3rd Place - Norfolk Hawker in Flight
I am very lucky in the the past few years, a growing colony of Norfolk Hawkers have been present at Westbere Lakes, east Kent. I have spent many hours watching, studying and photographing them during June and July with a number of pleasing efforts. During 2015, I decided that I would try for a few flight shots of this species. This is a good species to try with as the males often pause briefly to hover when they are on territory. My early attempts often resulted in blurred images and parts of a dragonfly in shot but after a while and learning their habits, I started to get a few usable images. I soon realised that they often follow the same flight path and using manual focus, I was almost able to get into position first before they arrived in shot. Eventually, I got a few shots I was really happy with and with this new information learnt, I couldn't wait for the next season. When the Norfolk Hawkers appeared again in 2016, I again spent a lot of time photographing them but also put in quite a bit of time practicing manually focusing on various items at speed. With time and practice, I started to get sharper images and also learnt about what settings were best in different lights. After a few weeks of the Hawkers being out, I returned on a few days and hoped I would find a male on territory which would give me the chance of 'that' shot. I found a few individuals to practice on with varying success and then on one session, all the factors worked in my favour. I found a male patrolling at a nice height and then moved into a position where I had a chance of capturing some shots with a pleasing background. I spent a while watching his movements and where he often paused to hover and pre focused on this rough area. I then started to fire off a number of shots with some degree of success as he flew up and down the dyke and eventually after much trying, I managed to capture this shot which I was very pleased with. To capture the Norfolk Hawker in flight and in focus with a nice background to contrast with was a very satisfying moment. I shall no doubt be back in 2017 to see if I can make any improvements. I think this may be a big challenge!
2nd Place - White faced Darter in Flight
White faced Darter (male)
For at least 4 years, I have wanted to make the long trip north to Whixall Moss in Shropshire to see the rare White faced Darter. I made plans last year with fellow enthusiast Paul Ritchie that in 2016, we would indeed make the trip and thankfully, the day we decided to go was hot, sunny and in the mid twenties. I had seen hundreds of photos on the internet and other than seeing them, really wanted a few photos to take back with me. I did note whilst looking that there were next to none of any in flight and so this shot was already in mind should the chance arise. We had an excellent time with the cameras and took many shots but later in the day, my mind turned to the flight shot challenge. I had noted that when the females were egg laying, they were often accompanied by a male who would briefly hover above her before moving off and repeating the act. I soon found a few likely candidates but the speed they move was incredible. I often ended up with blank, blurred or partial shots. I continued to try and after more frustrations, decided in the end that my best tactic was to try to get onto the darter as quick as I could and fire off shot after shot whilst slowly moving through the manual focus. I hoped in this way that I might get luck and get something in focus. After more trying, I finally rattled off more shots and on closer inspection on the camera, had one shot in particular that looked quite good. It was mostly in focus, just the tip of the abdomen was slightly out of focus but with a nice contrast with the background, I think I had my shot. Not only had I seen this stunning dragonfly but I was one of only a few that seemed to have a flight shot of them. A superb trip and a most memorable one which will hopefully repeated in the next few years.
1st Place - Willow Emerald Damselfly at Sunrise
Willow Emerald Damselfly at Sunrise
Anyone having followed my shots for the past couple of years will know that I have a particular liking for a sunrise shot and with a colony of the nationally rare Willow Emerald Damselfly only a few minutes from where I live in east Kent, I set about trying to capture this combination. I made a number of visits to see where the damselflies were going to roost and with open fields to the east, I had a good view of the sun rising. I spent a while on a few early mornings prior to getting the photos setting up the tripod, trying different settings and then as the sun rose, taking a number of tester shots. Anyone who has seen the sunrise will know that it rises pretty quickly and to capture the stunning colours, I would have to work quite quickly and hope my subject would stay still enough for while. It was also vital that the subject and grasses were perpendicular to the lens in order for me to get everything in focus. With my homework done, It was time to try to get some photos so a watch of the weather was crucial for this to happen. I made a visit one evening knowing there were a good number of damselflies around and hoped that a few would go to roost in an area where I had been practicing. As the temperature cooled, I watched a number go to the trees and some to the reeds on the waters edge while a few went into the long grasses next to the stream. There were two damselflies that chose a great area and I hoped that early morning they would still be in this area and with luck, if they climbed a little higher, I would have a great chance of some shots. I left for home and spent most of the evening thinking about them and hoped they wouldn't move. The next day looked good weather wise and I arrived at the site in the dark and with a light, I soon found both of my targets in position. I set up the camera and tripod and using a piece of grass as a marker, I knew exactly where the sun would rise. All looked good through the viewfinder and with no cloud and a bit of dew present adding to the effect, I eagerly awaited sunrise and hoped the damselfly would move a little up the grass. It all happened very quickly and soon the sky was turning a fantastic red and orange colour. The sun as it arrived was very bright and due to this, I actually wore sunglasses and took a number of shots before a quick break, just to make sure I wasn't damaging my eyes. Thankfully the damselfly moved a little higher as it sensed the warmth of the sun and into a brilliant position. I was now looking at the shot I visualised in my head and rattled off a good number of shots. It wasn't long until the sun rose high in the sky and the damselfly moved position but with the planning, time and a good number of shots taken, I ended up with one of my favorite shots I have taken. I have this shot framed on my wall at 16' x 12' and every time I see it, it brings back lovely memories of that day and the work I put into it to get the shot. I will hopefully be out this season and with a bit of luck and planning again, continue to obtain shots that both myself and others can look at and enjoy and appreciate.