Shooting Damsels and Dragons – Flies, That Is
Damselflies and Dragonflies are some of the most curious, colorful, and strangest looking creatures I’ve run across in my quest for macro subjects, and also some of the most challenging and rewarding to shoot. I stumbled upon a popular roost for Damselflies in the park earlier this summer and shot them for at least 10 days straight, but it was a three-day nature class I took that accelerated my opportunities for shooting them if for no other reason than learning where they live and what they like to do.
In case you didn’t know, Damselflies are the smaller of the two (1”-2” vs. 3”-6”), they keep their wings in close to their abdomen (“tail”) when not flying, and their eyes are well separated. Dragonflies have compound eyes that cover most of their heads. Both have the best vision of any insects and begin as larva living in the mud of a lake or pond for 1-3 years before emerging as winged adults that live for only another 3-4 weeks.
They tend to hang out in and around grasses, plants, and bushes near water, but can venture out into meadows. Mating is something to behold. The male grasps the female’s head/neck area with the end of its abdomen, while the female swings her abdomen up to connect with the male genitals, whereupon he deposits his sperm on her eggs stored toward the end of her abdomen. Once fertilized, she’ll deposit them in a plant or directly into the water.
I have basically two ways of shooting them:
1) If it’s possible to get up close (i.e., when the sun drops below the hill or horizon and they calm down), then the best of all worlds is using a tripod or monopod, a macro lens and some extension tubes (especially for the smaller Damselflies), and a twin flash. Often, though, the tripod and even monopod can be enough to disturb them and a handheld approach using live-view to focus can work well with the flash. The flash helps to isolate the subject from the background.
2) A longer lens is often necessary for Dragonflies to be able to get a shot from at least a few feet. I used a 70-200mm lens and since they’re usually in the direct sunlight, I often didn’t need a flash. Perching Dragonflies sometimes let me get close enough to use the first method, which can often produce sharper images.
It’s not too late to shoot Dragonflies and Damselflies, although as the days cool off and cloud up, so, too, will they become less available as models – until next year. Filling your frame with sharp images of these strange creatures is a great reward for your efforts.