Both part of the order Odonata, dragonflys and damselflys share a lot of similarities and are therefore often all referred to by the better known name of dragonfly. However, they are indeed quite different and there are obvious ways to tell them apart once you know what they are. Dragonflies have eyes that nearly touch in front while damsels eyes are separated and more to the side of the head. Damsels are less “thick” in the body, appearing long and slender and also have wings that are similar, while dragons are thick through the abdomen and have dissimilar wing pairs. But the most noticeable difference for me when I was learning to tell them apart, was the way the wings are held at rest. Dragonflies keep their wings extended, out to the side, while damselflies tuck them in close together, over the body.
And perhaps that is more than you ever wanted to know about these winged creatures!
From massive on the Mara to minutiae on our marsh, I am having to change my head space this week with regards to where I point my lens. After spending so much glorious time shooting in the wilds of Kenya, I am back home exploring our small Montreal marsh and forests. For the most part, Africa was about large game and exotic birds. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy shooting the small wonders–cobwebs, insects, lizards and hyraxes, but for the most part, the wild animals were the subject-matter of choice. Today, walking through the marsh my eye needed to look a little harder to find creatures that were stirring. Aside from some baby ducks and a nesting black tern, the unexpected would only be found in the hidden world of bugs and buds. It was wonderful to be on foot again wandering through the green, but I can’t say I didn’t miss the quickening heartbeat that comes getting up close with a male lion or a pool of hippos. Still, the amazing thing about nature photography is trying to find the details we overlook, or a new perspective that frames something in a more interesting way, telling a different story. Really, what motivates me is simple; “to notice.” And big or small, Canadian or African, noticing the beauty, design and singularities in the natural world around us never ceases to surprise and delight me.
Somedays I would go into the woods hoping to see a spectacle of marsh birds only to find the trails almost silent. At first this was a disappointment, but now when the obvious doesn’t present itself I find I am far more attentive to the small wonders. They take some serious searching for at times, and then, like the dragon flies, are not always easy to capture. But there is something very cool about seeing these little wonders close up. I have renewed respect for their world after observing so many coming and goings.
I am learning patience from dragonflies. Yesterday I decided to take on one of the biggest shooting challenges for me to date: capturing dragonflies in flight. Understand, I am generally impatient waiting for microwave popcorn, so standing in one spot for 50 minutes trying to focus and track erratically flying winged-things is not exactly in my comfort zone. But I loved the challenge! I totally zen’d out. I was shooting with the Canon 7D and my 300m f4 L and after a few false starts and AF trial and errors, I started to find my rhythm. Coincidentally, it corresponded with finding the insects rhythm. They really are erratic drunken flyers, changing direction and altitude very quickly, but, they also hover. And so I started to concentrate on that hovering moment. Once I had a sense of the tracking and focus, I concentrated on composition looking for opportunities with a nice contrasting background to create interesting bokeh, and perhaps a little light dancing off the wings. Is that too much to ask for!? I am pretty happy with my first attempts and will definitely be going back to try this again. They are fascinating to watch.