When I first started photographing butterflies, I was convinced 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 soon realized that a lower percentage of the images than I had hoped, were usable. A relatively high percentage were blurry or out of focus.
I then decided to try 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 shooting a somewhat low percentage of usable images, so I started trying to find ways to get 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 and aperture as needed.
I also 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 an important 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 was that using a smaller aperture with a faster shutter speed frequently caused images that were too dark. (I had increased my ratio of usable images, but was coming up with too many 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 - I next tried shooting in quick 3 shot bursts, 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 wanted.
I now shoot butterflies almost exclusively in 3 shot bursts when shooting butterflies, as I find that I get much higher quality images this way.
Tip # 6 - I know 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 for me to use effectively to follow butterflies with.
Certainly try using one or the other, as they might work for you.
I'm now reasonably satisfied with the percentage of the butterfly images that I shoot that are both publishable and enlargeable, which is generally what I try do with all of the images that I shoot.
While I'm fairly satisfied with my success rate, and intend to keep shooting in bursts of 3 on my butterfly outings, I believe that there are other techniques to use that will give me some truly optimal images, though it will take lots of 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 tips as I learn them.