8 Tips For Photographing Dragonflies | Light Stalking

8 Tips For Photographing Dragonflies

This is a guest post by the PhotoNaturalist, Steve Berardi. Check out his amazing guides on outdoor and nature photography.

Dragonflies are some of the most interesting insects found in nature. They may not look too interesting from far away, but if you look a little closer, you'll see that they have some pretty incredible colors.

Unfortunately, sometimes it can be frustrating to photograph them. They get scared easily, and it's a constant battle to get the entire dragonfly sharp in your photos. But, here are a few tips for dealing with these problems:

#1 – Use a tripod, but keep the head loose

Dragonflies are almost always on the move, so you'll rarely have time to completely setup your tripod, lock in the ballhead and snap a few shots. But, you can still use your tripod for some stability by leaving the ballhead loose. This way, you can quickly point your camera in a new direction if the dragonfly moves to another perch or you spot a better one to photograph.

#2 – Use a small aperture

One of the most difficult parts of photographing dragonflies is getting their entire body in sharp focus. But, an easy way to battle this is to use a fairly small aperture. Typically, f/11 or f/16 works well.

Photo by Steve Berardi
Photo by Steve Berardi

#3 – Wait until they're front-lit by the sun

Front-lighting will make exposure easier because it will evenly light the dragonfly. Side-lighting can be a disaster because it often creates harsh shadows on your subject. And, backlighting often creates flares.

#4 – Don't cast your shadow on them

Dragonflies love the sun, so a sure way to scare them is to cast a shadow on them. Be careful not to do this while you're approaching them and setting up your shot.

Photo by Steve Berardi
Photo by Steve Berardi

#5 – Wait for a partly cloudy day

Dragonflies are most active when the sun is shining, but when the sun is behind some clouds it helps diffuse the light, making those colors of the dragonfly really “pop.” The benefit of photographing dragonflies when it's partly cloudy is that you catch them when they're most active AND when you'll have the best lighting to photograph them.

#6 – Position your camera so its sensor is parallel to the dragonfly

You only get one plane of complete sharpness, so you'll want to put as much of the dragonfly in this plane as possible. That means positioning your camera so its sensor is parallel to their long body (or the surface of their wings if you're photographing them from above).

#7 – Wait for the dragonfly to return if you scare it

Most dragonflies will find a perch they like, and stick to it as long as they can. So, if you accidentally scare away a dragonfly by getting too close or casting a shadow on it, just sit and wait awhile. That dragonfly will likely come back to the same perch within 10-15 minutes.

Photo by Steve Berardi
Photo by Steve Berardi

#8 – Use a fast shutter speed

Since you won't have time to lock in the ballhead on your tripod, it's helpful to use a fast shutter speed to increase your chances of getting a sharp photo. To get that faster shutter speed, try increasing your ISO to 400 or even 800.

Steve Berardi is a nature photographer and software developer. You can read more of his articles on nature photography at the PhotoNaturalist and pick up a free guide on photographing dragonflies.

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Steve Berardi

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