How to photograph flying dragonflies – Part I.

This appears to become a rather longer reading, so I am splitting it in couple chapters:

  1. Intro + Easiest species to start with (Hawkers, this part)
  2. Hawkers continue  – Part II.
  3. Other Dragonflies (Goldenrings, Emeralds and Libellulids) – Part III.
  4. Damselflies (Zygopetra) – Part IV.
  5. General hints and technicalities (camera settings, equipment etc.) – Part V. (the last one to come)

Blue Hawker - Šídlo modré - Aeshna cyanea

As regular visitors of this web have certainly noticed, shots of DIFs (= Dragonflies in Flight, an acronym derived from much more frequent BIFs (guess what that means :-))) are my favourite ones. I may say that shooting DIFs has become my passion, or even perhaps obsession, to be frank. When I happen to be on a place with willingly cruising dragonflies, I can give up any other appealing object and I start to think how to get the flying beast. Sometimes I succeed, more often I do not, indeed.

I do DIFs for about a five years now, and I dare to say I have a bit more experience than a novice who “wows!” seeing his/her first one on flicker, picassa or elsewhere. I’ll be happy if you find my advices and hints useful.

As with any other kind of photography, a good knowledge of (a behaviour of) the object is essential. In case of dragonflies this doubles, however, it does not mean that no one can make a good DIF before many years of studying Odonata. I will try to put together and present some my findings about various species of dragonflies to help to steep up your learning curve.

Hawkers – Aeshnids

Aeshna affinis - Šídlo rákosní - Blue-eyed Hawker

A species, which often happen to be a first catch for a DIFs hunter, is a Blue Hawker (Aeshna cyanea). In my experience, however, it is not the most easiest one. Of course, you can see it on almost every small pond or pool, and it is not shy at all, so it is naturally very tempting to  give a try (and I do not intend to discourage you!), but bellow I offer better “entry level” candidates. Blue Hawker is a bit jerky species, often hovering in a shade, which brings exposition problems. And it is not that faithful to a spot (often dissappears) so you may wait a long time for it. Of course, you can meet a good boy, going regularly back and forth, performing  long hoverovers in a sun, but it is not a very common case.  However, with this species, you can even experience most frustrating DIF hunters’ moments as sometimes it hovers so close to you that your lens cannot to focus it!

Perhaps the easiest species (of all dragonflies in my country) to start with is a Blue-eyed Hawker (Aeshna afinis) which is now a common lowland species (at least here in Central Europe), occupying small ponds or oxbows with plenty of emergent macrovegetation (reeds, cactails etc.). It usually emerges in second half of July, the best time is the first half of August. This medium-sized Hawker has several good behavioral characteristics: 1) it is not shy; one can even say it is quite curious who new happen to visit

Aeshna mixta - Migrant Hawker - Šídlo pestré

its place (the curiosity is however rather personality issue – some individuals come to you, some are cautious), 2) it occupies small spots, so it frequently comes back, you do not to wait too long for it), 3) it flies in suitable height, ie. not too high neither too low, just right on level of a photographer’s eye and lens. 4) And most importantly, it frequently hovers, often for a (relatively) long time – sometime even for 5 sec or even more! This latter habit is a fortune as it allows to aim, focus and shoot, with some experience (and lot of luck) you can even have a time to choose AF for the right part of its body (which is a head/eyes, indeed).

Similar behaviour (and suitableness) for starting with DIFs offers another commons species, the Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta). However, perhaps just by coincidence, I always found this species on shores of larger waterbodies,  which limits accessibility and reach. Sometimes you can find Migrant Hawkers in hunting swarms, but it is virtually impossible to follow any individual within the swarm, so you may end up with some swarm shots (which may be very interesting, too).

Aeshna isoceles - Gree-eyed Hawker - Šídlo červené

Also another medium-sized aeshnid appears to be a good model: Green-eyed (aka Norfolk) Hawker (Aeshna isoceles), with which DIFs I have been lucky especially this early summer. It hovers for a sufficient time, it is not too shy either, but it doesn’t like when you chase it, so the best practise it to stay still and wait. This actually applies for almost any aeshnid.  However, as the previous one, it usually occupies places with limited reach, often flies beyond the reeds towards to open water so you have to wade in sometime. If you find it on a small pond, then the chances are very high. This species also (relatively) often sits down, so there is a good opportunity to make a shot of perching one, too. I like this species as it is usually the first one in a season you can meet for DIFs.





To be continued – next chapter will be about other Hawkers (Aeshna juncea, subarctica, grandis, Anax, and Brachytron).

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