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Posts Tagged ‘dragonfly in flight’

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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When I first saw this dragonfly land yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I had no idea what it was. Zooming in, I was shocked to see that it was a Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens), a migratory species that almost never perches.

The Wandering Glider is considered to be the most widespread dragonfly in the world, found on every continent except Antarctica. According to odonatacentral.com, “It is a strong flier that is regularly encountered by ocean freighters and a well-known migratory species. Because of its ability to drift with the wind, feeding on aerial plankton, until it finally encounters a rain pool in which it breeds, it has been called “…the world’s most evolved dragonfly.” ”

After I got the initial shots of the dragonfly on two different perches, I decided to follow the dragonfly and wait for it to perch again. It wandered about through the air over my head for an extended period of time and never again came down to land. The last photo gives you an idea of my view during that period of waiting—note the long wings that help it to fly such long distances.

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The most colorful dragonfly that I have spotted in Brussels during this trip has been a spectacular male Migrant Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna mixta) that was flying patrols over a small pond at the botanical garden.  It spent a lot of time in the air, but occasionally would perch for a short while. Every now it then it would hover over the water, which let me capture the second shot of the dragonfly in flight. My Canon SX50 is a little slow in acquiring focus, so I didn’t think that I would be able to capture any action shots of the dragonfly. However, I kept trying and eventually was able to get a reasonably sharp shot. When I checked out the shooting data for the image, I realized that the shutter speed had dropped to 1/100 second because of the dark water, so it’s almost a miracle that I stopped the action at all—I was shooting in aperture priority mode and was letting the camera choose the shutter speed.

Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker

 © Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It’s a fun challenge to try to capture an image of a dragonfly in flight and I spent a lot of quality time this morning with a Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Generally he flew patrols in the center of the pond, out of range of my lens (a 180mm macro), but occasionally he would fly tantalizingly close and give me a split second to react.

Most of the time I was unable to track him and focus quickly enough, but eventually I did manage get a few relatively sharp photos. This one is my favorite.

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When fellow photographer and local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford posted a photo of a Russet-tailed Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) that he had spotted on Thursday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge, I was filled with an overwhelming urge to see if I could find the dragonfly. At this time of the year, as the dragonfly season winds down, I really don’t think much about finding new species, so this was an exciting challenge.

I knew the general location, but I forgot to ask Walter for more specific information about his find. Was it near the water or in the woods or along the stream or among the wildflowers? It was a kind of crazy quixotic quest, but I am pretty persistent, so I scoured the area, making loop after loop around a small pond.

My hope and my energy were beginning to fade when I suddenly caught sight of a dragonfly’s wings shining in the sunlight. The dragonfly was perched on some vegetation at the edge of the treeline. Moving as stealthily as I could, I approached the dragonfly and realized that I had found the Russet-tipped Clubtail. I often complain about the inappropriateness of the names of insects, but in this case it fit perfectly.

I managed to take a number of shots of the perching dragonfly before it flew off, heading deeper into the woods. After it had flown a short distance, it seemed to stop abruptly in mid-air. What was going on? I switched to manual focus and took a few shots and then began to worry that the dragonfly had gotten caught in a bit of spider web. (All morning long I kept running into spider webs at face level as I walked through the woods.) As I moved my hand closer to the dragonfly in an attempt to free it, the dragonfly flew off and disappeared. I didn’t see any evidence of a spider web, so it was probably only my overly active imagination.

This was one of my most memorable encounters with a dragonfly. I may stop by again this weekend to see if it is still hanging around, but the chances are not good that I will see it again. Still, lightning can strike twice and that kind of optimism helps to fuel my enthusiasm for photography.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Summer is definitely here. In the Washington D.C. area where I live, summer means endless stretches of hot, humid weather. Even the insects seem to move more slowly, like this Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) that I recently photographed as it languidly buzzed around the vegetation at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland.

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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