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Posts Tagged ‘dragonfly in flight’

If you are lucky and persistent, it is not hard to photograph a perched dragonfly. Some of them are amazingly tolerant of the presence of a human and will let you get really close to them. Even when they do fly away, many of them will return to the very same perch.

If you want to really challenge your skills as a photographer and perhaps even your sanity, you attempt to photograph members of dragonfly species that fly almost constantly and rarely perch, like this male Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) that I spotted late in June at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. This dragonfly was flying irregular patrols low over the waters of a small pond at the refuge—sometimes he would fly relatively close to the shore, but often his flight path was unpredictable.

So how do I do it? I generally use the same 180mm macro lens that I use for close-up shots of dragonflies. However, I know that the lens tends to focus slowly and autofocus simply can’t acquire the subject, because it fills such a small part of the frame, so I switch to manual focus. I pre-focus on a general area and then as I track the dragonfly, I adjust the focus on the fly as he zooms by and fire away in burst mode. As dragonflies go, a Prince Baskettail is relatively large, almost 3 inches in length (75 mm), but it is really tough to get an in focus shot of one while he is flying.

On a second occasion when I was visiting the same refuge, I got a chance to try a variation of the technique. The dragonflies were patrolling  high overhead as I stood in a grassy area at one end of the pond. The second shot was the best that I could manage—the wing pattern suggests that it is also a Prince Baskettail, but the eye coloration and the terminal appendages at the tip of the abdomen make me wonder if this one is a female. What I discovered is that it is actually a lot harder to focus on a dragonfly when I am looking straight up than when looking down at the water and my arms get tired a lot quicker when holding my camera up hight for an extended period of time.

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Do you like to challenge yourself? I like to try to photograph moving subjects. It is not easy, even when it is a large bird like a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), but it is even more difficult when it is a small dragonfly, like this Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) that I photographed last Wednesday at Ococoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The dragonfly was patrolling over a small pond and at certain moments would hover for a split second before continuing. It took quite a few attempts, but eventually I was able to capture this image, which is cropped from a much larger image that came out of my camera.

Different photographers use different techniques to capture shots of flying dragonflies. I personally use my 180mm macro lens and focus manually, because the autofocus on the lens is notoriously slow and has trouble achieving focus with such a small subject. Every year I try this same challenge, often multiple times, so with a little luck and a lot of patience and persistence, I hope to be able to do more postings of dragonflies in flight in the upcoming months.

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do dragonflies have noses? That sounds like a crazy question, but it is the first one that came to mind when I looked at the image that I had captured of a dragonfly in flight this past week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I could not immediately identify it, so I consulted with experts in a Facebook group and learned that it is a Cyrano Darner (Nasiaeschna pentacantha). This species has a protruding forehead—it’s not a nose— that is reminiscent of the long nose of literary character Cyrano de Bergerac.

The species in the second shot is a Prince Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura), a species that I have featured multiple times in this blog. During much of the summer, I can usually spot one or two Prince Baskettail dragonflies patrolling over the pond at the same wetland refuge and I love trying to capture shots of them in flight. What makes this image distinctive, though, is not so much the dragonfly, but the background. There were ripples in the pond and the way that I shot and processed the image turned them into a wonderfully abstract background.

When I post photos like these, I often get questions about how I am able to capture images of flying dragonflies. Luck and persistence are the keys to getting shots like these. I use my 180mm macro lens and focus manually as the dragonflies zoom by, because the dragonflies don’t fill enough of the frame for my auto-focus to engage quickly and accurately. I have found that is almost impossible for me to use a zoom lens in this task—I get overwhelmed when I try to zoom, track, and focus simultaneously.

Cyrano Darner

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you like a fun photo challenge? Try taking a photo of a dragonfly as it zooms on by you.

Here’s an image I captured on Tuesday of a Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) in flight at Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland. In case you are curious, Common Baskettails are about 1.6 inches in length (41 mm).

So how would you go about getting a shot like this? I would say that the key requirements are patience and persistence. The first thing that I usually do is observe the dragonfly’s flight path and try to determine if there are particular places where it tends to hover or turn around. This particular dragonfly was flying low and not too far from the shore of a small pond.

Focusing is the biggest problem. Some photographers like to pre-focus on an area and wait for the dragonfly to fly into that area. Others will rely on the auto-focus capabilities of their cameras. I have had almost no success with those techniques. What I usually do is put my camera’s focus into manual mode and literally change focus on the fly as I attempt to track the dragonfly in the air.

I like to use my Tamron 180 mm macro lens, because it gives me a decent amount of reach and frees me from worrying about zooming in and out. I have found that simultaneously zooming and focusing manually while tracking the dragonfly is like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time—it is theoretically possible but tough to accomplish in real life.

If you click on the image and view it in a larger size, you will see that I was fortunate to get my focus just about right for the middle of the dragonfly’s body. The shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second was fast enough to freeze most of the movement of the wings.

Needless to say, I took a lot of shots and my success rate was very low. Perhaps this is not your idea of a “fun” challenge. In that case, I would encourage you to find some area of your life and challenge yourself to do something that is difficult. Even if you are not successful, I think even the effort will help you to grow, especially in self-knowledge and self-awareness.

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) almost looks like it was flying at an airplane’s cruising altitude and was looking down at a landscape with rivers, mountains, and lakes. I spotted this dragonfly last weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and spent quite a while trying to get a shot of it in flight.

The dragonfly, however, never ventured close enough to shore for me to get a detailed shot of it. I was a little disappointed until I opened up the image on my computer and discovered that I had managed to capture a wonderful, fanciful background. Sometimes I try to document the reality that I see and other times it seems like it is just my imagination running away with me.

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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From time to time I will try to capture images of dragonflies in flight. Even under the best of circumstances it is a tough challenge for dragonflies are small, fast, and agile. Occasionally they will hover briefly, though most of the time it seems they choose to do so only when they are a long way away from me.

This past Monday I visited Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge and was surprised at the number of Swift Setwing dragonflies (Dythemis velox) that I observed there. As far as I know, this is the only location in our area where this species can be found. Swift Setwings are primarily a southern species, but seem to be migrating slowing northward.

Swift Setwings are  pretty small, about 1-6 to 2 inches long (42 to 50 mm), and the males, the only ones that I generally see, tend to perch at the edge of the water in overhanging vegetation. On this particular day, the dragonflies seemed to be particularly skittish, flying off as soon as I approached them. That was what prompted me to try to photograph them in flight. My Tamron 180mm macro is notoriously slow in focusing and tends to hunt a lot, so I switched to manual focusing. I made a lot of attempts and managed to get a few photos that were relatively in focus like the second image below.

While I was tracking one Swift Setwing in my viewfinder, a second one flew in and the two hooked up in mid-air in a mating position. They held the position for only a brief moment before disengaging and flying away in separate directions. I will spare you the anatomical details, but, as you can see in the first photo, dragonflies are quite acrobatic and flexible when mating.

So if you want a real photographic challenge, go out and see if you can capture some images of dragonflies in flight. It’s a fun challenge for me, even when I am not successful. If others see you doing so, it will reinforce the notion that wildlife photographers are a bit crazy, a perception that is accurate in many cases.

Swift Setwing

Swift Setwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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During this past weekend here in Brussels, I managed to find some really cool dragonflies, like this Green-eyed Hawker (Anaciaeschna isoceles or Aeshna isoceles) that I spotted at a pond in the Rouge-Cloître (Red Cloister) Park. This rather large dragonfly, also known as a Norfolk Hawker, is really striking as it flies, with a combination of colors that I have never seen before on a dragonfly.

With a bit of persistence and a lot of luck, I managed to capture an in-flight shot of a Green-eyed Hawker, but mostly I waited and waited for one to land. It was a little frustrating when one of them would land in a location that was too far away or in a location that did not afford me a clear shot, but eventually I was able to capture some images of a perching Green-eyed Hawker.

I was happy to capture the last photo that shows the yellow triangle on the upper part of the abdomen that is responsible for the “isoceles” portion of the Latin name of the species.

Green-eyed Hawker

Green-eyed Hawker

Green-eyed Hawker

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Are you patient and persistent? If so, you have the right temperament to try to photograph dragonflies in flight. Every dragonfly season I spent endless hours in mostly fruitless attempts to capture in-flight images of dragonflies. One of my friends on Facebook described this as “a near impossible task” and, of course, she is right.

My first somewhat successful effort this year was a shot of a Common Green Darner (Anax junius) patrolling above one of the paths at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last Friday. As you might suspect, getting the moving dragonfly in focus is one of the biggest challenges, because the subject is too small for the camera’s autofocus to engage. Sometimes I will focus manually as I track the dragonfly and sometimes I will use a zone focusing technique in which I preset the focusing distance and wait (and hope) for the dragonfly to fly into the zone.

A near impossible task? It certainly is, but I enjoy the challenge the way that its pursuit confounds observers—one such observer watched me closely for several minutes on Friday and couldn’t figure out what I was trying to photograph.

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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For quite some time I chased after a male Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora filosa) one morning last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but it seemingly had endless energy and would not stop to perch. Unwilling to give up, I decided to try to shoot him in mid-air as he patrolled a section of a trail.

As you might suspect, it is pretty challenging to shoot dragonflies in mid-air. If you have a high-end camera with a really good focusing system and a fast, responsive lens, you might be able to use auto focus, assuming you  are able to track the dragonfly in your camera’s viewfinder. I was using my somewhat older Canon 50D DSLR, a camera that was made starting in 2008, and mya Tamron 150-600mm zoom lens, which is sometimes slow in acquiring focus, so I was focusing manually. In this situation, I was helped a little by the fact that the dragonfly would hover a bit from time to time, although usually he would do so while facing away from me.

Patience and persistence paid off and I was pretty excited when I was able to capture this shot.

Fine-lined Emerald

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When I first saw this dragonfly land yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I had no idea what it was. Zooming in, I was shocked to see that it was a Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens), a migratory species that almost never perches.

The Wandering Glider is considered to be the most widespread dragonfly in the world, found on every continent except Antarctica. According to odonatacentral.com, “It is a strong flier that is regularly encountered by ocean freighters and a well-known migratory species. Because of its ability to drift with the wind, feeding on aerial plankton, until it finally encounters a rain pool in which it breeds, it has been called “…the world’s most evolved dragonfly.” ”

After I got the initial shots of the dragonfly on two different perches, I decided to follow the dragonfly and wait for it to perch again. It wandered about through the air over my head for an extended period of time and never again came down to land. The last photo gives you an idea of my view during that period of waiting—note the long wings that help it to fly such long distances.

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The most colorful dragonfly that I have spotted in Brussels during this trip has been a spectacular male Migrant Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna mixta) that was flying patrols over a small pond at the botanical garden.  It spent a lot of time in the air, but occasionally would perch for a short while. Every now it then it would hover over the water, which let me capture the second shot of the dragonfly in flight. My Canon SX50 is a little slow in acquiring focus, so I didn’t think that I would be able to capture any action shots of the dragonfly. However, I kept trying and eventually was able to get a reasonably sharp shot. When I checked out the shooting data for the image, I realized that the shutter speed had dropped to 1/100 second because of the dark water, so it’s almost a miracle that I stopped the action at all—I was shooting in aperture priority mode and was letting the camera choose the shutter speed.

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker

 © Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It’s a fun challenge to try to capture an image of a dragonfly in flight and I spent a lot of quality time this morning with a Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Generally he flew patrols in the center of the pond, out of range of my lens (a 180mm macro), but occasionally he would fly tantalizingly close and give me a split second to react.

Most of the time I was unable to track him and focus quickly enough, but eventually I did manage get a few relatively sharp photos. This one is my favorite.

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When fellow photographer and local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford posted a photo of a Russet-tailed Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) that he had spotted on Thursday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge, I was filled with an overwhelming urge to see if I could find the dragonfly. At this time of the year, as the dragonfly season winds down, I really don’t think much about finding new species, so this was an exciting challenge.

I knew the general location, but I forgot to ask Walter for more specific information about his find. Was it near the water or in the woods or along the stream or among the wildflowers? It was a kind of crazy quixotic quest, but I am pretty persistent, so I scoured the area, making loop after loop around a small pond.

My hope and my energy were beginning to fade when I suddenly caught sight of a dragonfly’s wings shining in the sunlight. The dragonfly was perched on some vegetation at the edge of the treeline. Moving as stealthily as I could, I approached the dragonfly and realized that I had found the Russet-tipped Clubtail. I often complain about the inappropriateness of the names of insects, but in this case it fit perfectly.

I managed to take a number of shots of the perching dragonfly before it flew off, heading deeper into the woods. After it had flown a short distance, it seemed to stop abruptly in mid-air. What was going on? I switched to manual focus and took a few shots and then began to worry that the dragonfly had gotten caught in a bit of spider web. (All morning long I kept running into spider webs at face level as I walked through the woods.) As I moved my hand closer to the dragonfly in an attempt to free it, the dragonfly flew off and disappeared. I didn’t see any evidence of a spider web, so it was probably only my overly active imagination.

This was one of my most memorable encounters with a dragonfly. I may stop by again this weekend to see if it is still hanging around, but the chances are not good that I will see it again. Still, lightning can strike twice and that kind of optimism helps to fuel my enthusiasm for photography.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Summer is definitely here. In the Washington D.C. area where I live, summer means endless stretches of hot, humid weather. Even the insects seem to move more slowly, like this Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) that I recently photographed as it languidly buzzed around the vegetation at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland.

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If you want a real photography challenge, try to get shots of dragonflies while they are in flight. Dragonflies are so small and generally move so quickly that it’s tough for the camera’s focusing system to lock onto them. On some occasions, dragonflies will hover for a few second or will follow the same route repeatedly and it’s slightly easier in those situations to capture images of the dragonfly.

Yesterday I spotted a dragonfly flying low over a slow-moving stream with its legs dangling. I have previously seen Common Sanddragons (Progomphus obscurus) on the sandy banks of this stream, but I had never seen a sanddragon act this way before. Most of the times that I have managed to get shots of dragonflies in flight, they have their legs tucked in, presumably to make themselves more aerodynamic. Initially I thought the dragonfly was coming in for a landing, but it flew around for a little while with the dangling legs.

What was this dragonfly doing? I don’t know for sure, but I wonder if perhaps this is a female dragonfly who was looking for a place in the water to deposit her eggs. Some dragonfly species deposit their eggs in vegetation and others will do so in the water.

I took these shots with my 180mm macro lens using auto focus.  I am happy that they are more or less in focus and show some of the details of the dragonfly. I like too the way that I was able to capture the dragonfly’s shadow as it was cast onto the water.

Common Sanddragon

Common Sanddragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What is the most difficult subject that you attempt to capture with your camera? Is it a certain moment when the lighting is perfect or perhaps an elusive, exotic creature in a distant location?

For me, the unicorns that I chase come in the form of dragonflies. I have an irrepressible desire to try to take photos of dragonflies while they are in mid-air. Sometimes the dragonflies will cooperate a bit and hover briefly over the water, but much of the time they are in constant motion as they zig and zag over the water in an often unpredictable pattern.

Yesterday I traveled with some fellow photographers to Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Virginia, primarily to photograph flowers. Not surprisingly for those who know me, I got distracted and focused much of my attention on searching for insects.

Toward the end of a gorgeous spring day, I finally spotted a dragonfly patrolling over a section of a small pond. I moved closer and tried to track it in my camera’s viewfinder. Over the winter, I’ve practiced tracking birds in flight and can usually keep them in the viewfinder—the challenge is to keep them in focus. With dragonflies, however, it’s a challenge to even keep them in the viewfinder and auto focus is a virtual impossibility.

Has anyone ever challenged you to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time? That’s how I feel as I try to track a moving dragonfly and focus manually at the same time. I ended up with some out-of-focus ghostly images of the dragonfly or empty frames with a view of the water.

I managed to capture a single image that I really liked of what appears to be a Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosaura).  There is some motion blur, but you can see some of the beautiful details and colors of the dragonfly. (Check out a recent posting that I did to see an image of a perching Common Baskettail dragonfly at my local marshland park in late April.)

I don’t always check the EXIF data for my images, but I was curious to see what the settings were that produced this image. I was shocked to see the information, because I realized that I had neglected to change the settings of my camera when I moved from shooting a stationary subject in the sun to chasing a moving subject that was flying in and out of the shadows over the water.

The camera was set to ISO 100, f/11, 275mm (on a 70-300mm zoom lens) and 1/40 sec. Needless to say, that is not the shutter speed that I would have used if I had been paying more attention, but somehow it worked out ok. I was shooting in aperture-priority mode, as I do most of the time, and I probably should have been shooting at ISO 800, which would have given me a faster shutter speed. The bonus, though, of the low ISO was that I got a cleaner image that I could adjust more aggressively.

As we move into summer, I’ll continue my quest to capture other dragonflies in flight. For the moment, I am content with yesterday’s image, but fully recognize that a huge amount of luck was involved in capturing it.

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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You know that summer is coming to a close when the dragonflies that were in constant flight earlier in the season seem to be resting more often, like this Black Saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea lacerata) that one of my fellow photographers, Walter Sanford, pointed out this past weekend at my local marsh. This dragonfly kept flying back and forth between two perches that were tantalizingly just out of the range of the 180mm lens that I had on my camera. I didn’t dare to take the time to change my lens, knowing that the dragonfly would almost certainly fly away at the most inopportune moment, so I ended up cropping a lot, especially in the first image.

The only shots that I could get of Saddlebags dragonflies earlier in the summer were in-flight shots and I have already posted some shots of a Black Saddlebags in the air. I realized, though, that I had not posted an image of its more colorful counterpart, the Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina) that I photographed during a visit to Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Virginia. I took that shot (the third one below) from a pretty long distance, but was able to achieve focus and capture some of the wonderful details of this beautiful red dragonfly.

Black Saddlebags dragonflyBlack Saddlebags dragonfly

Carolina Saddlebags dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Photographing any dragonfly in flight is a real challenge, but this past weekend I spent time chasing after some of the smallest ones, the Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera). According to Bugguide, these dragonflies are typically 21-24mm in length, which is less than one inch, with a wingspan of maybe two inches or so.

amb2_fly_blog

There were lots of male Eastern Amberwings buzzing around the edges of a small pond at Green Spring Gardens, one of the local gardens that I like to visit. They were within range of the 180mm macro lens that I was using, but focusing and tracking were my biggest problems. The dragonflies did tend to hover a bit, which helped a little, but it was tough to get them in focus when focusing manually and almost impossible to do so with auto-focus.

I took a lot of shots and was happy that I managed to get some in decent focus, though I did have to crop the images. As I was preparing this posting, I noticed that I spent some time a year ago attempting to photograph the same dragonfly species. I think the results this year are marginally better, but you can make your own call by clicking on this link to the posting from July 2013.

amb4_fly_blogamb5_fly_blog amb3_fly_blog

amb1_fly_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Do you want to learn patience? If so, try photographing dragonflies in flight, those speedy little flyers that patrol the edge of a pond without ever seeming to need a rest.

Several readers commented that I must have lots of patience after they saw the photos of dragonflies and damselflies that I recently posted. Comparatively speaking, however, it is a whole lot easier to photograph these insects when they are perched on a stationary object than when they are in constant motion.

My fellow blogger and photographer, Walter Sanford, a true dragonfly stalker, emphasized to me recently that many of the early spring dragonflies are found only in limited locations for very short periods of time. (Check out his blog for lots of wonderful shots of dragonflies and other wildlife creatures.) I decided to return to Hidden Pond Nature Center, a county-run park in Springfield, Virginia that is only a few miles from where I live. Last year I spotted a few common dragonflies there, and it seemed to be a good place to broaden my search for spring dragonflies.

Sure enough, I caught sight of a few dragonflies, flying low over the surface of the small pond. They seemed to have fairly well defined patrol areas and tended to move about in large, lazy circles. I tried tracking several of them using my camera’s autofocus, but that proved to be impossible, so I switched to manual focusing, which was merely difficult.

I took a few breaks to get some shots of the more cooperative damselflies, but persisted in my quixotic efforts to capture the dragonflies in flight. Over the course of a couple of hours, I managed to fewer than a dozen images that are more or less in focus. I think that my subjects for this shoot might be Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura), but I’m not very confident in that identification.

My adventures with dragonflies (and wildlife photography in general) continue teach important lessons about the value of patience and persistence.

 

 

flying5_blog

flying4_blogflying3_blogflying2_blogflying1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Spring is here and I am once again chasing dragonflies, on a quest to capture images of these beautiful insects. Common Green Darners (Anax junius) rarely seem to perch, so I was forced to try to photograph them in flight.

This early in the spring, there aren’t yet a lot of dragonflies, so my patience was tested as I waited for one to fly by. I tried a lot of different approaches and the one that worked best on this day was to focus manually, which is a bit of a challenge at 300mm when the subject is moving pretty fast.

I hope I’ll get some better shots later this season—this is my best one so far.

dragonfly_flight_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Yesterday at my local marsh, I noticed some large dragonflies flying over the cattails and realized that it was migrating season for Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius). I don’t usually think of dragonflies as migratory creatures, but I recall from early spring that Green Darner dragonflies spend their winters in the south and migrate north in the spring (or at least their offspring fly north).

Green Darners are pretty big dragonflies, with bodies up to 3 inches (75mm), so I decided to try to photograph one in mid-flight. Another photographer and I spent almost an hour trying to track and photograph the dragonflies. Unlike other times, when I photographed dragonflies when they were hovering, I was attempting to capture these dragonflies as they were flying at a normal speed, which greatly complicated the task.

I knew that there was no way that I could isolate a flying dragonfly against the green plants of the marsh, so I concentrated on the dragonflies in areas in which I would have the sky as a backdrop. I used my 180mm macro lens and would try to follow a dragonfly in the viewfinder and track it, hoping it would fly close enough for me to attempt a shot. As I was tracking the dragonfly, I would focus manually. Needless to say, my success rate was really low, but I am happy that I managed to get the shot below of what I believe to be a female Green Darner. My fellow photographer, who was using a 70-200 telephoto zoom lens used a different approach and pre-focused on an area and took a shot when a dragonfly entered that capture zone.

It was a beautiful, sunny fall day and I enjoyed this challenge, which gave me a greater appreciation for the aerial skills of dragonflies—they are really tough to track. This practice, though, should help me later in the fall when I start to take more photographs of birds.

flying_dragonfly_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As summer fades, I have been seeing fewer and fewer dragonflies, so I decided to attempt some in-flight shots and managed to capture these images of a female Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans).

Photographing dragonflies in flight is one of my toughest photographic challenges, but I have learned a few tricks about capturing these kinds of shots. One way is to find a favorite perch of a dragonfly and try to photograph the dragonfly arriving and departing from that perch, given that dragonflies often return to the same perches. That was not the approach that I used this time.

The approach I used is to capture the dragonfly while it is hovering and is therefore in the same spot for a few seconds. I  watched as two blue skimmers mated quickly and I knew that I had a target of opportunity, because the female would soon deposit the eggs in the water. She hovered in the air and then dipped her tail end down to the water to deposit some eggs and returned to the hover position and repeated the process. It was during this process that I got these shots.

I am always struck by the beautiful blue eyes of the Great Blue Skimmer, particularly in the female. The male is all blue, so his eyes don’t provide the same visual contrast as the drabber colored body of the female.

The dwindling dragonfly population is yet another sign of the changing of the seasons—it won’t be long before I begin to focus my camera lens more frequently on birds than on insects, but I am not giving up on my insects quite yet.

skimmer_air2_blogskimmer_air_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s tough enough to try to photograph any dragonfly in flight, but this past weekend I chased after some of the smallest ones, the Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera).

According to Bugguide, these dragonflies are typically 21-24mm in length, which is less than one inch. There were lots of Eastern Amberwings buzzing around the edges of a small pond at one of the local gardens that I like to visit. They were within range of the 100mm macro lens that I was using, but focusing was my big problem. Even though they tended to hover a bit, it was tough to get them in focus when focusing manually and impossible to do so with auto-focus.

The amber wings of this dragonfly are distinctive and I was happy to get some images that showcase the wings. The shots are not quite as sharp as they might have been if I had captured the dragonflies perched, but they seemed to be in constant motion and never posed for me. Focusing manually is still an adventure for me when the subject is moving, but it is a fun challenge.

amber1_blog

amber2_blog

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How can you photographing a dragonfly while it is flying? As we have moved into dragonfly season, I have been thinking a lot about that question and earlier this week, I had some success in getting images of a female Blue Dasher dragonfly that I believe was ovipositing.

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Last year, I was content to photograph perched dragonflies (and still love to do so) and occasionally would capture one as it was leaving a perch. This year I am challenging myself and am actively seeking out opportunities to follow dragonflies with my lens and, if possible, to catch them in motion. They are so agile in flight, that the challenge is somewhat daunting. I have experimented with auto focusing and manual focusing. I have tried pre-focusing on an area and waiting and hoping a dragonfly would fly into it. I have had my best luck so far when I can catch the dragonfly as it is hovering.

This female Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) approached this little clump of vegetation several times and would begin to hover. Then she would bend her tail forward and move it rapidly back-and-forth for a few seconds, which I think meant that she was laying eggs.

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I am definitely not an expert on dragonfly behavior and may be totally wrong about what she was doing. However, from a purely photographic point of view, this offered my best chance of getting some shots of this dragonfly in flight. As I recall, I got my best shots when focusing manually and snapping as many shots as I could when it looked like things were coming into focus.

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The Blue Dasher female (and you’ve probably noticed that the females of this species are not blue, despite their name) flew away and returned several times, but eventually was done with her business. I am continuing to observe the different species of dragonflies and hope to identify the types of behavior they exhibit that will maximize the chance of me getting some more shots like these ones.

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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