All featured images were taken by and remain the property of Chris Brooks

Photographic Techniques by Chris Brooks

Image Backgrounds



This is probably the most important area of Odonata photography, although it is a subject that can be very easily overlooked.

When I first started out specialising in images of dragonflies and damselflies I was content to just get a clear and sharp image of the subject matter and didn't really concentrate too heavily on the quality of the background material.

I have to say that a uniformly coloured and uncluttered background can turn a good image into a fantastic one. In addition a suitably blurred and out of focus background can eccentuate the sharpness of the subject matter.

The image above of a male Small Red Damselfly clearly shows off this technique to the full. The subject was on a lone and isolated perch and the green vegetation in the background appears a uniform colour. Your eye is fully drawn to the subject matter and is not distracted by a confusing background.

The main problem is that as a wildlife photographer you have no say whatsoever on where your subject settles and the composition of the shot above was as a result of a relatively rare photographic opportunity.

Many species will settle either close to the ground or in / on dense vegetaton or grasses. There is very little opportunity in these circumstances to achieve a totally blurred background without severely compromising the depth of focus of the subject matter. As a result the background although partially blurred will be visible.


Some Useful Techniques

There are serveral techniqies involving backgrounds that will assist you in achieving better images. Some of these are described below.

Try to concentrate your photographic attempts on those subjects that are settled on isolated perches. This is an obvious technique that will naturally avoid a confused background.

Avoid areas of heavy shadow in the background, this is a problem with subjects perched on trees or scrubland / bushes. The shadow will only add dark patches to your image that will distract the eye from the quality of the subject matter.

Avoid areas of bright colour in the background caused by flowers or light foliage. Although out of focus it will create a visual distraction that will spoil the overall effect of the image.

One of the greatest and most annoying spoilers are water / dew droplets in the image. When these are illuminated by the sun they will appear as bright sequins and can render an otherwise good image as readily discardable. There is very little you can do to avoid these other than to wait for the moisture to dry out.

A Tip to Consider

This might seem obvious but always use your depth of field preview button. Your view through the viewfinder may show a clear background; however a quick glance with the preview button will show up any dark areas that may spoil your images.

My Conclusion

It might not be possible to achieve all of the above and some compromise may be necessary. Sometimes changing the angle of the shot will solve a composition issue at other times the only option is to refuse the opportunity and wait for better one to come along.

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