How To Photograph Dragonflies

How To Photograph Dragonflies

A Guest Contribution by Steve Berardi from PhotoNaturalist.


Dragonflies are among the most photogenic insects. They usually have bright contrasting colors that make them really stand out in their natural environment, and their large size makes them easy to photograph with a standard telephoto lens.

However, there are a few difficulties with photographing them too: they get scared easily and sometimes it seems like they just never land somewhere and take a break so you can photograph them!

So, here are a few things to keep in mind when photographing these amazing insects:

1. Look for them near ponds and streams

Most dragonflies hang out very close to bodies of fresh water: lakes, ponds, and streams. So, when you’re scouting out places to photograph them, make sure it’s a place where you can walk right up to the shoreline of the water (some nature preserves are in fragile habitat, so they won’t let you get too close to the water).


Some species can be found farther away from water too (such as the Variegated Meadowhawk pictured above), but you’ll find the most dragonflies near freshwater.

2. They’re most active on sunny days

Dragonflies need the heat of the sun to warm their bodies and fly, so they’ll usually be most active on clear sunny days.

But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for them on cloudy days too. They’ll be a lot harder to find on cloudy days, but they’re also a lot easier to approach since it’s harder for them to fly away without the heat of the sun. You’ll also get a nice softly diffused light on them with cloudy skies.

Each weather condition has its advantages and disadvantages.

3. Be very very patient with them!

It’s very easy to scare dragonflies and sometimes it may seem like they NEVER land, but the key is patience. If you scare them away, then be patient–they’ll likely come back to that same spot to perch (dragonflies typically return to the same perch all day), you might just have to wait for ten minutes.

Also, some species perch a lot more than others, so again the key to photographing those species who don’t perch often is to wait patiently or wake up super early and try to photograph them before sunrise–if you’re lucky, you’ll even catch a few of them covered in dew.

4. Position your camera so its sensor is parallel to the dragonfly’s body

You only get one geometrical plane of sharp focus, so it’s important to put as much of your subject in this plane as possible. You can do this by carefully positioning your camera so its sensor is parallel to the body of the dragonfly. Then, just make sure you focus on the eyes of the dragonfly.

5. Take shots from lots of different angles

One of the most rewarding parts of photographing insects (or anything in nature) is that it helps you identify your subject–it gives you an opportunity to look more closely at them. However, sometimes the only thing that separates one dragonfly species from another is a few dots on their wings. So, it’s good to shoot photos from lots of different angles to help you identify the dragonfly later.

6. Pay attention to the background

When you’re photographing such an interesting subject like a dragonfly, it’s easy to focus entirely on them and forget about your background. But, a good background is important for any kind of close-up photography, because it can really help draw attention to your main subject: the incredible looking dragonfly.

So, when you’re out there looking for dragonflies to photograph, pay close attention to your background. Ideally, you want it to contrast with the colors of the dragonfly.

7. Use a small aperture — between f/11 and f/16

One of the most frustrating parts of photographing dragonflies is getting their entire body in sharp focus, since you won’t always be able to photograph them with your camera parallel to their body.

So, one way to deal with this is to use a fairly small aperture, usually somewhere between f/11 and f/16 works well. This will also put more of your background in focus, so make sure you find a dragonfly with a background that’s very far away (at least a few feet).

What did I miss?

If you have another tip for photographing dragonflies, then please share it with us by leaving a comment below. Thanks!! 🙂

About the Author: Steve Berardi is a nature photographer, software engineer, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of southern California. Read more of his articles on nature photography at PhotoNaturalist.

Read more from our category

Guest Contributor This post was written by a guest contributor to dPS.
Please see their details in the post above.

Become a Contributor: Check out Write for DPS page for details about how YOU can share your photography tips with the DPS community.

Some Older Comments

  • Ib June 8, 2013 04:36 am

    When they are eating... very true! Here is a good example

  • Eric June 8, 2013 03:13 am

    I found messing around with the rule of thirds helped this shot:

  • ramel May 20, 2013 06:40 pm

    here is one of my shot....

  • Matthew May 20, 2013 03:47 am

    I found that when a dragonfly is eating, it could care less about you taking a photo. This was my experience when I took this photo of a dragonfly eating a fly.

  • Amy May 19, 2013 03:55 pm

    I have a few dragonflies in this album here. I found these beautiful creatures playing in a cemetary.

  • Neil May 19, 2013 03:32 pm

    What about shutter speed?

  • Susan Roberts May 18, 2013 02:03 pm

    I’ve spent many hours photographing dragonfly’s, humming birds, bees and other flying insects.
    Sometimes they cooperate and just site there, other times they want to be left alone. The ones
    in Alaska are huge compared to the lower 48 states.

  • M.Tahir Butt May 18, 2013 01:54 pm

    To get good result the autofocus mode must be turned off.

  • Eliane May 18, 2013 12:24 am

    I love Dragonflies, enjoy this collection:

  • Eliane May 18, 2013 12:23 am

    I love Drangonflies, enjoy this collection:

  • raghavendra May 17, 2013 09:04 pm

    Here is another one

  • raghavendra May 17, 2013 09:03 pm

    wow, useful tips.
    Here's mine i took it on year 2011

  • ronald May 17, 2013 08:35 pm

    try putting water droplets on a grass or branch nearby and photograph them when they land or use a wide angle lens and highspeed shutter as soon as they fly in one can video with out following them.

  • Subramanian Siva May 17, 2013 07:51 pm

    my version:

  • Rob May 17, 2013 04:49 pm

    The best macro lense out there (bang for buck) would have to be Tamron's SP90. It gives a reasonable working distance at decent magnifications. Depth of field is also quite reasonable at the aforementioned f11-16. I prefer to go handheld with a remote flash on a bracket to one side. This method is my preferred and more successful over using a tripod, which for insects I find too cumbersome. I recently bought a Tamron SP180 which vastly improves working distance but costs with reduced depth of field. A beautiful optic though. Look out for an SP90 and you will never look back.

  • Venkat May 17, 2013 04:25 pm

    Some of the Dragonfly images that I took in my facebook album link below

  • RichardW1975 May 17, 2013 03:48 pm

    This just one of the few I have taken with them on my hands. I love shooting dragonflies and bees very much and always present so challenge. Also, if you like photographing insects then check out the Facebook page that pic was posted too. Thanks

  • Michael White May 17, 2013 03:46 pm

    Let me add my voice to the others. Forget the close up lenses unless you have the energy to chase them around like a hyperactive two year old! I use my Nikon 70-300 for dragon flies and butterflies, with much more frequent results. If you scare one, sit down with tripod in hand, pour a cold one of your choice, and wait. They will often come back!

  • geeta May 17, 2013 02:28 pm

    Great photographs and tips.Can you please provide information on how to photograph Spiders,both outside and in lab and how to identify them.
    Thank you,

  • Karen May 17, 2013 01:55 pm

    Thanks for the great article! My tip.... focus on the eyes. Can't tell you how many pics of dragonflies that didn't make the grade because the eyes were not sharp enough for my liking. I apply this principle to all my moving subjects. Love all of your photos! I like to capture them in the late afternoon/evening. Right now I only have a Canon 100mm L and so I do my best, walking very slowly. They seemed to be interested right back. Here's one of mine:

  • Jehane May 17, 2013 01:54 pm

    Thanks for the tips. Running around or waiting patiently for the dragonfly to pose (!) is well rewarded when you get a good picture. Here are some of mine.

  • Indikaparane May 17, 2013 11:28 am

    Nice article,

    Here's my Dragonflies collection.

  • Ray May 17, 2013 07:00 am

    Good article. Here's a photo of my own:

  • Susan Roberts May 17, 2013 05:18 am

    I've spent many hours photographing dragonfly's, humming birds, bees and other flying insects.
    Sometimes they cooperate and just site there, other times they want to be left alone. The ones
    in Alaska are huge compared to the lower 48 states.

  • Bob Hansen May 17, 2013 05:02 am

    I usually shoot dtrqgon flies using my Nion 70-300, wide open at F4.5, aperture priority, ISO at 1000 or 1200. which provide a very fast shutter speed allowing me to capture the fly in flight.

  • Ib May 17, 2013 04:20 am

    The worst enemy when photographing dragonflies is the wind. On windy days they tend to sit very low in the vegetation, which makes it hard to achieve a nice background for the creature. Also they are difficult to spot. So you usually scare them up and they fly far away, again due to the windy conditions.
    I strongly agree that a tripod is key. You often end up choosing f/14 or even more, resulting in fairly slow shutter speed. With a tripod 1/40 usually works (unless it's windy). Also avoid high ISO. Dragonflies have extremely fine hairs a.o. which will be killed when trying to reduce noise in the picture. I prefer ISO 100-400. Not more.
    For the lens choice I prefer a dedicated macro lens. The longer the better. This gives you a comfortable working distance. Also the "real" macro lenses tend to be a lot sharper at small aperture.

  • Magda May 17, 2013 03:56 am

    I don't carry any tripod, just use handheld super zoom camera.

  • Paula Harrington May 17, 2013 03:52 am

    Having your own perch, such as a piece of interesting reed or wood, allows you the flexibility of possibly choosing a better background. I have one that I place near my water fountain in such a way that I have an uncluttered back ground. This also works with birds just of coarse stronger.

  • eosDave May 17, 2013 02:25 am

    Add an extension tube (or two) to your telephoto lens so you can move in closer than the usual long min focus distance.

  • veer May 16, 2013 02:20 pm

    Hi, Nice article about dragonfly photography.. i have some dragonfly photos in my stream please take a look.


  • WendyB May 16, 2013 10:57 am

    A topic that touches my heart! Thanks for the great tips and continued inspiration. WendyB

  • Kevin May 16, 2013 03:12 am

    One trick I use is to get out early mornings. Dragonflies are less active in the morning, needing a "solar recharge", so much easier to get them to cooperate and the sunlight is normally optimal at that time

  • Daniel Parsons May 16, 2013 01:30 am

    When I take pictures of dragonflies I use a telephoto zoom lens to get the pictures without spooking them.

  • Jeff E Jensen May 16, 2013 12:31 am

    We go in cycles around here, some years we see hardly any dragonflies, some year, they are everywhere. Last year was a quite year. Hopefully that will change this year. Here's some shots from two years ago:

  • Hayden May 15, 2013 11:16 pm


    Awesome article here is one i took a few years back and well - next time i will get it 100% better.

  • Raymond May 15, 2013 09:40 pm

    You can set up perches at various heights in locations you desire if there are none already present.

    A good place to both ID species in your geographic region is

    There are probably more dragonfly and damselfly species in our areas than most of us realize.

    The pond at our house has at least 17 know species identified so far.

  • Harry Hilders May 15, 2013 06:07 pm

    What reasonably/affordable priced lens would you recommend for Canon camera's? For macro's in general but specifically small insects.

  • Heather Katsoulis May 15, 2013 11:26 am

    When I saw this capture at home, I realized the dragonfly was eating a bee. dragonfly | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

  • Tom Faherty May 15, 2013 11:09 am

    Once you identify a prime location, a remote and a tripod are key. An off camera flash is a help, too. Setting up, kicking back and waiting can be a great way to spend a few hours.

  • Albi Kl May 15, 2013 11:03 am

    Leave the 50mm 1.2 at home and use a long telephoto lens. The lens compression from zooming in creates the silky smooth blurred background and the ability to keep your distance from the insect helps prevent scaring it away.

  • Cramer Imaging May 15, 2013 09:13 am

    Thanks for the tips. The weather is warming up here and there is an irrigation canal very close by. I see dragonflies every summer. Hadn't considered photographing them before. They do perch for a long time. I might try the macro setting on my telephoto just to see how that works out. The deep DOF is definitely necessary for insects. The daylight will help with the shutter speed.

  • Frode May 15, 2013 06:45 am

    My tip is - have a friend who for some reason decided that chasing dragonflies was a smart thing to do :). This shot was very unplanned, as witnessed by the camera settings and lens, but I really can't complain about the results: