Dragonfly Macro Photography – History Park – Punta Gorda, Florida

I got a call from a good friend and she asked if I would be interested in photographing dragonflies. I have seen these things flying all over the house lately so I was intrigued to see what could be done. It was late in the week and had been a long one since my classes now cover about 100 miles of coastline in Southwest Florida. I think I’m going to buy stock in Michelin and Shell Oil! We decided to meet at the History Park in Punta Gorda, Florida since that was fairly close.

As I was riding around and finishing up my day, I was thinking about all of the stuff that I should take to get the perfect shot. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, I had an epiphany. Tiredness and laziness set in and I decided to just take my Nikon 105mm Macro lens, tripod and cable release. Going light was the way to go today. I arrived about 5:00 p.m. and checking my sunrise/sunset app on my iPhone, the sun was going to set around 7:00 p.m.

When I arrived on location, I parked the car and headed for the back seat. Again, the tiredness set in and the tripod looked way to heavy at this point. I grabbed the camera and camera cards. I wanted to see what I could get handheld, if anything. I was going to be a rebel and throw all of the macro rules to the wind. I did a quick walk around on the property and my fellow photographer soon arrived. The light was soft where the dragonflies were congregating. I’m a big fan of shade as this opens up the dynamic range for the camera and I don’t have to fiddle with flash or reflectors.

 Spencer Pullen photographed this Bandwing Dragonlet dragonfly at the History Park in Punta Gorda, Florida.Bandwing Dragonlet Dragonfly – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

My Nikon is coming up on six years old, which is ancient in technology time. It really doesn’t like any ISO’s over 400. However, in this case I was hand holding and since I’m using a macro lens, my depth of field is in quarter inches, this is going to be a challenge. I wanted to try and keep my shutter speed about 1/125 if possible. My macro lens does have vibration reduction built in so that is going to help me for a stop or two. As you can see from the photo above the sun was at camera right and was fading fast. I used ISO 800, f/5.6 at 1/125. Traditionally, when I shoot macro photos, I like an f-stop of f/16 – f/32. Since I was on the ground chasing this fly around like a bad version of Twister, I opened my f-stop up a bit for a faster shutter speed. Also, I had the luxury that the fly’s body was parallel to the sensor. This meant that his whole body was going to be in focus at a lower f-stop. As you can see his wings are not sharp, but I was glad to get this.

 This is a close up of a Bandwing Dragonlet dragonfly, photographed by Spencer Pullen at the History Park in Punta Gorda, Florida.Turned Into The Wind – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

After a few minutes, he flew away and kept coming back to the same stick. The light was leaving by the second. I wanted a little more depth of field so I adjusted my f-stop to f/8. This allowed his wings and head to be in focus. However, I had a new problem, there is less light and I closed down my aperture by one stop. What all of this means is that I’m playing in the danger zone of what my camera can do. At this point I said what the hell, crank up the ole’ ISO to 3200! This kept my exposure the same at 1/125 but accounted for the reduction in light and f-stop.

My friend was shooting a Nikon D700 with a Sigma 105mm Macro. She mentioned that she had trouble with this lens before and it was acting up again. So we switched and this was the first time I had a Sigma lens on my camera. She went off to the other side of the shrubs and all of the sudden she was making all kind of noises, like. “Oooooh”, “Ahhhh”, “Oh, this is what I have been missing.” I was starting to wonder what was going on over there. I decided to give this lens a go and see what I could do. The first thing that I noticed is that the focus was much slower. This isn’t a deal breaker, but you do have to be patient. I really couldn’t tell what the quality was going to be on the back of the little 3” screen so that was going to be like Christmas seeing what I got when I got home. After 10 minutes, she was in love with the Nikon lens, and I think I heard her calling her camera source to overnight her one. It wasn’t my fault, I promise. I know I get blamed for spending people’s money, but it wasn’t really my plan, ahem.

 This head shot of a Bandwing Dragonlet dragonfly was taken by Spencer Pullen at the History Park in Punta Gorda, Florida.Dragonfly Portrait – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

It was quite amazing that this fella put up with us. He stayed really still on the stick and let us go bonkers taking his photo. Eventually, I was able to pretty much fill the frame with is face. Again, the light was leaving so I was trying to hold my settings the best I could. This is still at 3200 ISO, f/8 at 1/80. This was shot with the Sigma lens. When I got home I realized that these images did take a hit. I know manufacture glass is twice or three times the price, but it’s worth it. Since I had a digital snowstorm on my hands from the high ISO I used my Nik plug in, Define to help cancel some of that out. I made some contrast adjustments and sharpened it. Is this my best work? I would say no. We were fighting light issues and this didn’t help our situation. However, as I tell folks, “A photo is better than no photo.”

 Spencer Pullen photographed this Bandwing Dragonlet dragonfly with his eyes open at the History Park in Punta Gorda, Florida.Get My Close Up – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Something strange was going on. I saw this guy doing something with his eyes. I had no idea what was going on, as it was happening so fast. I switched the continuous shooting on and ripped off a few frames. This is one that I got. Apparently, they have a visor that they can flip up and down. I’m not educated in dragonfly eyes, so maybe someone out there knows better than I do. I get this same look when I’m looking through the glass case at Krispy Kreme. Again, I would have rather of shot this at f/16 and ISO 400, but what is one to do when there is no light?

At the end of the day, these will work. Will I go back sometime when there is more light, ugh yes. This will allow for more depth of field and lower ISOs. Christmas is ALWAYS COMING so call your camera supplier and get some really good glass, you won’t be sorry. The quality and sharpness comes from the lens, not necessary the camera. I hope to try and photograph these guys again and I’ll post an update when I get that far. Go around your home and see what critters you have waiting for you to capture.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Spencer,

    I love your writing style but really appreciate the insight on the mechanics. I am always envious of people with great (read expensive equipment) but you bring me back to earth. Thanks – and keep shooting.


    • Spencer

      At the end of the day it’s how you use what you have to it’s full potential. Some folks are gear heads and don’t ever seem to take photos! I have even seen some amazing photos from point and shoot cameras! Thanks…


  2. “Digital Snow Storm” haha! Love the expression and I too appreciate the insightfulness on your adventures. Macro photography looks like it would be really awesome! I mean, who knew Dragonfly’s had lips?!

    • Spencer

      Ya, it’s pretty interesting to see what a bug portrait looks like…a face only a mother could love!


  3. Your photos are awesome.

    • Spencer

      I’m sure you have some great shots in your collection as well. Thanks…


  4. I think I’ve seen this guy on the Scifi channel! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Great photographs and I always enjoy reading your posts and learning from your commentary.


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