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Dragonflies .... help!

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Old Sunday 15th July 2012, 01:56   #1
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Dragonflies .... help!

I'm new to Macro shots, yet so far, I've been able to get a few quite good shots of Butterflies & Damselflies, without too much difficulty ..... or swearing!

However, I see these absolutely enormous & quite stunning Dragonflies tearing up & down the stream, acting like mini Helicopter Gunships, but they seem to have absolutely incredible vision, so much so that, so far, I haven't been able to get anywhere near them.

I'm thinking I should just give up with my Macro Lens & perhaps try my Tele Lens instead.

So, before I lose my sanity or the Summer is over, can anyone give me any tips on the best way to get a few shots of these absolutely fantastic insects?

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Old Sunday 15th July 2012, 09:25   #2
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Most insects are approachable with patience. One can generally work within 6 inches of a subject so long as you take things slowly. That said there are some insects, at some points in time that are impossible to approach. Then one one day, for some reason, you get lucky with a particular individual, and after that you seem top be able to photograph the species at will. Currently for me it is Holly Blues just can't get a lens on one at all.

My 10 point guide to photographing pesky beasts:

Anecdote about observing behaviour: I was outside a tomb in Delhi about 18 months when my wife spotted a dragonfly on the side of a pool, lots of people milling about. Just as I got down to photograph it flew off and there was a groan from the group I was with. I just said not to worry it will be back. 30 seconds later it landed 2 feet away from where I was kneeling.
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Old Sunday 15th July 2012, 10:44   #3
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Definitely try your tele lens instead. Much of what we call macro is actually close-up photography. Not exactly the same thing. If your tele lens has a close focus of around 1-2 metres then that helps a lot, but the magnification factor of different lenses is dependent on more than just minimum focus distance measurements. If you have a longer mfd then extension tubes can be useful on longer lenses in reducing mfd.

The other issue is how to get close. I agree with many of Walwyn's 10 points, and if you don't need to get quite so close then that can save a lot of stalking on your knees if you can use a longer lens.

Definitely watch the insect to learn about its pattern of behaviour before going in with the camera. Often they have habits and favourite perches. It often pays to go out on days when there are sunny periods interspersed with cloudy periods. Just before the clouds come over watch the insect closely and it might perch somewhere where you can creep closer to it. When approaching them, keep low (so your silhouette doesn't give yourself away)and avoid sudden movements. You rightly said many dragons have very good all round vision. Their eyes are designed to spot movement from all around, so don't make it easy for them to see you before you get close enough for a picture. Basically you need to practise creeping up on them in slow motion. Many times I have spent several minutes getting close enough to one with the camera, only to scare it away at the last moment with a hand moving too quickly to focus the camera. Remember, it's often your hand on the focus ring that can spook the insect as this is the nearest part of you to your subject. Many dragonflies will settle into a torpid state several minutes after perching so it often pays to leave them for a while before approaching after they land, after which they are much easier to work with.

Lastly, early mornings are often good times to go out. Even overcast days, so long as there is some heat in the air. On bright sunny days most dragonflies are at their most active, so getting to them before they 'get going' can make life much easier. Freshly emerged specimens will often sit for hours in one spot as their wings dry out, and these are often the most pristine specimens to photograph.The less harsh light can also be much more forgiving to photographers at such times.

Hope this helps.

Last edited by SteveClifton : Sunday 15th July 2012 at 10:50.
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Old Sunday 15th July 2012, 17:19   #4
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Pair of kneepads comes in handy for low profile stalking approach. Often muddy here, somewhat serve the double purpose of being mud shoes also. Generally, over a broad range of opps, believe you'll find telephotos to be a bit more productive because of a less intrusive working distance.

Found a stiffly blowing wind will pin them in place on occasion. Presents another challenge also.

Always the thought that earlier stages of Odonata could be captured also. Thats when that macro would come into its own as being the right tool for the job. Small dip net, and plastic container that serves as impromptu streamside aquarium to aid in shooting. Challenge being to catalog various species at different stages as they mature.
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Old Monday 16th July 2012, 10:21   #5
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To photograph Dragonflies and Butterflies I usually use a telephoto lens that supports a closest focusing distance allowing to take pictures at a reasonable working distance. With reasonable I mean a compromise between:
- Fill the sensor frame to capture enough details
- Staying at distance not to cause the insect to flee

A lens with 5 degrees viewing angle will provide a ratio af about 11:1 (ration distance camera sensor-subject/subject size).
4 degrees: about 14:1
3 degrees: about 19:1

To illustrate what I mean: Say the insect is a medium sized dragonfly, 7 cm long. Say you aim for a full frame capture.

Above means that for a full frame capture you will need to be at distances
5 degrees lens: about 75 cm
4 degrees: about 1 meter
3 degrees: about 1.50 meters

(If you are content with a half frame capture, multiply by two.)

Now, the closest focusing distance comes into play. Some telelenses support focusing at quite close distance, but far from all do. Check the lens spec. Some lenses have a scale on the barrel where the 1:N figures are printed depending on the zoom range.

Myself I use a 70-300mm lens that on 4/3 DSLR produces 4.1 degrees viewing angle and has a 1 meter closest focusing distance. Great for capturing Dragonflies and Butterflies at some distance. At shortest zoom the macro capabilities are even greater, 2:1. Great for macros of flora and more placid fauna that allow to come close.

If your telelens has not so great close focusing capabilities you can workaround this to some extent using a macro extension tube.


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Old Tuesday 17th July 2012, 19:49   #6
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Good suggestions are provided in the previous comments. Some dragonfly species are more cooperative and those can be approached and photographed more easily - keep looking and you'll find the more cooperative species. Some species are spectacularly uncooperative, patrolling at fast speeds and treetop heights, so it will take great patience if you want to photograph these. You can also try to find dragonflies as they first emerge from their nymph stage and are drying their wings. Here is an article which may help:
I would rather have a fuzzy photograph of a sharp idea than a sharp photograph of a fuzzy idea. - Ansel Adams
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Old Wednesday 18th July 2012, 20:39   #7
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Originally Posted by Ptarmi View Post

I'm thinking I should just give up with my Macro Lens & perhaps try my Tele Lens instead.
You don't say what size macro lens you are using but I think you'll find that quite a lot of people do use longer lenses for dragonflies, the sigma 150mm is very popular.

Until I managed to snaffle a Sigma 180 on Ebay very cheaply I used to use a canon 100-400 (at about 200mm) with a 30mm extension tube to bring down the minimum focus distance, this is quite a clunky way to do it however, hence the acquisition of the 180.
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Old Saturday 21st July 2012, 02:13   #8
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Thanks for the tips folks.

Spent a few hours patrolling my local stream today & did manage to get ONE photo. Not a good picture, except that at least I was able to identify it.

Let's hope it gets easier to do.

By the way, if I hadn't actually seen it land there, I would never have spotted it otherwise.

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Old Wednesday 22nd August 2012, 01:19   #9
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There's a lot of useful advice above; I would add:-
Wear dull clothing (including your hat if you wear one)
Dragonflies will often tolerate stealthy movement towards them, but are often spoofed by sideways movement (and as has been stated, sudden movement of your hand to the camera)
If, like me, your first choice is to use a tripod, get your legs sorted before making any approach. Best guess the height of the tripod so you will be at the correct angle to have as much of the insect in focus as possible (ie the plane of the front lens = the plane of the insect) (Using a tripod, I miss a lot of images obtained by others who hand-hold their camera, but I can use a longer focal length, keep a greater distance, use a lower ISO and slower speed, and hopefully obtain some better images)
Experiment at home with loads of settings (aperture, speed, ISO) and find what works best for you, your camera and lens. In the field I start with f5.6 or f8 at ISO 200 and alter the settings according to the subject and light. If you have a nicely blurred background but the beast isn't in focus from head to tail, decrease the aperture (to f11 or f16) to increase the depth of focus.
I have an old Minolta macro 200mm lens (on a Sony alpha 200 body). For dragonflies I often use a 1.4 converter (and the images are actually sharper!) This system is far better than every other system I've tried, including Sigma 70-300 zoom (with extension tubes), Tamron 90 macro, Canon 70-200 & Canon 100-400 lenses. (I use a Canon body with 400mm lens for birds)
I've also obtained reasonable quality images with a handheld Canon G12 (up to 140mm equivalent) and digiscoping with the same camera with a Swarovski 65ED scope and x30 lens.
Get to know your equipment. Experiment in the garden and then experiment in the field; what works for me, may not work for you.
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Old Wednesday 22nd August 2012, 16:31   #10
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Am happy to endorse all the previous good advice; keeping some distance will help.
Darters, Chasers and Skimmers will return to favourite perches, fence posts, and patches of ground some of which will make a good background, some less so!!Hawkers, especially Brown will perch all over the place and need a bit of patience and stalking. Damsels shouldn't present too much of a problem. I've found that my FZ150 (macro 1cm to 600mm at 1 metre) is far better than Canon SLR/100mm macro/100-400/500 f4 and produces decent photos - not up to book/magazine printing standards but much, much better than simple 'record shots'.
Good luck
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Old Wednesday 30th January 2013, 13:32   #11
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Actually each individual of ANY species is different from the other, in minor and/or major way. Just because you can't get close to a species doesn't mean you should give up. With patience you will find that individual of that species which will let you get much closer to it than most others of the same species.
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