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.