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Posts Tagged ‘dragonfly in flight’

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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