Photographing Dragonflies and Damselflies

Bright, colorful, alien-like dragonflies and damselflies are some of the most unusual creatures you or I are likely to come across. Moving at seemingly impossible speeds and always seeming to be on the go, these insects can be a challenge to even the most experienced photographer, but there are ways to increase your chances of getting the wall perfect shot. Hopefully, here, you will gain a much better understanding of how you could achieve these shots yourself.

damselfly silhouette

photo by John D.


While you won’t need hugely expensive gear to get an OK shot of one of these flying monsters if you follow my tips—a point and shoot will get you something—the best photographs will be achieved with decent kit.

With that said, the better your kit the more it will allow you to get photos. An SLR will allow you more control but it will be your lens choice that will be most debated. There are two schools of thought. The first—and the one I currently use—is to use a good macro lens and get in close to your subject. This requires patience and a fair bit of luck.

The other choice is to use a much longer lens (300–500mm) but use extension tubes in order to reduce the minimum focal distance and allow you to get frame filling pictures. This second option allows you to keep at a distance, therefore you are less likely to spook the insect. If you already have a long lens this can be a very cheap option, look for extension tubes on Amazon; they really are cost effective.

While using natural sunlight is preferred you may also find it useful to have a decent flash unit, as well. This will help make sure you get decent fill light on your subject. A ring light is ideal for this in macro photography, but any flash helps and using an extender will work well with longer lenses.


Once you have your gear ready the first and most important step–which I can’t emphasize enough–you must learn the subject. On your first attempt at photographing dragonflies you are likely to fail if you have not spent time watching them first.

dragonfly photography

photo by Nigel

Most dragonflies, especially the bigger species, follow set feeding and flight routes or have favorite perches or hover points. If you study them and watch what they do and where they go, you will be able to set yourself up in a position to photograph the dragonfly most often when it is at rest. But, this technique will also help photograph the dragonfly while in flight which can be a very difficult job. This is why knowing your subject is vital.


Photographing dragonflies is like with all wildlife photography. It’s advisable to dress in drab colors.  Insects are sensitive to ultraviolet light (UV) and bright colors tend to reflect UV more.

The best defense for a dragonfly comes in their ability to detect movement, so in order to get close to a dragonfly it is vital to keep your movements slow. Fast, jittery movement will put your subject to flight. Move carefully and have your camera ready. It’s no good sneaking up on a resting dragonfly only to jerk your camera up at the last second.


When composing a dragonfly or damselfly photograph you need to think of a few things prior to pressing the button:

  • What is your photograph for?
  • Are you looking to achieve a photograph for identification purposes, either for other people to use as an aide or to help you identify it later on? If so, you need to make sure you are focusing on the salient points.

Again knowing your subject matter will help you know how to compose.

On the other hand, if you’re looking at aesthetically pleasing photos for display purposes, you will likely want to change your composition approach. Trying to keep backgrounds uncluttered and keeping the subject on a level will make a much nicer picture. For damselflies this often means getting down in their habitat (knee protectors of some kind can help). For the larger species, you will likely be looking to photograph them on an isolated post.

Depth of Field

When you’re photographing small objects of any kind at a close distance you will want to decide on how much of your subject is in focus. With insects you will likely want as much as possible to be sharp. This will require you to use small apertures and create a large depth of field. Unfortunately, this will often make for lower shutter speeds, so whilst stabilizing your camera becomes important, you may find you have to compromise in order to get shutter speeds at a level that is acceptable for freezing the subject. Unless you have great light and a really good hand holding technique it’s advisable to use a tripod or other support. This again may help dictate your composition since the more perpendicular you are to the subject, the less likelihood there is of finding out of focus areas.

insect photo shallow depth of field

photo by Adrian Paine

Hopefully, with time, patience and practice you will be able to take some amazing images of dragonflies that really show off their lace-like wings and unusual features. I would certainly love to hear if the tips here help you to achieve this.

About the Author:
Article written by Ashley Beolens from @fatphotograph. Director and major contributor to the global photographic web resource.

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5 responses to “Photographing Dragonflies and Damselflies”

  1. says:

    Kevin is right about the importance of understanding the desired depth of field when doing insects. However, depth of field is dependent on four factors: sensor size, focal length of the lens, distance to subject, and only then aperture. Get a depth of field calculator and learn how to use it if you want to be successful with macro. Also, if your camera has a DOF preview, use it.

  2. Craig Rich says:

    Great article! A good buddy of mine runs and has a lot of great tips that would reinforce and add to your article. I think the key, as you define, is to know your subject.

    Keep up the good work.


  3. Pete Moulton says:

    Just a minor quibble, but since your article’s about shooting dragons and damsels, I feel compelled to point out that that last photograph, “Ben Shemen Forest” is neither dragonfly nor damselfly. Instead, it’s a female robber fly. Not a big deal because, of course, the same photographic methods work for them too.

  4. Paul Leedham says:

    As of 10-01-2013 I bought a EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III Telephoto Zoom Lens for $125 brand new on ebay, have a look around before going with the above prices.

  5. Stan says:

    Flight patterns of dragonflies are often sun-dependent. I have noticed that they fly horizontally back and forth strictly in a sunlit path. Flying in one direction, they abruptly turn around as soon as they’re in shadow and fly to the other shadow area. So, it’s back and forth in the sun.

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