A Second Season of Shooting Dragonflies in Natural Light: Three New Lessons Learned – Guest Article by Steve Russell
Dragonflies have survived since prehistoric times with their extraordinary hunting prowess and prolific procreation (I highly recommend the excellent You Tube video, “Sky Hunters,” to drive home just how remarkable they are). But as a macro photographer I am drawn to them because of their vast array of colors, their always-surprising behaviors, and the fact that with their size they can fill the frame of a telephoto lens shot relatively close. It is the peak of my second full season of shooting dragonflies and the opportunities for variety still seem endless.
There are three upgrades I’ve made this year that have upped my game:
- I am using Canon’s 100-400mm II lens this season as opposed to using my very capable 70-200mm last year. My new lens has increased my range and number of opportunities, which means that I can shoot from further away (or shoot as close as 30”) and I don’t scar off nearly as many dragonflies getting ready for the shot.
- I routinely add on a 20mm extension tube to my lens to magnify the subjects even more. The trade-off is that the lens will not focus on subjects in the far-off distance like flying birds, but it will still reach halfway across a decent-sized pond and in the macro world that’s plenty.
- Shooting with a relatively heavy telephoto lens from further away makes holding it steady that much more important, but there is rarely enough time to use a tripod. I had been using a collapsible hiking pole to brace my lens against, which served me well, but I found something better! A Sirui aluminum monopod (manufacturer’s #BSRP2045) with feet that fold out, a pole that expands from 27” to 63,” and a base that allows the pole to flex in any direction (or not). It’ll hold up to 17 lbs. but don’t count on it for landscape photography. At 2.9 lbs. it’s light enough to lug around and the base can be separated from the pole (and also easily converted into a mini-tripod). Manfrotto makes a similar product and there are others, but the research I did pointed toward the Sirui for its build quality, flexibility and price (~$160) and I haven’t been disappointed.
With these three improvements my opportunities for shots have increased and the overall quality of images I can get has improved. I still pull out my 90mm macro lens once in a while (mostly for the smaller damselflies or some fearless dragonflies), but the bulk of the opportunities is further away. It’s been a bumper crop for images this season and many of these simply would not have been possible without the upgrades, which reminds me that one of the things I like most about photography is that there is always something new to learn.