Dragonflies in flight
Dragonflies are interesting creatures. They are voracious predators. They can fly around very fast and seem to change direction on a dime. This makes them difficult to photograph in flight. They are hard to track and even harder to lock focus on. The good news is that they are not always in a hurry. At times they fly at a much slower pace. The best news, however, is that they sometimes also hover. This is the perfect time to get them in frame and to lock focus on them. And of course, to shoot.
Find a pond where they live. Sit quietly and watch them. I find it easier to watch either a certain region of the pond or I choose one dragonfly and keep watching that one. Any dragonfly that enters that region is carefully watched. I pick that region for a number of reasons. First, there has to be a lot of dragonfly activity in that region. Second, I pick the region based on the background. Is the background far enough for me to blur? Is the background pleasing?
I have my camera ready at all times. I find that generally they move too quickly to watch through the camera's viewfinder. So I hold the camera right beneath my eyes. Once a dragonfly slows down or hovers I just lift the camera and shoot. As mentioned in last week's blog about bees in flight, I keep my lens focused at the approximate distance of where I expect the dragonfly to hover. In this way the lens does not have to hunt for focus throughout the entire focus range. Instead, the lens can just fine tune the focus because it is already close. I also have the focus limiter of the lens set according to the distance I am working with to limit the lens's focus range, thereby speeding the auto focus up.
Once focus is locked on I track the dragonfly in the frame. Auto focus tracking is turned on. While I pan with the dragonfly as it flies I shoot at a high frame rate. Don't be disappointed, you will only get a few hits out of many shots. This is normal. As cameras' auto focus systems improve the hit rate will increase. Remember that I am shooting with a Sony A7R IV, which has slow-ish auto focus and tracking. Newer cameras will probably do better.
Fast shutter speeds are required to freeze the action. That necessitates a good amount of light. So I choose slightly overcast days that are still bright. I prefer the softer light. It does take some practice to become quicker at locating the dragonfly in the viewfinder. This is especially true while using longer lenses. The longer the focal length the more difficult it becomes. There are no magic bullets or camera wizardry to help with this except image stabilization which makes the viewfinder less jittery. So just put the hours in, it all boils down to your skill level.
Luckily dragonflies are easy to find and you can go back and back again to photograph them. Enjoy this challenging subject.
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