In Living Color: My Summer of Dragonflies – Guest Article by Steve Russell
My summer began with a chance photographic encounter with the “birth” of a dragonfly (the topic of my last blog) and is winding down with a concerted effort to capture dragonflies in flight. In between I’ve taken thousands of shots of dragonflies doing what they do: hunting bugs, eating, mating, perching, laying eggs and when I’m lucky hovering long enough to focus my camera.
I now have three dependable, accessible wetland areas between Tacoma and Seattle to shoot. The summer has been warm here and the light plentiful, which brought the dragonflies out and created the conditions necessary to shoot them at fast speeds, enliven the colors, and illuminate the intricate detail of their lacy wings and compound eyes.
I’ve used about every combination of equipment to shoot them, including real close-ups with a 90mm macro lens, fill-the-frame shots from a little further away with a 70-200 lens(both f/2.8 and the lighter f/4), the use of a 36mm extension tube and/or a 1.4 or 2.0 teleconverter on a 70-200 lens, and both a Canon 7D (speed for flight shots) and a 5D Mark III (for superior processing). Most shooting was handheld, but I used a tripod with a gimble head when I was in a corridor of bushes on one side and tall grasses on the other that semi-contained a few dragonflies and made their flight plans more predictable.
There were plenty of surprises again this summer. I witnessed (and shot) one dragonfly (the lime green one below) snatch its cousin the damselfly while the damselfly was mating and eat it for lunch (nature is cruel!). Anytime a male clamped onto the neck of a female and flew by repeatedly dipping down to the pond or grasses for her to drop some eggs, it was a surprise. Getting a flying dragonfly in focus was always a pleasant post-processing surprise given that they flap their wings at about 40 times per second. (That usually took perfect conditions and a 1/8,000th shutter speed.) And finding the blurred image of my tripod and the white cloud-like reflections from my camera lens framing a tack-sharp dragonfly in the foreground was a great post-processing surprise.
Dragonflies are the crown jewels of live macro photography (for me) but they can be some of the hardest subjects to shoot. A combination like that makes for a worthy challenge and a jolt of satisfaction when things come together for a great shot.