While resting on my Coleman camp stool at a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP), I noticed a large UFO moving across the meadow. Unidentified Flying Odonate, that is. I followed the “oh” to the location where it landed; turns out the “object” was a mating pair of Common Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius) “in wheel.” Either they didn’t like that place or I spooked them, and they flew to another nearby location. When I followed them to that spot, the same thing happened. That’s when I lost visual contact. I don’t have to tell you I was feeling very frustrated! Fortunately, I spotted the mating pair again as I was walking toward my camp stool.
This time I followed my mantra of wildlife photography: Get a shot, any shot; refine the shot gradually. I shot a few photos “from a galaxy far, far away” and gradually crept closer and closer to the subjects. The photographs featured in Part 1 were taken at this location.
Eventually the dragonflies moved to a fourth location where I was able to take two snaps of the mating pair perched deep in the grass before they moved on again.
I shot the rest of the photos at the dragonflies’ final stop, where they were perched at eye level on a fallen tree alongside the vernal pool.
The following photograph is one of my all-time favorites. In particular, I like the way the rich colors of the dragonflies are complemented by the muted colors in the background. Notice also that the terminal appendages (cerci) of the female are clearly visible (below the male’s thorax), and the male’s epiproct (one of three claspers) is shown clearly at the top of the female’s head. The first version is a square crop.
An unconstrained crop was used to create another version of the same photo. I prefer to crop photos using either the original aspect ratio of the camera (3 x 4) or a square format because it’s easier to print photos in commonly-used formats. Nonetheless, I just couldn’t make the 3 x 4 format work for this photo. I like the composition of the unconstrained version slightly more than the square version. Which version do you think looks better?
The next two photos were taken from slightly different viewpoints.
Tech Tips: In order to take tack-sharp handheld wildlife photographs, I prefer to shoot in shutter priority mode at relatively fast shutter speeds, and I always use an external flash unit. For more information, see “Lessons learned: How to use a superzoom camera to shoot insect photos.”
When a subject is especially cooperative, I will shoot a few photos in aperture priority mode. Although f/8 is the minimum f/stop (and maximum depth of field) for my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom camera, I prefer to shoot at f/7.1 because some photography experts say the focus is slightly soft at f/8.
The last photo was shot in aperture priority using the following settings: ISO 125; 46mm (253mm, 35mm equivalent); -1 ev; f/7.1; 1/60s; flash fired in manual mode. Everything being equal, I think all of the preceding images — shot in shutter priority mode — look slightly sharper than this photo. What do you think?
Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.
Tags: adult female, adult male, Anax junius, cerci, claspers, Common Green Darner dragonfly, Darner Family, epiproct, Huntley Meadows Park, in wheel, mating pair, terminal appendages, vernal pool, wildlife photography