Let Them Come To You

Tips From an Amateur Photographer

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I've found this very helpful, especially when photographing dragonflies.  After many failed attempts to approach the dragons closely enough to get a good shot I decided I needed a new strategy.  I watched the dragons as they went about their normal activity.  I could see that several of the different species had their own way of doing things.   One of the key things I noticed was their choice of a perch to rest on.  Dragonflies tend to select a firm perch compared to damselflies.  And, the preferred perch varies among the species.  Many species seem to prefer a perch that is a bit higher than most of the surrounding alternatives and they will normally land toward the top or end of the perch.  They often prefer sticks, twigs, or branches with  what would seem to be commanding views.   Most important, they often tend to return to a preferred perch even if they are frightened away  They will sometimes take long flights and return to the same perch over and over.   Some dragonflies are very territorial, especially male dragonflies around a breeding ground (such as along the edge of a lake, stream, pond, or other body of water.)

In order to bring the dragonflies to me I decided to provide them with suitable perches.  Around our pond I would find places with easy access for me and a few dragonflies around.  I created perches at some of the locations using just small sticks, dead branches, and the like stuck into the soft mud at the very edge of the water.  I could see that some dragons liked perches that actually extended out over the water a bit.  Some liked their perch to be only a few inches above the water while others preferred them to be as much as 18" or more.  (Some even use perches as high as 3-5  feet.)  Once I saw which perches the dragonflies preferred I would just park myself there, try to be relatively still, and wait for them to come to me.  

 Some species are remarkably tolerant and will allow you to bring the camera very close to get a good shot.  If they fly off, just ease back and wait a bit.  It is not uncommon for them to return to a good perch within just a few minutes.   I've had dragonflies leave and come back over and over  as many as 10 times in a few minutes when I may have spooked them.

I've had a lot of success in open land (pastures and such) using a similar technique.  In high grass they seem to flit about and always dart off as you approach.  I found some slender bamboo shoots and placed them around the grass. 

They are a taller than the tallest grass and many of the dragonflies are attracted to them as perches.   I even have some up to my eye level which makes it very easy to take the pictures without even having to lean over.   These taller perches are particularly attractive to the larger and heavier dragonflies.   You can see in the photo how well they work as it is not uncommon to see 2 or even 3 on the taller ones at the same time.  Here I was able to approach slowly from behind  and get some good close captures also.

Just try to think of it as though you were trying to attract some other type of creature.  If you wanted to take hummingbird pictures you might put up a feeder or park yourself among plants with the flowers they prefer.  For dragonflies you just need to figure out what they want that you can take advantage of.  Satisfactory perches appear to be at least one thing that may attract dragonflies to where you want them if they are already around.  And of course take advantage of all the natural perches that they seem to prefer in an area (such as the end of bare limbs and branches or even a car's antenna)  if you can access them.


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