During my trip to Denver we ventured in to the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Colorado. I have never seen so many different butterflies in one place.
I had some help in locating and photographing these beautiful butterflies. First, my family was scouting out the butterflies and then pulling me in the right direction when one landed and was still for a moment. And second, I struck up a conversation with one of the staff members there. He gave me some much appreciated tips on the Pavilion, including information on early openings specifically for photographers. And then he let me into a "staff only" area so I could get some close-ups of some of the more shy butterflies. He said that, just like many other animals, the more people and activity around the more jumpy and afraid the butterflies get. So I was lucky to be able to work some close-ups with my Tokina 90mm F2.5 macro lens. I was able to cautiously move in on the butterflies and get pretty close for some great macro photography. The tricky part is getting the whole butterfly in focus- a smaller aperature helps, but it seems the most important focusing trick is to ensure that the wings are at the same distance all the way along their surface so that the subject remains within the short depth of field.
Then I transitioned to my 70-200mm lens so I could stand off a bit and catch some of them when they landed for just brief moments. I was just handheld for all these photos. They don't allow tripods in the pavilion unless it is during the early open for photographers. I don't know how much I would have gotten from a tripod anyway- the butterflies seemed to fly away before I would have been set up. I suppose they are less active in the morning before the crowds get in.
To get a photo of one of these that is sharply in focus is an accomplishment. But to really capture a moment it helps to incorporate the surroundings into the photo as well, so the butterfly has a true sense of belonging in the photo. Some of my success in integrating the subject and the background involved finding similar colors to the butterfly.
At other times similar shapes or patterns help draw the viewer into the photo.