A long time ago I contacted a number of great butterfly photographers on http://www.dpreview.com. I told them I had a D70 camera body, Nikon’s 105 macro lens, and SB-800 flash. Following are three pieces of advice that I thought were the most helpful:
- When I shoot without flash I allow the ISO to go as high as 400 or 800 to obtain shutter speeds of 1/100, shooting with aperture priority set to at least f4.5. With Nikon’s 105 macro lens, shoot hand held. (Update to 2013 – the sensors are so much better now one could go to 1600 or above depending on the final usage.)
- Use a monopod and try to align the camera’s focal plane to the butterfly wings. Sometimes I use my Sigma 70-200+2X teleconverter to get distant shots. With the 105mm, set the camera to f8 Aperture priority and set the SB800 to TTL-Bal.
- Shoot as often as you can, expect no more than 10% will be worth keeping.
Butterfly Habits (AKA reduce your frustration trying to get these critters):
- Make no sudden moves and approach them very slowly. Don’t be frustrated if it doesn’t work at first, and stay put once in position. Butterflies often come back to the same place.
- The best time to shoot them is in the morning, as the wings are still damp from the morning dew and they are less active.
- If there’s a tray of fruit or cut flowers, some species get really hooked on the goodies and don’t budge when you get close.
- Some species flit around and never remain on a flower for more than a few seconds. Often they don’t even stop flapping their wings. This is when high shutter speeds are a must.
- Butterflies have short life spans. Later in the day you may find some that aren’t moving around much. They may be dying, but not dead! Some will be a bit tattered and won’t make good subjects, but others will be in good shape.
Hope you find this useful!