Saturday, 9 December 2017

Photo Highlights of 2017 (Part 2)

With so many photos taken this year, its been a challenge to work my way through them to choose some more favourites. I could in all honesty, have picked many more but the ones I have chosen have been picked for a variety of reasons. Some of them were just timed right, others were planned and thought about to achieve the desired shot while some produced some fantastic memories and encounters. During the year, I have made a number of trips to see specific species and a real highlight was watching over 20 Southern Migrant Hawkers in a single dyke in Essex. To just witness this spectacle was awesome but to also come away with a few pleasing photos was most welcome. To witness any dragonfly or damselfly emerge has to be up there for any odonata enthusiast so I have made it a mission of mine to try to photograph a few species emerging this year. To capture a Hairy Dragonfly emerging in the still of the night and knowing most around you are tucked up in bed whilst this miracle happens unbeknown to them is a superb sight to see and one I will never tire of. A first also this year was to get into the water to photograph a Willow Emerald Damselfly emerging in a stream at Nethergong. Resting my camera on a tray provided me with a superb view of the emergence and a few nice shots obtained. As readers of my blog will know, I have a soft spot for the Willow Emerald Damselfly and have probably spent more hours with this species than any other. This have provided me with a good knowledge of this species and also countless photographic experiences which I will never forget. I could carry on writing about experiences throughout the year and maybe that another post to do in the near future but I think at this point, the photos will speak better than any words I could write about them. Enjoy!

Banded Demoiselle (male) at Sunset 

Hairy Dragonfly (female) Emerging 

Hairy Dragonfly and Azure Damselfly Nymph with Friend 

'Dewy' Large Red Damselfly (male) 

Migrant Hawker (male) in Flight 

Emerald Damselfly (male) in tandem with a Willow Emerald Damselfly (female) 

Norfolk Hawker (male) 

Southern Migrant Hawker (male) in Flight 

Willow Emerald Damselflies (pair in tandem) 

Willow Emerald Damselfly Nymph 

Willow Emerald Damselflies (teneral male) 

'Dewy' Willow Emerald Damselfly

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Photo Highlights of 2017 (Part 1)

Well, the 2017 season has finally come to an end and on a personal note, what a season it has been, both from an educational point of view from what I have learnt but also, photographically with many hours spent out in the field striving to capture and show off these winged wonders. Like most years, I gave myself a few challenges at the start of the season from finding and photographing Emerald Damselfly nymphs, photographing the whole emergence of a Banded Demoiselle and searching for Norfolk Hawker exuviae to name a few. Most of my season was spent in and around Kent but I did cross the county border to see the stunning Southern Migrant Hawkers in Essex. I have to say though that my personal highlight of which there are many has to go to the hours I put in to capture the emergence of the Banded Demoiselle. To my knowledge, I could not find any photos of the whole emergence online and so the past few years, I have tried to rear a few nymphs during spring to capture this rarely seen sight. To cut a long story short, many hours of sleepless nights spent on the sofa and checking my artificial stream I had made in the garden were finally rewarded with what was an incredible experience to both see and photograph. More of this experience to come in due coarse. With so many photos taken this year, I have found it a challenge to pick out a selection which I consider to be my favourite photos of the year. Each photo comes with its own personal story and experience and looking back at them, they provide lovely memories. I will post my second installment soon but I hope you enjoy the first selection. 

Banded Demoiselle Emerging 

Banded Demoiselle (male) 

Banded Demoiselle (male) with Exuviae 

Banded Demoiselle at Sunrise  

Banded Demoiselles at Sunset 

Common Darter with Exuviae 

Emerald Damselfly Nymph 

Hairy Dragonfly (female) emerging 

Hairy Dragonfly (female) with Exuviae 

Norfolk Hawker (male) 

Southern Migrant Hawker (male) 

Willow Emerald Damselflies (mating pair)

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Processing Dragonfly Nymph Photos

Anyone following my blog will know that in the past few winters when the dragonfly season is over, I try to occupy my time with dragonfly and damselfly nymph photography to keep the interest going and to hopefully educate myself and learn a little about their behaviour or any identification features that I am unaware of. The nymphs are photographed in a small glass tank that is prepared a few days prior to introducing a nymph to photograph so that the water can settle down and the majority of air bubbles disperse. I tend to either photograph the nymphs on soaked leaves which provide a natural colour or add some weighted pieces of weed that the nymphs can climb onto. The key here is to make sure the weed or leaves is as close to the front of the tank as possible so I am not shooting through lots of water. If the subject can be perpendicular to the tank, this normally helps out and makes it easier to get the whole subject in focus. The camera is mounted on a tripod and placed close to the glass where I can move it forwards or backwards to obtain the shots I need. Its then a case of using manual mode, speed set to 250, ISO 400, manual focus, f8 - f16, some in camera flash and keep checking the shots until you achieve the desired quality and lighting in the photos. In the past few years I have been photographing nymphs, I have received a number of emails asking how I get the shots so crisp and clear and how I go about processing them them in photoshop so with the dark evenings here, I thought I would go through some of the actions I take in processing my photos that might be of interest to others.

Crop and Resize

After taking the initial photos and downloading them to the computer, my first action normally is to go through them looking to see whether some have come out slightly better than others. There are always some in a batch which just come out better for some reason but I find it useful to do this first. After finding a photo to process, I then first crop the photo to the desired size I want making sure I have all the subject in the shot and where possible, some habitat and a clear background to show off the subject. Some photos work better in portrait whereas some may look better in landscape. It sometimes worth trying both methods to get the image you want. When this is done, I save and then reopen to see what the quality is like before I carry on. Sometimes at this point, you just know the image won't work but if you plan well, you should have an image that looks like it could workout well. Its worth saying that while you see many of my photos on my blog and website looking quite good, you don't see the hundreds that didn't quite make it for one reason or another.

Emperor Dragonfly Nymph 

Hairy Dragonfly Nymph

Saturation, Contrast, Brightness, Background and Sharpening

With the photo open in photoshop, I then start the process of making it look a little better. Its true to say that the better you can get the image in the camera originally, the less working on it you will have to do. My first action is to move the saturation to the right to +10 followed by the contrast to +3. If happy, I then generally save and reopen the photo again. From here I often adjust the backlighting to +1 if needed and finally, sharpen. There are times when sharpening an image can make it look worse or too noisy but on most occasions, I do tend to sharpen. I then save the image and before carrying on, have a good look at it and tend to become my own critic. There are many photos at this point that are often deleted, it depends how fussy you are. 

Cloning and Neat Image

For some images and especially the dragonfly nymph shots in the tank where you may have air bubbles, marks on the glass etc, I use the cloning tool and pick a spot and copy the colour. I am then able to click over the offending marks and remove them and in most cases, it really cleans up the photos well (the square shows an area I have cleaned up). I think can clearly make out the difference in the photos shown (especially the Hairy Dragonfly image). My final action is to run the image through 'Neat Image', a free download that can reduce noise in the photos. On most cases, this can really work well but with a cluttered background, it will make the photos worse. The image is then saved and ready to be published.

The Final Image

So all being well, if you have been lucky with the camera and the processing, you may have an image to look at and be happy with. 

The Finished Photos

So there you have it. That's what I tend to do and it works well for me but it comes down to personal preference with photos and we all go about it in different ways. I hope the information helps a little, not only for photographing the nymphs but also the dragonflies and damselflies. With a few long months to go now until next season, give it a go and see whether you can photograph some nymphs during the winter. Not only will you get addicted but you may learn something interesting about their underwater lives.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

What To Do During The Winter Months?

With another weekend of rain, dull days and low temperatures barely getting above 7 degrees celsius, it looks like I will not be seeing anymore dragonflies this year but all is not lost as the dragonfly season moves under the water during the colder months. Most dragonflies and damselflies spend most of their life in the nymph stage but because its takes place under the water, most are totally unaware that their lives carry on. For some, they will spend the winter in the egg stage and will await the slowly warming months where they will hatch and grow quickly in order to emerge a few months later. It would be very easy for me to go into hibernation now that the adult stage is seemingly over but I will hopefully once again spend some time pond dipping at various locations to see if I can collect, photograph and study a few different species of nymph in my indoor tank set up. It has certainly provided many rewarding hours so far, not only photographing them and learning of the different settings required to photograph them but also studying their behaviour, how they move, what they they eat and how different species hunt. Hopefully over the long dark winter months, I will be able to get out and  find a few new species I have not yet photographed in the nymph stage but am always looking to improve on my photos from previous years and expand my own personal knowledge in these areas. The answers to my last post concerning the wings of different species were as follows: 1. Broad bodied Chaser, 2. Brown Hawker, 3. Common Clubtail, 4. Four spotted Chaser, 5. Hairy Dragonfly, 6. Norfolk Hawker, 7. Red veined Darter, 8. Scarce Chaser, 9. Southern Emerald Damselfly, 10. Southern Hawker, 11, White faced Darter and 12. Willow Emerald Damselfly. Below are a few photos of nymphs I have taking in the past couple of years. 

Banded Demoiselle Nymph 

Broad bodied Chaser Nymph 

Hairy Dragonfly Nymph 

Migrant Hawker Nymph