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.