Insect photography is notoriously difficult, but when it comes to dragonflies, it’s more than worth the effort. With their long thin bodies, delicate wings, and bright colorings, dragonflies are a photographer’s dream subject.
But while they might look beautiful through the lens, translating that beauty into a photograph is tricky. They move fast, and with a long body and wide wings, getting everything into the shot requires some skill.
Want to try photographing dragonflies? Read this guide for tips and tricks.
Top Tips For Photographing Dragonflies
Photographing dragonflies requires a lot of patience, but it can be very rewarding. Follow these tips for the best chance at capturing the beauty of the dragonfly.
Find Where The Dragonflies Are
While it’s generally good advice to take multiple photos of any subject, this is particularly true when it comes to dragonflies. They move fast, particularly their wings, with the perfect shot quick to come and go.
To take as many photos as you need, it’s important to find out where the dragonflies are lurking. Dragonflies like to live near freshwater. Try lakes, rivers, and ponds.
Ideally, you should be able to get close to the water’s edge.
Once you have the destination sorted, wait for a sunny day. Dragonflies are most active in the sunshine. Plus, this is when their natural coloring can truly shine.
Consider The Background
As the dragonfly is the subject of the photo, its movements will partly dictate the background. You can only photograph where it goes!
But that doesn’t mean you should overlook the background entirely. If you’re shooting at a low aperture, then the background will come into play.
You want to ensure it isn’t distracting from the main subject of your photos.
Use A Telephoto Lens
A telephoto lens allows you to take clear photos of your subject from further back. Find a position away from the water’s edge when using a telephoto lens.
As you’re further away, the dragonflies are likely to be more comfortable moving around.
From a distance, you can enjoy watching the dragonflies moving freely. They’ll happily engage in natural behavior, as they won’t be disturbed by an intruder.
This should present you with plenty of opportunities to capture the dragonfly in flight and at rest.
As you take photos from a distance, pay close attention to the behavior of the dragonflies. They often return to the same rest spots repeatedly. Learn where they go, so you can find the right position for close-up shots.
Then Switch To A Macro Lens
When you’re happy with the shots you’ve taken from a distance, you can start to move a little closer. Use a macro lens to ensure you capture every detail of the dragonfly in sharp focus.
Dragonflies are known for their exquisite coloring and unusual shapes. You want every part of this to be clear and crisp. The macro lens can help bring clarity to the image, allowing the dragonfly to truly shine.
If you want to be able to identify the dragonfly species, then a macro lens is even more important. Sometimes only a few small differences in coloring and marking set dragonflies apart.
You’ll want to make sure that you’ve accurately captured these details for identification purposes.
Get Close To The Ground
Dragonflies typically spend most of their time close to the water. Although they might occasionally head towards the skies, you should keep your camera low if you want consistent images.
So, you need to get down to the ground with the camera. Find a place you can lie down near the dragonflies. This will allow you to line up the body and wings with the center of your shot.
You can use a tripod, but it isn’t a top priority if the insects are busy (see also “How To Photograph Fireflies“). Instead, you’ll want the freedom to move your camera with the dragonflies.
However, if you visit in the morning or evening, you’re likely to find the dragonflies are calmer.
In this case, a tripod can be beneficial. This will allow you to focus on composition instead of stability. You can get some really interesting shots this way.
Keep The Camera Parallel With The Dragonfly
Dragonflies are unusual among insects because they have long and thin bodies with long and thin wings. This makes them challenging to photograph.
You want to get all the body in the shot, without cutting off the wings (or vice versa).
For that reason. It’s recommended that you keep the camera parallel to the dragonfly. This will ensure more of the dragonfly is in shot and in focus.
Use A Small Aperture
A small aperture from f/11 to f/16 is considered best to ensure the majority of the dragonfly is kept in focus. This will also mean that more of your background is in focus, so make sure you’re happy with the composition.
Take Rapid Bursts Of Flight
When a dragonfly is perched, you are likely to have time to experiment with composition. You can move a little slower at this point, as the dragonfly will be paused.
However, when the insect starts to fly, you’ll work to move quickly. For a start, a dragonfly in flight can put on a good burst of speed. You might find it’s out of your shot before you’re ready to go.
Second, a dragonfly moves its wings at an incredibly high rate. They can be something of a blur when the dragonfly gets going. If you try to get them in focus, you’ll fail every time. Instead, you need a quick shutter and a bit of luck.
The colors of the dragonfly make them an enticing subject to photograph. But be prepared to take a lot of photos before you get anything good! They move fast and the unusual body shape makes composition difficult.
Do you have any tips for photographing dragonflies?
Frequently Asked Questions
Morning and evening are the best times to photograph dragonflies. This is when the light is at its best, but the dragonflies will also be less active. You’re more likely to capture them resting.
Dragonflies (particularly their wings) move fast, so you need a fast shutter speed. Try using a shutter speed from 1/1200 to 1/4000. This will give you a good chance of capturing the wings in focus.