Dragonfly photography is incredible and not as hard as it seems. With these dragonfly photography tips, you’ll quickly be creating breathtaking photographs right out of the gate! There are four keys to making a successful dragonfly image. You will need to master Shutter Speed, Depth of Field, Focusing, and Composition.
You will need a fast shutter speed to freeze the wings of a dragonfly in flight. The amount of motion in a dragonfly image is also subjective. As a result, shutter speeds from 1/1200 to 1/4000 of a second will provide good results. Leaving movement in the wings adds to the feeling of the dragonfly in action. Frozen wings will provide a higher level of detail.
This image has strong wing blur and was taken at F8 with a shutter speed of 1/1250.
This image has modest wing blur and was taken at F8 with a shutter speed of 1/8000.
Depth of Field (DOF)
If (like me) your preference is to maximize the amount of the dragonfly in focus, you will need to stop down your lens to a smaller aperture. Using a smaller (larger number) aperture allows more of the dragonfly to be in focus. I like to shoot between F8 and F16. F16 will undoubtedly give you more than enough DOF, but you may also have too much of the background in focus.
I shot this dragonfly at F16 notice how every part of the dragonfly is in focus. Now, look at the above images, and you will see that the abdomen is not as sharp as the head.
Focusing is the most challenging skill to master with dragonfly photography. Figuring out the best way to focus depends on the dragonfly’s behavior.
Focusing Tips For Dragonflies in Flight
If the dragonfly is in flight, I use a combination of manual focus and continuous automatic focus. I typically will use manual focus to find the dragonfly in the frame and then autofocus to get optimum sharpness. It is a little tricky, and you have to be fast! If you achieve sharp images of flying dragonflies 25% of the time, you are doing a fantastic job.
Hovering dragonflies are more straightforward, and if you have a clean background, you can use autofocus to capture them. If you have a cluttered scene, the manual focus plus autofocus will work better.
Focusing Tips for Perched Dragonflies
Some species of dragonflies hunt from perches and will repeatedly return to the same location. A static dragonfly makes your job less complicated.
Use a Tripod
Although using a tripod is the most cumbersome, it’s the best option. Place the camera on a tripod and pre-focus on the perch. Then watch for the dragonfly to return, and using a remote shutter release, take the shot. Then look for the dragonfly to return, and using a remote shutter release, take the photo.
Bonus Tip: Don’t watch the perch through the viewfinder. Use your eyes. Start shooting as soon as you see the dragonfly approach, and you might get a flight shot. To set up your camera for this scenario. Switch the camera to manual focus and increase your DOF as much as the background will allow.
You know how to do this, but make sure that you have more than the usual shutter speed to compensate for lens movement.
Bonus Tip 2: Learn as much as you can about dragonflies’ behavior. I usually sit and watch for a while before I even attempt an image. These observations are instrumental to your success.
- teaches me where and if they perch
- shows me their flight patterns
- enables me to plan shots with the best backgrounds
When you are photographing dragonflies, the first consideration is the background. A messy or unattractive environment will reduce the impact of your dragonfly photography. Photos with the dragonfly parallel to the camera will be the simplest. Head on images will be the most dramatic, but don’t forget to maximize your DOF for sharpness throughout the image.
Dragonfly Photography Image Critiques
Here are several more sample dragonfly images. The images will flip to reveal my comments. Before you flip the image, critique the photo and the flip to see if we agree.
I hope these mini critiques help you create better dragonfly photographs. Feel free to email me your dragonfly photos, and I’ll give your photos a review. Learn more about my free photography mentoring.
Leave me a comment below and let me know if we disagree on the critiques.
Conclusions Dragonfly Photography
“Knowledge is Power” is a quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson. That quote could equally have come from Ansel Adams because the more that you know, the more powerful your images will be. Learn how your camera works, learn about composition, and, most importantly, learn about your subjects.
I’ve written a blog post that can help you gain more knowledge. The article Dragonflies – 20 Things You Didn’t Know is on my photography blog.
Now, get out there and snap some dragons!