The hot, humid weather of summer here in Eastern Ontario is the Time of the Dragons! I love all kinds of dragonflies, damsel flies, and the like. Their flying is unique, owing to a hind wing and a fore-wing of different sizes. They fly in amazing patterns, they manifest amazing colors, and they eat mosquitoes and deer-fly, so whats not to like?
My advice to students on photographing these winged beauties:
1. Bring a long lens if you can. I find students often fall into the mindset that since these are insects, you should be using a macro lens only. By all means, try using that macro lens. However, if you get too close to a dragonfly--if you can get close--your shadow, your presence, your movement will send them flying off. I like to use a long lens (Canon 100-400 mm lens) and shoot as close as that lens will let me focus.
2. I mount my Canon 7D and Canon 100-400 mm lens on a Carry Speed strap, which goes right onto my Really Right Stuff mono pod head and mono pod. This set up allows me to carry a heavy leans and camera setup for many long hours on what is sure to be a very hot, very humid day. After the first five kilometers, I appreciate the strap setup to allow me to carry the heavy camera, mono pod extended, ready to go from walk and carry to stop and shoot supported in seconds for the best, blur-free shots.
3. You have to go where the dragonflies are. My favorite spot locally is a dam spillway off the Ottawa River, where a nature conservancy has groomed and not-so-groomed trails for a day long hunt. Once you hit the woods and shade, I find the species choice and volume of species drops by 80%. You have to stay in the hot sun, so sunscreen, hats and bug spray are big parts of my day. And you have to be near water and/or swamps generally. So yuo'll want bug spray, at least I do........
4. On the topic of bug spray! Be so very cautious! The active ingredient, DEET, will adversely affect and degrade the delicate plastics and even the carbon fiber of expensive tripods. I am extremely cautious and mindful as to spraying myself once I arrive at the site, with all my camera kit in the car while I stand 20 feet from the car spraying legs, arms, etc. I wear a Columbia hot hat, a baseball style cap that wicks and cools. I like this over the floppy sun hats, because when I go to take a shot, I can spin the cap so the bill doesn't hit the camera, kinda like watching the German U-boat commanders twirling their caps as they pressed their faces to the periscope in the late night WWII movies.
5. Carry ready to shoot. My method is to carry my Canon 7D with my Really Right Stuff mono pod and mono pod head attached to the base plate of my Canon 100-400 mm lens. This is attached to me with a Carry Speed strap (neoprene is super comfortable and the Carry Speed system allows you to transition from tripod to mono pod to free carry in seconds). As I walk, my mono pod is extended, the lens and camera riding the head of the mono pod, and the strap allows me to quickly bring the mono pod and camera to the shooting position, since the dragonflies move around like jeweled rockets and you have to be ready to position, focus, frame and shoot in an instant.
Other than that, since you'll be shooting in bright sun on hot summer days, bring the usual sunscreen and water. I generally carry a knapsack for day long outings and stow snacks, as much water as I can carry and extra camera kit. Here are the results. Thanks for reading.
Chris Kiez, a hardcore photographer since the 80's, learned to take a picture before the age of selfies and cell phone photography, training on mechanical cameras and film. After years of taking photos of all manner of subjects and people, he did over a 10 year stint as a crime scene photographer on two continents. Now, he does portrait and landscape photos, and is currently distressing the world with his relentlessly, excruciatingly boring blogging. To buy what you see on this site, click here!