RG Naturfotographie

Photographing Dragonflies In Flight


Looking at the photostreams from flickr, 500px and similar platforms, it is noticeable that in the summer months dragonflies are a popular subject.

However, mainly dragonflies are photographed sitting on a look-out or hanging from a branch. Another main subject is the mating of dragonflies.

Rarely you'll find photographs of dragonflies in flight. If so, certain species such as the Blue Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) disproportionately represented.

With this tutorial I want to show how I take my aerial photographs. Basically, the procedure is also suitable for other insects or even birds.

The Dragonflies

The first dragonfly-like insects already lived 320 million years ago, and since 150 million, they have hardly developed.

Dragonflies are predatory insects that take their prey in flight. They are capable of remarkable maneuvers - abrupt changes of direction, hovering in the air or fast flights up to 50km/h. Even (slow) reverse flights can be observed.

Essential for the dragonfly photography is the observation. Some species prefer to hunt from a look-out to which they return after a hunting or patrol flight, while others are constantly in the air and always fly the same routes. We should know this behavior of each species so that we can use it.


My Equipment

My Equipment

My Hardware

Usually, I use 2 Canon EOS 5D Mark III to photograph dragonflies, one is equipped with the Canon EF 300 f / 4L IS USM or the Canon EF 100-400 f / 4.5-5.6 L IS USM while the other carries a Sigma 180mm f / 2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro.

The memory is a CF memory card with 120MB/s read and write speedand a capacity of 64 GB.

Both cameras are equipped with a battery grip and an external GPS device to understand where the pictures were taken.

Both cameras hang on a double belt to be quickly accessible. This makes me more flexible than with a tripod.

Default Settings

Some of the necessary settings are set by default. This concerns the image quality, behavior of the autofocus and the like.

With both cameras I work in raw mode with maximum resolution to get more posibilities for editing.

I usually work in manual mode to adjust the aperture and shutter speed. Therefore, the sensitivity of both cameras is set to Auto ISO. The range is limited up to 12,800. Since the 5D Mark III can go much higher, then still gives a good picture quality.

The exposure is measured center-weighted. The white balance I have set to 5500K, but can easily be adapted in the image editing.

When shoting insects in flight, it makes sense to take continuous shots. In order to switch quickly to single shots, I have selected the AI mode, in which the camera decides independently whether single or continuous shooting is necessary. In serial mode, I usually work with "only" 3.5 shots per second, which is enough for me.

Essential is the reaction speed of the autofocus, the mode is set to "focus on subjects immediately entering AF fields". In the fine tuning of this mode, the "AF Reaction" is set to "-2" so that the focus does not jump to another object randomly, the other two values ​​are set to "2".


Before the shot is taken, it is necessary to observe the dragonflies to see which routes they fly and whether there are areas where it flies slowly or even stops. We can then use these. This occurs in species such as the Blue dasher (Aeshna cyanea), the Common awker (Aeshna juncea) and others.

For photographs of dragonsflies in flight, I usually use the camera with the 300 or 100-400 lens, as they are a bit further away. If it comes close, as it makes, for example, the Blue dasher, so I took to the macro lens.

If the dragonfly flies in front of a water surface, I'll use all 61 focus points of the AF. The shutter speed is between 1/1000s and 1/2000s at an aperture of 11. The small aperture is necessary so that the dragonfly sits reasonably in the depth of field, which is just 6cm at 300mm focal length and a 3m distant object in small size.

From the observation of the route, I can approximately estimate where the dragonfly comes close enough to take photographs. It is then focused in the viewfinder and the shutter button is pressed. In the next few seconds one shot at a time is taken, with the camera focusing on its own.

(to be continued)