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Yorkshire based Professional Landscape and Wildlife Photographer

In Search of Dragons and Damsels

Posted on 18/05/18

After coming back from my winter in Abisko I've been loads of photography talks. Some for Canon and some for local, and not so local photographic groups. On those talks, I was going through my macro work from last year and one of the things I'd mentioned was the lack of days with a heavy dew I saw last year. The one dewy day I did have at my local pond I couldn't find any dragonflies or damselflies! So when I saw the weather forecast for this morning I was pretty excited. The forecast was basically showing virtually no wind, clear skies and temperatures down to 3C. These are the key ingredients for dew as well as humidity or wet ground. My local pond really comes alive with dragonflies and damselflies a little later in the year. So I needed to go a little further afield and as the sunrise is 5am I needed to set the alarm for 4am (I also needed to get a fair bit of coffee in me as I'd been to see Deadpool 2 last night). I actually woke up at 3:50am so managed to get an extra cup.

I'd decided to go to Skipwith Common which is a huge area but one I've explored for many years and so I know it well. If you want to do this type of photography it's really important that as well as getting up early it pays dividend to know the area and do the homework. Basically from it being light enough to do the photography (or even find the subjects) you don't have that much time before they get active and if you have to spend all your time looking for the subjects you are likely to run out of time...

On the drive over it was looking stunning. Low mist hanging in the fields and nice sky developing. I was itching to stop and do some landscape photography but kept on going, the car was showing 2C though. When I got to the site I went straight to some ponds which I hoped would be productive and this was the view.

Pond View

I went looking in the foliage around the edge of the pond taking care not to walk off the path to reduce the disturbance to the foliage as much as possible.

It took me only a few minutes to find this Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) which was completely covered in dew.

Damsel full length

It really was perfect conditions for this type of photography as there was virtually no wind so I could get away with much slower shutter speeds than I normally can (I'm not going to run through the settings for all the photographs but for some of them I was down to a shutter speed of 0.4 of a second which I'm not sure I've ever done outside before).

I then did some closer shots.

For all of the shots I was using a Canon 5Div full frame camera and the 100mm macro f/2.8 IS L. For the "closer in" shots I had to use extension tubes. The camera was mounted on my Benro Mach 3 tripod and I used a Canon remote so I wasn't pushing the camera whilst pressing the shutter button, really important when using these shutter speeds.

Front on view

All of these shots are stacked ie I've taken multiple shots to increase the amount of the image which is in focus whilst maintaining an out of focus background. I then combine the images in software. All of the images just used natural light, no flash used.

I use live view on the camera to work out the composition, exposure and the area in focus whilst doing the stack. The extra bonus of using live view is it locks the mirror up which basically the camera has less vibration whilst taking the pictures.

Back view

This damsel had started to warm up and on this last image, you can see the damsel has removed a fair amount of the dew from its eyes which they do to prepare themselves for the day.

Last damsel image

I then found a four-spotted chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) also covered in dew. In fact, I found a number of them!

The sun had come out though so now time was very limited as they will soon be waking up!

Chaser in the sun

It's worth keeping your ears open as around this time I heard both cuckoo and tawny owls.

And a closer in version.

Then I I heard some barking noises. It sounded like a dog on the other side of the pond. Then there was a louder and deeper barking on the same side as me. I was thinking who is letting their dog around (there is livestock on this land). The barking was getting louder quickly so I realised this "dog" was getting closer. Then I could see something which looked like a giant Doberman coming towards me through the mist. I'm not a fan of Dobermans after a couple of bad experiences with the breed so had a bit of a shock till I realised it was a female roe deer! Must have been communicating and looking for the other deer.

The sun was getting pretty strong and used it to backlight these shots.

I then found this extreemly beautful damselfly (will update species when I'm sure) but by then the wind had picked up making stacking (on a tripod) much more difficult.

As well as the wind picking up I saw the first dragonflies on the wing so realised it was time to pack up and get some breakfast.

Was such a fantastic morning and I've finally written something again!

Any questions or feedback is always appreciated.

All the best,

  • My God, those photos are breathtaking beautiful, stunning, amazing! As if they’re made of rhinestone.
    Congratulations! Getting up early was so worth it.
    Best wishes

    Colognelia - 18 May, 2018
  • Superb work Oliver, top of the class as ever

    Chris Hodgson - 18 May, 2018
  • Absolutely amazing shots great to see a photographer showing what can be done at home.Definately worth the early start and great knowing your subject and weather conditions so well.Fantastic as usual do you do any macro workshops?

    ruth rees - 18 May, 2018
  • Hi OliverI first saw you giving a talk at Southampton recently and a few weeks before that i had bought my first Macro lens the Canon 100 non L version so everything you said was striking chords! (& learnt a fair bit too)
    You gave us all some great tips on Macro Photography and i was off - so much so, i have already upgraded to the L 100mm and after only a day really impressed with it even if it is a house fly on his way out so just about standing but hey i will take that. I am finding learning the habits of the subject is becoming important.
    Your photos are stunning and the fact that you take the time to write a piece as above as well is soooo appreciated. Hats off and Very well done.
    Keep passing the tips on - you are a leader in the field so keep inspiring people.

    Dean Pepperell - 18 May, 2018
  • I wish I had your dedication and patience! Incredible photos, you must win something with these.

    Lynne - 18 May, 2018
  • Well Oliver the stacking worked fine this time. always better working solo Great images
    Regards Paul

    Paul Richards - 19 May, 2018
  • Thank you so much for the wonderful dragonfly photos; most inspiring!

    Roderick Swift - 20 May, 2018
  • Fabulous images.

    David Tolcher - 21 May, 2018
  • When you mention wind speed, is a speed of say 3mph ok and a what speed wouldn’t you bother attempting. Thanks Peter

    Peter West - 24 May, 2018
  • Absolutely stunning work.  Reminds me of that line in Blake’s poem: “To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower. Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.”

    Penny Shone - 07 June, 2018
  • Hello Oliver,

    Stunning photography!!!  You certainly had a wonderful few hours.
    I learned a few things from this article.
    I am in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and was googling photo stacking (focus stacking) and came upon your blog about handheld stacking, amazing!

    Looking forward to seeing more of your work.  Thank you for sharing!

    Gaylin Lyons - 06 July, 2018
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