Photographing nature is rewarding precisely because it can present many different challenges for the photographer and this can be illustrated by a day stalking butterflies. First it's clear that not all butterflies behave in a similar fashion as one another. Some like the Queen are likely to land frequently and to fan their wings between open and closed. Sounds like it would be simple enough to take a great shot of the Queen but it is not always that easy. Many things can ruin a nature shot. The subject might be just fine but the background undesirable. Shadows can be a problem and getting the butterfly to stay where you want it is really up to the butterfly. Another problem is wind which can blow the subject right out of the frame at the precise moment you think you've got the shot of the day. Even if you are proficient in exposure there is no guarantee that you will be successful each and every time you shoot.
While the photo of the two Queens above is not too bad it does have a few issues that if corrected would make it a better shot in my opinion. First the background is muddy especially on the right hand side of the photo. In the upper left side the stick running across the corner is distracting and the butterfly on the bottom is partially hidden. These are things that can only be corrected in the field and only if you are very lucky or the subject is very cooperative. Even though it's far from perfect I still like this shot because it depicts Queen behavior which if you observe them for long you will realize that they are very much into community. At night Queens will come together and spend the night in the same bush or tree.
It's almost impossible to photograph butterflies with a tripod and this is especially true of the California Dogface which is a sulphur species. This butterfly is extremely uncooperative especially when it comes to opening it's wings to show it's "dogface". I spent several hours chasing this one around the yard and I have dozens of shots of it feeding with it's wings in the upright position and two with it's wings open.
I am actually pretty happy with these shots because this one is a mover making short, quick stops to feed and not staying in one place for long. I set my camera to continuous shooting most of the time because when I use automatic focus it gives me a few chances to get the shot right and will frequently capture the butterfly as it takes flight. Keep in mind that nothing is fool proof and you should expect shots with no butterfly at all because they are very fast to move on when they are disturbed or just done.
These Snout Butterflies below are small and usually ragged but they are common throughout the United States and are fun to photograph. They seem to really like the Bird of Paradise in the front yard so there is an abundance of them to practice on most days in butterfly season. They are called Snout Butterflies for the obvious reason but they are so small that you really have to look to see this feature. They are kind of erratic fliers but land frequently and are found in pairs more often then not. I wish the Snout on the plant wasn't quite so hidden in the first photo but I wanted to show one in flight.
The photo below shows the snout really well and it also shows that the wings are similar on top and bottom.
I find the Spicebush Swallowtail to be one of the harder butterflies to get a great shot of and I think it has to do with the coloring. Black for some reason seems to effect exposure and focus in many shots. They are also not inclined to stay in one place like so many butterflies. They move rapidly from flower to flower and bush to bush doing what they need to do in seconds so you have to be fast most of the time.
If you do get it right they are extremely beautiful and it's rewarding to get the shot with these large visitors.
Below is a Funereal Duskywing Butterfly that I spotted on the Vitex. As you can see getting good definition on black butterflies can be a challenge. This one stuck around long enough for me to get as many shots as I felt I needed.
I shoot butterflies on shutter priority which allows me to stop the action and get fairly sharp images even though my 70-300 mm Canon lens is not the best. I check my settings frequently because there is nothing more upsetting than finding out that shots that should have been terrific are mediocre due to an unwanted change in mode or speed.