Dragonflies are stunning creatures and dragonfly photography is the only way to full appreciate just how beautiful, and not to mention photogenic, these insects are. Dragonflies live in wetland areas of natural beauty and there is little better than spending some time wandering in the wilderness, camera in hand taking photos of dragonflies.
I have spent a few years taking photos of dragonflies, during which time I have accumulated some useful dragonfly photography tips and tricks that I thought I would share.
1. Dragonfly photography tips – Shoot at the right time of day
Like all creatures dragonflies are more active at certain times of the day, and when the dragonflies are flying around darting from plant to plant, hunting and going about their daily business dragonfly photography is very challenging to say the least. Photographing dragonflies when they are active is pretty much a waste of time. You may strike it lucky and get one or two shots, but you won’t get many more than that.
Dragonflies are less active first thing in the morning, late afternoon/early evening and in cooler temperatures, so if you want the best chance of capturing stunning photos of dragonflies you need to get out with your camera at these times.
2.Dragonfly photography tips – Use the right lens
Many people seem to use a macro lens when taking photos of dragonflies, and I too have used my Canon 100mm f2.8L IS lens in the past, however macro lenses don’t result in the best photos. Macro lenses obviously capture extreme close up and highly detailed photos (photos with a level of detail you can’t see with a naked eye), and whilst it is interesting to see the hexagonal pattern of a dragonfly’s eye or every single hair on its beard, these shots aren’t commercial and don’t make any money. Close up photos of dragonflies make money, but extreme close up/macro photos of dragonflies don’t.
Long reach tele photo zoom lenses are the best lenses for dragonfly photography by far. The lens I use for dragonfly photography is the Canon 28 – 300 f2.5 – 5.6L lens (see the pros and cons of this lens here) and I highly recommend it. The range of focal lengths means I can get a close, frame filling shot of a dragonfly regardless of whether I am right up close or a long way off. Using a zoom lens means you can stand in one spot and use the lens to frame the shot without scaring the dragonfly away.
"The Canon 28 - 300 F3.5 - 5.6L IS lens - my dragonfly photography lens of choice"
3. Dragonfly photography tips – Add a burst of light
A small burst of light will lift the shadows and even the exposure every time, and this is why a flash is essential for successful dragonfly photography. Dragonflies are skittish creatures at the best of times, and trying to set the flash power manually is futile as you are going to miss the majority of the shots. Sure, you may hit one or two of them, but this is going to be down to luck than judgement and skill.
When using a flash for dragonfly photography you should set the flash in automatic ETTL mode and tweak the exposure using the flash exposure compensation setting as necessary. If you want to improve your dragonfly photography you need to learn how to use a flash in ETTL mode, so make sure you practice before getting out in the field to take photos of dragonflies.
I typically use two different types of flash units for dragonfly photography and the one I use depends on whether I want to leave the flash on camera or take it off camera and play around with lighting angles a little. There are times when it simply isn’t possible to take the flash off camera, because the dragonflies are too skittish and waving a flash around spooks them too much. On the other hand, there are times when the dragonflies are more sedate, during which it is possible to move a flash around the dragonflies without scaring them off, giving the chance to get more creative with the light.
If I want to take the flash off camera and hand hold it I use the Godox VIng speed light (see a review here) together with the Yongnuo 622 flash triggers (see a review here) to fire it when I press the shutter button. When I decide to leave the flash on camera I use the Yongnuo YN14-EX ring flash (see a review here) attached to the end of the Canon 28 – 300L IS lens I use.
4. Dragonfly photography tips – Leave the tripod at home
When I first started out in dragonfly photography I insisted on using a tripod to make sure I got tack sharp shots. During my first dragonfly photography session I realized that tripods are more hassle than they are worth when out taking photos of dragonflies. Carrying a tripod is cumbersome, and the dragonflies were usually long gone before I could get the camera on the tripod, compose the shot and press the shutter button.
Dragonfly photography is best done handheld, so it is important to keep the shutter speeds nice and quick to ensure camera shake doesn’t rear its ugly head. Keeping the shutter speeds high is crucial, and in order to do this I will push the ISO as necessary. At first I was concerned that pushing the ISO would result in noisy photos, but you can push the ISO on modern day cameras pretty high, and still get noise free photos. If you don’t know how far you can push your camera’s ISO before digital noise is unacceptable you need to experiment before you get out in the field to take photos of dragonflies.
5. Dragonfly photography tips – Shoot in burst mode
Shoot in burst mode, and I guarantee you will get more awesome photos of dragonflies. Shooting in burst mode will also result in plenty of photos, which will obviously take quite a bit of time to sift through and sort the wheat from the chaff, but digital photography is cheap, right.
Shooting in burst mode not only increases the chances of a sharp shot, but also increases the chances of getting a “different” shot. The slightest movement or change in position can turn a good photo in to a great photo and shooting in burst mode often captures these movements.
The best camera for dragonfly photography
Even though I own a full frame camera (a Canon 6d) which is an awesome camera I do not use it for dragonfly photography. Rather than using the full frame Canon 6d (check out this quick review) I prefer to use my crop sensor Canon 7d, and the reasons are:-
The Canon 7d is the perfect camera for dragonfly photography, and one I highly recommend. That said, if you don’t like the Canon brand or prefer to use another brand of camera providing you choose a model that is tough and weather sealed, has a crop sensor and is quick to focus with a burst rate, it’ll be ideal for dragonfly photography. Camera’s that aren’t good for serious dragonfly photography include point and shoot cameras or mirrorless cameras.
"The Canon 7d is the ultimate camera for dragonfly photography"
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.