Shooting Dragonflies: Show Up, Watch Stuff Happen, Shoot it When it Does (Part 1) – Guest Article by Steve Russell
Dragonflies are remarkable subjects to shoot. They come in brilliant arrays and combinations of colors from cherry red to sky blue to emerald and olive greens. Each huge compound eye has up to 30,000 lenses and they see better than any other insect. Their four independently controlled wings flap at 30-80 times per second, which can both propel them up to 38 miles per hour and change direction instantly in any of six ways. They live as larvae in the muck of ponds and shallow streams and lakes for 3-5 years before emerging to live in our world for only 1-2 months. It may seem like it would be next to impossible to capture sharp images of these amazing flying machines, but it can be done if you just show up, watch and learn from what happens, and shoot with the right equipment.
Knowing where and when to shoot is half the battle. Small marshy ponds are great hangouts for dragonflies. There’s lots of activity around the edges of these ponds, but I’ve found that paths and small open areas bordered by tall vegetation can help to contain the patrolling flyers which creates opportunities for shooting them.
Dragonflies derive energy from sunlight so they are generally more active and accessible during the mid-day hours – not the first choice for time of day to shoot for most photographers given the harsher light and resulting shadows. But it can be workable particularly in brightly shaded spots and with the help of a little flash.
Some dragonflies prefer to fly and others mostly roost (perch). The flyers zip around a lot but may hover briefly and THAT’S when you have the best chance to capture them in flight. But it’s easier said than done. The roosters tend to dart back and forth from the same perch on the end of a branch or stem and they sit for long stretches so it’s much easier to shoot them.
In the course of a visit to a pond you may see dragonflies perching, flying, mating, flying in tandem, preying, feeding, or laying eggs in the vegetation or pond. If you’re really lucky you could see them emerging from their larvae exoskeleton (an act which has eluded me). When mating, the male clasps the back of the head of the female with his abdomen (tail) as she brings her abdomen up to connect with him to receive his sperm on her eggs. They form a “wheel” and can fly quite well together, but they can also be found perching on high or low vegetation around the pond – the best opportunity for shooting them.
Part 2 coming in October: How to Shoot Rooster and Flyers