Observing Nature

Observing nature is one of the most important things that photographers can do to increase their success rate when photographing wildlife. This article shares a selection of photographs of dragonflies and discusses how observing nature contributed to creating these images.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1600, cropped to 3993 pixels on the width, subject distance 2.1 metres

Even before we practice observing nature when out in the field with our cameras, it is always a good idea to do a bit of research about potential subject matter. This helps us understand when and where we are likely to find various species of wildlife.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/1600, ISO-1250, cropped to 4111 pixels on the width, subject distance 2.6 metres

For example, dragonflies can be found along the banks of ponds and slow moving creeks during hot, summer months. Observing nature reveals that dragonflies often fly in repeating patterns. According to reference material that I’ve read, this is typical pre-mating behaviours of male dragonflies as they search for mates. Apparently strong flyers have the greatest chance of success with females.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-640, cropped to 3102 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.4 metres

Observing nature helped me discover that some smaller dragonflies would frequently fly past a partially submerged branch. They wouldn’t necessarily land on it, but knowing that they would fly past it regularly allowed me to develop an approach to successfully photograph them in flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-640, cropped to 3670 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.4 metres

I knew from experience that dragonflies are fast flyers, and to have the best chance of success I would need to pre-focus my lens. This would increase my chances of successful image captures as I could concentrate on individual dragonflies that flew into my pre-focused shooting zone.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-640, cropped to 3558 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.4 metres

Observing nature can also help us determine how to best use our camera gear under specific conditions. In this case I decided to use Cluster Area Auto-Focus and use a frame rate of 18 frames-per-second. I pre-focused on the tip of the partially submerged branch.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/1600, ISO-640, cropped to 3834 pixels on the width, subject distance 4.4 metres

Wanting to maximize the responsiveness of my camera’s autofocus I decided not to use my M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter… just in case it slowed down auto-focus performance even to the slightest degree (I’ve never noticed this happening BTW). From a composition standpoint I made sure that the sun was at my back and I positioned the partially submerged branch to serve as a corner exit. These choices worked well and I was able to capture my desired images.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-4000, cropped to 3606 pixels on the width, subject distance 4 metres

During another recent outing to capture photographs of dragonflies in flight, observing nature contributed to additional successful image captures. To create images of dragonflies taking flight I needed to carefully study the plants in the pond to determine if any dragonflies were perching… taking flight… then returning to the original perch. These dragonflies would make ideal photographic subjects.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-4000, cropped to 3606 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 4 metres

Once I found a subject dragonfly that was exhibiting the desired behaviour it was a simple matter to change my camera settings to Pro Capture H (custom mode C3 on my E-M1X), then wait for it to take flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-4000, cropped to 3761 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 4 metres

As long as my shutter release timing was executed properly I was able to get numerous, successive Pro Capture H image runs without issue. Capturing photographs of dragonflies coming in to land was initially more challenging, until observing nature revealed a very important behaviour of one specific dragonfly.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-3200, cropped to 3665 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 4.2 metres

I noticed that one of the dragonflies I had been photographing would often take flight, only to return to its original perch within a couple of seconds. Not only that, it would land in precisely the same location time and time again… and use identical flight paths. This allowed me to capture some good Pro Capture H image runs, one of which I recently featured in a previous article.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-2000, cropped to 3609 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 4.2 metres

Observing nature also can increase photographic efficiency by allowing a photographer to take full advantage of fleeting opportunities. For example, the image above of a dragonfly coming in to land was captured just a second or two after I had already photographed this same dragonfly taking flight. As soon as I fully depressed my shutter release to lock in my first set of Pro Capture H images, I immediately refocused on the tip of the leaf so I could capture a second Pro Capture H run when it came back in to land.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 560 mm, efov 1120 mm, f/9, 1/2500, ISO-6400, cropped to 4200 pixels on the width, Pro Capture H, subject distance 3.5 metres

If you want to improve your nature photography, spend some time observing nature and use what you learn to adjust your technique. You may be surprised with how much easier nature photography becomes when you use this observational knowledge.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted. This is the 1,047th article published on this website since its original inception.

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