Updated May 2012.
Words and images by John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays
Damselflies and Dragonflies make great looking photographic subjects, but how easy is it to find them, and then, to photograph and identify them?
Ideally a DSLR with a macro lens, and to be honest, the longer, the better. If you need assistance with stability, a monopod might give you the balance of support, portability and flexibility that a tripod may struggle with. However, if you have a tripod where the centre column can be swung round to horizontal without removing the head or disassembling the column itself, such as the 055XPROB Pro Tripod from Manfrotto
, should make it easier for you to get closer to your subject.
Where to find them
Ponds, lakes, rivers, streams and bogs are all ideal habitats to support both damselflies and dragonflies, which lay their eggs in the shallow water around the edges. Within the Lake District, I find plenty about as the weather starts to warm up.
Lenses And Distance
As I noted aobve, a macro lens is very useful, and the longer the lens, the greater your working distance. (Trying to photograph damselflies with a 50mm macro lens is hard work). A 105 or 180mm macro is ideal to let you get back from the subject. Similarly something like a 70 – 300mm zoom with a macro function at the long end will also work well, allowing you to work 4 – 5 feet from the subject.
How To Find a Subject
With any active subject like this there is always going to be an element of chasing around (we prefer to call it stalking) but there are points to bear in mind to make it easier. Firstly, like butterflies, all these species are a bit “skittish” and will fly off if you approach too quickly or too close, and especially if you cast your shadow over them on a sunny day. So approach slowly, and start taking pictures from a distance, as you get closer, each photo will show the subject larger in the frame, but if the subject flies off, at least you have something "in the bag".
Shutter Speeds, Apertures And ISO
A reasonable shutter speed is important to prevent subject or camera movement. Be careful with depth of field – it is certainly an advantage to keep the body of the damselfly parallel with the back of the camera, thereby minimising the amount of depth of field needed. Even though, working with the smaller species, f11 – f16 is necessary to ensure adequate sharpness through the subject, and still keeps the background sufficiently out of focus; to ensure adequate shutter speeds, you might find it necessary to work at about 400 – 500 ISO.
With dragonflies, where the wings are at right angles to the body, it is often easier to shoot from a higher level, looking down on the subject. Choose your backgrounds carefully, as there is a great difference between an out-of-focus non-distracting background and an out-of-focus busy background.
The basic differences between dragonflies and damselflies are size, with dragonflies tending to be larger, but significantly, at rest, damselflies' wings line up parallel with the body, whereas dragonflies wings lie at right angles to the body. Beyond basic identification, it is worth accurately identifying species; for this I would look on the web: British dragonfly society