The interesting thing about writing this blog is that it has made me aware of how many interesting critters there out there that I just haven’t ever got around to photographing. Dragonflies are a good example. They are common, colourful and very photogenic. Yet, as far as I can remember, the pictures I have posted here today are the first dragonfly photos I have ever taken! I also rarely photograph butterflies, or flowers, or sunsets, or puppies…but I have taken lots of pictures of flies, spiders, scorpions, frogs and snakes…I suspect that says a lot about me!
Anyhow, I was wandering around a local park on Friday looking for something to photograph. This is the same area I go to for oak leaf litter (see Oak trees, leaf litter, millipedes and my camera). I wandered into a small clearing that had a number of dragonflies buzzing around.
The nice thing about dragonflies is that after flying around for a bit, they will typically stop and rest on some convenient piece of foliage. Plus, they have the tendency to go back to the same resting spot after each flight. That makes it much easier to photograph them with a telephoto lens. My problem was that I only had my 35mm macro lens with me. It is a wonderful lens for photographing small critters, but you need to get very close to a specimen to do so. Taking close-up photos of dragonfly with that lens means getting within a few inches of a specimen.
I had read somewhere that the way to get close to a dragonfly is to move straight towards it because they mainly react to objects that move from side-to-side. I guess that makes sense if your main predators are birds. So I decided to try and, somewhat to my surprise, it worked! As you can see from these photos, I was able to get quite close. Of course it meant crawling slowly through blackberry bushes and the loss of a little blood…
Once I had the photos it was time to identify the species…and once again I discovered how much I had to learn about insects. It turns out that there are two common species of dragonflies in North America that look very similar: the paddle-tailed darner (Aeshna palmate) and the shadow darner (Aeshna umbrosa). I just love these names! The differences are mainly in the details of their markings. It turns out that one of the best characteristics for distinguishing the two species is the presence or absence of spots on the underside of their abdomens. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of their undersides…Nonetheless, after peering at my photos and consulting with references, I concluded that what I photographed were a couple of female paddle-tailed darners. I know they were females because males would have had blue markings (and no, I’m not making that up). But if any dragonfly experts happen by and disagree with my identification, please leave a comment.
The technical stuff:
Camera: Olympus E-620 digital SLR
Lens: Zuiko 35mm macro
Settings: manual exposure (F11 @ 1/60 sec)
Lighting: Olympus RF-11 ring flash (TTL)