Eyes of a Damselfly – Guest Article by Steve Russell
One thing that was drilled into me at RMSP’s Summer Intensive seven years ago was how supremely important the eyes are when photographing a subject. Of course, at the time this fundamental tenet was applied to portraiture and images of people, but the same rule applies to bugs in the macro world, and damselflies are a perfect example.
Of all the thousands of macro images of insects that I have shared online, in galleries and with friends, none has received more “Wows!” and gasps of amazement and amusement than my close-up, head-on shots of tiny damselflies. This is especially true when their colorful bulbous eyes are practically the only thing one sees. It is through the eyes that we as humans have connected with one another since we were infants; why would it be any different for how we connect with wildlife, even insects?
Highlighting damselfly’s eyes enhances the viewer’s connection to the image. To create an extra-terrestrial-like image in which their big eyes are practically the sole focus, I look for those who are facing me as they grab head-first onto a thin reed or stalk of grass that obscures its monster-like face. They are looking straight at me (and sometimes swing around the stalk in the opposite direction I move). I slowly move into position just a few inches away with my 90mm macro lens with an extension tube and macro twin flash, and in the manual focus setting I rock back and forth until those all important eyes are in focus before I snap the shutter.
Easier said than done for sure so I always take a number of shots hoping at least one will be sharply in focus. The best time to try this is in the day’s last 30-60 minutes of light when the damselflies for some reason become more tolerant of bug paparazzi like me. During post processing I may also bump up the sharpness, brightness and color of the eyes a little to subliminally draw more attention to them.
Of course, there are plenty of other interesting ways to shoot damselflies – when they are in their mating circle, as they consume their catch, when perched in beautifully complimentary backgrounds, or grooming themselves, etc., but for the viewer of the images you produce just remember that no matter how you shoot them, the most powerful connection the viewer will make is through their eyes.