There be dragons or maybe damselflies

‘Surely you have enough photos of bees,’ said Andy on a Saturday afternoon at beekeeping. Emily and me disagreed, ‘You can never have enough photos of bees.’ However, there are insects other than honeybees who love having their picture taken. So when Emily’s boyfriend, Drew, kindly let me borrow his camera lens and extension tube to practise extreme close ups, I went for a walk at a local nature reserve on Sunday evening to see what bugs were staying up late.

My first shot was beginner’s luck…

The clouds had tell-tale hues of orange and rose as the sun started to fall through the sky. There were few insects to be found so late in the day and I stopped to practise macro photography of wildflowers. While looking through the camera at a purple thistle, a beautiful hoverfly landed on the flower – perfectly in focus. I snapped two photos before the shy creature flew away.

Encouraged, I explored further into the overgrowth of thistles and thorns ignoring little scratches on my ankles and arms. Then, two beautiful turquoise jewels flew past and landed at eye level in front of me. I lost all sense of time standing very still and focusing on their eyes, brightly-coloured bodies and shimmering wings.

At first I thought they were dragonflies but the British Dragonfly Society (BDS) website suggests that they may be damselflies. BDS has a helpful Dragonfly and Damselfly Identification Help page, which says that dragonflies land with wings apart while damselflies land with wings resting together, like this…

Dragonfly eyes are closed together while damselfly eyes are spaced apart…

Thanks BDS! And thank you obliging damselflies!

How I took the photos
I have a Canon EOS 600D camera and the kit that Drew lent me is a Canon lens EF 50mm 1:1.4 with a Canon extension tube EF25 II. I took the camera off automatic mode and on P mode (this allows you to change ISO while shutter speed and aperture are adjusted automatically) and then on TV mode (to change ISO and shutter speed). I have started using these modes thanks to a useful tip from Natalia at Jessops who suggested going from automatic to P and TV modes, rather than jumping straight to full manual mode (M). This allows me to try changing some settings, while seeing how the camera adjusts the remaining settings. For example, I started on ISO 100 and as the daylight got less gradually raised ISO to 800, 3200 and 6400 to see what would happen.

This is my second step into the macro world and I am still learning lots, but I found that the camera needed to move in slowly until the blur of colours became focused and the subject appeared. This meant that I had to get the camera very, very close to the insects – inches from their faces – then hold it very, very still because even the slightest motion caused everything to blur. The lens, or perhaps settings, I used had a narrow range of focus limited to specific parts of the insect: the head, the thorax or the wings; more likely this is my lack of experience.

It was so much fun that before I knew it the sun had set and the damselflies and hoverflies had flown home, so I thought it was time that I did too!

Related links
Donna of Garden Walks, Garden Talks continues to blow me away with her breathtaking insect photography. In this week’s post she captures bee wars! Bee Bombing – Happy Monday Funny.

If you would like to read more about dragonflies and damselflies, visit the British Dragonfly Society (BDS) or another blog I follow: The Dragonfly Woman who has a lovely gallery.

Thank you to Drew for lending his macro lenses, and check out Emily’s beautiful pictures on her blog this week: Bees, flowers and sculpture at Chelsea Physic Garden.

EDIT: Fellow blogger Standingoutinmyfield posted about damselflies on the same day! Read her lovely post Rhapsody in Bluet.


36 thoughts on “There be dragons or maybe damselflies

  1. The damselfly looks as if it has been sculpted out of turquoise, brilliant photographs.
    I found your camera details very interesting as I am considering upgrading to a SLR.
    You are absolutely correct, you cannot have too many pictures of bees!

  2. Great Pics Emma, I just signed up to take a digital photography class at our local art school. Hopefully I’ll be able to capture photos like those when I am done.

  3. Really wonderful images Emma. Thanks for putting in the settings and your use of the extension tube. They change and make focusing a bit harder to get used to so close, but do a remarkable job bringing in the subject. Also thanks for the shout out. I so agree, you can never have too many images of bees. I don’t know what it is about the little guys, they are so interesting and photogenic. Is it not funny to learn things like the difference between dragonflies and damselflies? I learned the wing tip a long time ago and it is so simple an obvious.

    • I aspire to be as good as you one day, Donna! Although looking at your photos I can tell this will take much time and practice. Your photos show how much you enjoy photography and wildlife. Bees are very pretty and photogenic, although the damselflies look like something out of this world.

      The extension tube is a great trick till I can save up to get a proper macro lens, but, yes, you need to get really good at manually focusing, following the subject and anticipating its next move!

  4. I love dragonflies and damselflies, damselflies love our lavender hedge so I often get a chance to take a few photos of them there in summer. They are so beautiful. Dragonflies also eat wasps, so that makes them very welcome in our garden!

    • I didn’t know that damselflies were attracted to lavender – that must be a very pretty sight 🙂

      Never knew dragonflies were so fierce until I read up on them – I guess that’s how they deserve the name! But eat wasps? Wow!

      • I am not sure if they are attracted to the lavender or the small spiders etc that live on the flowers. Either way, the way the lavender flowers stand up high make it the perfect place to get a good look at them. 🙂

        I didn’t know that dragonflies ate wasps either until the day we disturbed a wasp nest in the backyard. Suddenly there was a dragonfly frenzy and we weren’t sure if they were feeding or if the wasps angry pheromones had attracted them. I regularly read another blog, The Dragonfly Woman , and asked her what she thought they were doing. She did a bit of investigating and came back to tell me that they do indeed eat European wasps. I was surprised, and very pleased!

      • I love Dragonfly Woman blog too and Standingoutinmyfield – there are some great nature blogs. I thought maybe hornets might attack wasps but never imagined dragonflies because they look so pretty and delicate. Weird that dragon ‘flies’ eat spiders too!

  5. Brilliant pics, Emma. So, now all I need for close-ups like these is an ‘extension tube’, right? (sounds like one of Bojo’s enjoyably madcap public transport schemes). But I start hyperventilating as soon as I leave the safety of the IA setting for P…

    • Thanks, RH! That’s right, an extension tube helps you get closer-in and I’m getting one for my 55mm lens while saving for a proper macro lens. It’s a bit hit-and-miss though and having tried it on bees they move rather fast when you’re constantly resolving the focus! Then they fly away – rude!

  6. Those are great photos Emma, but I’ve got to stand up for my little pocket camera…It’s a Sanyo 10 mp, Xacti, that can auto focus down to 1 centimeter. (1/2 inch) It’s less trouble than packing around a DSLR with an extension tube and manually focusing. It’s probably still not as good as your camera, but soooo convenient (and cheap).

    • Pocket cameras are great – I take my pink Lumix with me everywhere even if I have my SLR. Like your Sanyo, it has a great macro setting – the photo used in the banner of my blog was taken of mine and Emily’s bees last year with my Lumix.

      Even if you get an SLR, keep the automatic. Changing lenses on SLR can sometimes mean missing a shot and its useful to have a pocket camera to pull out and take a quick shot! I found this in Rome earlier this year – I had my zoom lens on the SLR one day and didn’t have time to change it, so I pulled out my pocket camera instead!

      Did you take the video of the bees on your blog with the pocket camera? It looks great! 🙂

      • Yes, that was taken with the Sanyo. Sometimes I’ll just take it out to the backyard to see if there’s anything happening. In this case we spotted the leaf cutter bees in action. Two days of watching and trying to capture them on camera, and now they’re gone. One of those lucky encounters, but nothing compares with capturing a hover fly with manual focus. And the wing detail of the damsel fly is hard to match. Way to go!

  7. So lovely Emma! Your photos just get better and better.

    By the way you left your two little cactuses that you bought the other day behind at my house. I have put them on our windowsill to get some light and will try to remember to bring them down on Saturday.

  8. Oh your photography is amazing!!!! I love macro photography. Must get out my 100mm macro and do some more 🙂 You’ve inspired me!! …and I haven’t had a chance to pop in for a while ~ I love your new design. Happy Weekend, Dee.

    • You are welcome, I’ve been asking a lot of people for advice on photography and am thinking of taking a course later this year, which I will share here. It is great to know how to capture something really amazing when you see it.

    • Thanks, Holly! I don’t have the equipment yet myself – it was all borrowed, but lovely to see what it can do. There are plenty of automatic cameras that can take gorgeous photos too, and that have good macro settings. You can even get special macro add-ons for iPhone cameras. There must be lots of lovely photo opportunities where you are! 🙂

      • Oh yes. The Pacific Northwest is beautiful. I love it here. It’s part of why I constantly carry around a camera where ever I go now. But there are times when my little point and shoot just doesn’t cut the mustard. I would love to borrow some fancier equipment and see what I can do. That would be sooo fun!!

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