Dragonfly photography is incredible and not as hard as it seems. With these dragonfly photography tips, you’ll quickly be creating breathtaking photographs right out of the gate! There are four keys to making a successful dragonfly image. You will need to master Shutter Speed, Depth of Field, Focusing, and Composition.

Shutter Speed

You will need a fast shutter speed to freeze the wings of a dragonfly in flight. The amount of motion in a dragonfly image is also subjective. As a result, shutter speeds from 1/1200 to 1/4000 of a second will provide good results. Leaving movement in the wings adds to the feeling of the dragonfly in action. Frozen wings will provide a higher level of detail.

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This image has strong wing blur and was taken at F8 with a shutter speed of 1/1250.

This image has modest wing blur and was taken at F8 with a shutter speed of 1/8000.

Depth of Field (DOF)

If (like me) your preference is to maximize the amount of the dragonfly in focus, you will need to stop down your lens to a smaller aperture. Using a smaller (larger number) aperture allows more of the dragonfly to be in focus. I like to shoot between F8 and F16. F16 will undoubtedly give you more than enough DOF, but you may also have too much of the background in focus.

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I shot this dragonfly at F16 notice how every part of the dragonfly is in focus. Now, look at the above images, and you will see that the abdomen is not as sharp as the head.

Focusing

Focusing is the most challenging skill to master with dragonfly photography. Figuring out the best way to focus depends on the dragonfly’s behavior. 

Focusing Tips For Dragonflies in Flight

If the dragonfly is in flight, I use a combination of manual focus and continuous automatic focus. I typically will use manual focus to find the dragonfly in the frame and then autofocus to get optimum sharpness. It is a little tricky, and you have to be fast! If you achieve sharp images of flying dragonflies 25% of the time, you are doing a fantastic job.

Hovering dragonflies are more straightforward, and if you have a clean background, you can use autofocus to capture them. If you have a cluttered scene, the manual focus plus autofocus will work better.

Focusing Tips for Perched Dragonflies

Some species of dragonflies hunt from perches and will repeatedly return to the same location. A static dragonfly makes your job less complicated. 

Use a Tripod

Although using a tripod is the most cumbersome, it’s the best option. Place the camera on a tripod and pre-focus on the perch. Then watch for the dragonfly to return, and using a remote shutter release, take the shot. Then look for the dragonfly to return, and using a remote shutter release, take the photo.

Bonus Tip: Don’t watch the perch through the viewfinder. Use your eyes. Start shooting as soon as you see the dragonfly approach, and you might get a flight shot. To set up your camera for this scenario. Switch the camera to manual focus and increase your DOF as much as the background will allow.

Hand Holding

You know how to do this, but make sure that you have more than the usual shutter speed to compensate for lens movement. 

Bonus Tip 2: Learn as much as you can about dragonflies’ behavior. I usually sit and watch for a while before I even attempt an image. These observations are instrumental to your success.

  • teaches me where and if they perch
  • shows me their flight patterns
  • enables me to plan shots with the best backgrounds

Composition

When you are photographing dragonflies, the first consideration is the background. A messy or unattractive environment will reduce the impact of your dragonfly photography. Photos with the dragonfly parallel to the camera will be the simplest. Head on images will be the most dramatic, but don’t forget to maximize your DOF for sharpness throughout the image.

Dragonfly Photography Image Critiques

Here are several more sample dragonfly images. The images will flip to reveal my comments. Before you flip the image, critique the photo and the flip to see if we agree.

Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

Critique this photo and then flip the box for my thoughts.

Thumbs Down!

Positives

The Dragonfly is on a perch that has character is  a good size. The pose is also nice.

Negatives

It’s a shame that the out of focus foliage is a big distraction.

Specs

600mm, ISO 1000, F6.3, 1/640

Specs

370mm, ISO 2500, F6, 1/3200

Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

Critique this image and then flip the box to see my thoughts.

Thumbs Up!

Positives

A lovely, soft background that is distraction-free. The image is edge to edge sharp.

Negatives

Nothing major, my nitpick is that it would  likely look better as a vertical or perhaps a square to crush your Insta!

Specs

370mm, ISO 2500, F6, 1/3200

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Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

Critique this photo and then flip the box for my thoughts.

Thumbs Down!

Positives

Not enough, I like the bright red dragonfly on the dark background

Negatives

The green blobs are too much of a distraction, More importantly the wings block the head and the pose is awkward.

Specs

370mm, ISO 2500, F6, 1/3200

Busy Backyard feeder

Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

Critique this image and then flip the box to see my thoughts.

Thumbs Up!

Positives

Clean colorful background, nice perch, sharp image.

Negatives

This species looks better from the front with wing free look at the head. As you know, I would typically bemoan the wing position. My species research told me that this species always rests with its wings forward. It’s no problem, THIS TIME!

Specs

200mm, ISO 1250, F4.5, 1/640

Rose breasted Grosbeak Backyard Bird Perches

Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

Critique this image and then flip the box to see my thoughts.

Thumbs Up!

Positives

Very nice head on image, it has high impact. If the image had a different POV, it would be Thumbs Down.

Negatives

I like the size of the perch, it’s very close to merging with the dragonfly and pulls my attention to it, not good. The DOF is too shallow.

Specs

200mm, ISO 2500, F2.8, 1/1250

I hope these mini critiques help you create better dragonfly photographs. Feel free to email me your dragonfly photos, and I’ll give your photos a review. Learn more about my free photography mentoring.

Leave me a comment below and let me know if we disagree on the critiques.

Conclusions Dragonfly Photography

“Knowledge is Power” is a quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson. That quote could equally have come from Ansel Adams because the more that you know, the more powerful your images will be. Learn how your camera works, learn about composition, and, most importantly, learn about your subjects.

I’ve written a blog post that can help you gain more knowledge. The article Dragonflies – 20 Things You Didn’t Know is on my photography blog.

Now, get out there and snap some dragons!