In the online courses I teach at Betterphoto.com, I see a lot of butterfly pictures, particularly in the summer. The biggest problem I see in the students' work is that the depth of field that is too shallow. As you move in close to fill the frame with a small subject, depth of field is lost and the only way to get it back is to use a small lens aperture. That reduces the light, of course, forcing the shutter speed to be slow. No one wants a slow shutter speed when shooting fast-moving insects.
To capture an artistic picture of a butterfly in nature is very, very difficult Depth of field is only one issue. A cluttered background is another, and distracting foregrounds are also a problem. The only way to control the foreground, the background, the depth of field, and the lighting is to capture the butterflies and photograph them under controlled circumstances. This is what I did just an hour ago with the buckeye butterfly you see reproduced here. Here is the procedure I used:
1. I captured the insect with a butterfly net as it was searching for flowers in my garden.
2. I put the butterfly in a small Tupperware container in the refrigerator to cool it down (butterflies can't fly if they get too cold).
3. I waited 10 minutes and then took it out and placed it, gently, on a leaf in my kitchen.
4. Butterflies rest with their wings folded, so I placed a lamp, minus the shade, near the butterfly. After 2 or 3 minutes, the butterfly opened its wings to warm the wing muscles, thinking the light bulb was the sun.
5. I used a Canon ring flash set to ETTL. My 50mm macro lens was set to f/32, and the camera's exposure function was set to manual mode. I placed one extension tube between the camera body and the lens to fill the frame with the buckeye butterfly.
In this way, I had total control and made a perfect image. Might I have tried another type of lighting? Sure, but this is what I wanted for this setup. When I had finished, I released the butterfly outside and wished it a nice day.