Volume IV Issue 2


Backroads of Ohio, my MBI/Voyageur Press collaboration with travel writer Miriam Carey on some of the roads less traveled in the Buckeye State, has been published. Here is a link to a description of the book on the Voyageur Press website:


Our First Family’s Home: The Ohio Governor’s Residence and Heritage Garden, which will be published by Ohio University Press, is now scheduled for release in early 2008. Most of the photography for the book has been completed, but the manuscript is now undergoing changes to reflect the participation of the new occupants of the Residence, Governor Ted Strickland and First Lady Frances Strickland.

I have begun work on Digital Garden Photography for Timber Press. My prior book, The Art of Garden Photography, also published by Timber Press, had limited information on digital photography because the manuscript was completed in early 2004, when many professional photographers, myself included, were still making the transition from film to digital photography. With several years of additional experience, using improved digital cameras, lenses, and computer hardware and software I feel better equipped to provide practical advice on creating and sharing digital garden photographs. I expect to complete the manuscript within the next 12 months so that Digital Garden Photography can be published in late 2008 or early 2009.

Another exciting new photography book project is a commission from the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) in St. Louis to produce the photographs for an exhibit-format book to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the garden in 1859 by Englishman Henry Shaw. MBG is one of the oldest botanical gardens in America, and also one of the most diverse, with more than thirty unique gardens contained within 79 acres. MBG’s large staff of research scientists carry out extensive plant studies throughout the world, and Dr. Peter Raven, who has directed MBG for 35 years, is an eminent horticulturist and conservationist. The book will be designed and produced by MBG’s Publications Department, and I will be traveling to St. Louis each month during 2007 and early 2008 to carry out the photography. It’s a great honor to receive this garden photography commission, and I look forward to sharing some of the photography as the project unfolds.


The University of Akron’s Workforce Development and Continuing Education group will hold another two-day Digital Nature Photography Workshop on July 20-21, 2007. The workshop will include a half-day field photography session in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and 1½ days of intensive classroom instruction covering the basics of digital nature photography. This workshop is especially suitable for beginners in digital photography. For more information, call (330)-972-7577 or visit the University of Akron’s website at:


Holden Arboretum in Lake County, Ohio will be hosting my popular one-day summer workshop Digital Bugs, which provides advice on observing, identifying and photographing butterflies, dragonflies, and other tiny critters, on August 11, 2007. During the morning session, we’ll review useful insect field guides and a slide show will help you identify common butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies and provide suggestions on how to photograph them in the field using a digital camera. After lunch, we’ll visit several of the ponds and open meadows at Holden to observe and photograph these beautiful, gossamer-winged insects. An evening session to share and review photographs taken by workshop participants will be held on August 22, 2007. For more information about this workshop, call Vonna Zahler at (440)-946-4000 or visit Holden Arboretum’s website at:


I will be sharing photographs from my forthcoming book, Our First Family’s Home: The Ohio Governor’s Residence and Heritage Garden on September 20, 2007 at the monthly meeting of the Cuyahoga Valley Photographic Society (CVPS), held at the Happy Days Visitor Center in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in northeast Ohio. I will also be discussing my experiences with several new digital imaging software programs, including Adobe’s new Lightroom. For more information, visit the CVPS website at:


The Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis will be hosting a two-day Digital Garden Photography Workshop on October 19-20, 2007. During the classroom sessions we will cover the basics of garden photography, including optimizing exposure and depth-of-field, lighting and filters, photographing garden vistas, abstracts and plant close-ups, photographing garden structures and water features, people and pets in the garden, indoor gardens and gardens at night. You will also learn how to select and use digital point-and-shoot and SLR cameras, including recommended camera settings, and tips for using digital cameras in the garden. We’ll review the personal computer hardware and software needed to fine-tune and store digital photographs, and provide demonstrations of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, Adobe’s new software package for browsing, editing and optimizing digital photographs. You’ll learn how to use your PC or Mac to prepare email attachments, Powerpoint slides and website graphics from your favorite digital garden photographs, and how to use Epson, HP and Canon inkjet printers to make eye-catching color prints.

The first day also includes a hands-on photography session to practice your photography skills during the peak of fall color at Missouri Botanical Garden. During the second day, we’ll review and critique a selection of the digital photographs taken by participants during the afternoon field session, and provide demonstrations of a variety of computer-based techniques for fine-tuning digital garden photographs.

For more information on this workshop, call Glenn Kopp at Missouri Botanical Garden, (314)-577-5148, or send an email to: glennkopp@mobot.org


“Today I saw the dragonfly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew
Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.”
– Alfred Lord Tennyson

Dragonflies and damselflies are beautiful, fascinating insects that make great subjects for nature photography. Each summer I’m dazzled by the beauty and amazed by the antics of these gossamer-winged aerial acrobats, and I would like to share some ideas in this newsletter on how best to observe them and photograph them in the field with digital cameras.

There are roughly 5000 species of dragonflies worldwide and about 435 species in North America. My home state of Ohio has around 150 species of dragonflies and damselflies, with the largest number and variety of species occurring from late spring through midsummer. Dragonflies are larger, with thicker bodies, and tend to hold their wings at right angles to their body when resting; their smaller cousins, damselflies, fold their wings over their backs or hold them at an angle to their slender bodies when at rest. Both dragonflies and damselflies are predatory insects that belong to the order Odonata, or “toothy ones”. They are generally found in wet habitats such as rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, bogs, swamps and fens, though adult dragonflies often visit fields and other open areas to hunt for their prey, which consists of mosquitoes and other small insects.

A decade ago there were no field guides to North American dragonflies and damselflies available. Today there are several, including some excellent regional guides. If you visit Google.com or Amazon.com and query “dragonfly books” you can review the rapidly growing number of dragonfly field guides. An excellent and inexpensive book is Stokes Beginner’s Guide To Dragonflies, by Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones, Donald & Lillian Stokes (Little Brown and Co., Boston, 2002). For damselflies, my favorite is Damselflies of the Northeast, by Ed Lam (Biodiversity Books, Forest Hills, New York, 2004). Ed Lam’s paintings of damselflies in this guide are superb, and he is currently working on a Peterson Field Guide to Dragonflies (www.homepage.mac.com/edlam/)

Most dragonflies and damselflies can be identified, with practice, in the field with the aid of field guides, a hand lens, and a pair of close-focusing binoculars. The binoculars do not have to be expensive or powerful, but they should focus to 6 feet or less. Eagle Optics (www.eagleoptics.com) offers a great selection of close-focusing binoculars for insect observation. A butterfly net can be used to capture dragonflies and damselflies so that they can be examined in the hand. Dragonflies don’t sting or bite people so you should not be concerned about handling them.

Unlike birds, which may often be observed early in the morning and on cool days, dragonflies and damselflies are only active on warm, bright days. Sunny or partly cloudy weather with temperatures in the seventies or eighties is ideal for dragonfly observation and photography. Don’t waste your time looking for them when the temperature is less than 60 degrees or in heavy overcast or rainy weather. The exception to this is searching for dragonflies that roost overnight in low vegetation and can be photographed at rest; this activity is popular in late summer and early fall, when roosting dragonflies are often covered with dewdrops and make exceptionably beautiful early morning subjects for close-up photography. I use a tripod and prefer to use natural light; dewdrops and the body of the dragonflies are very reflective, and flash is too harsh, in my opinion, for this type of dragonfly photography.

I’m no fan of point-&-shoot (P&S) digital cameras, but with care they can be used, handheld, to photograph active dragonflies and damselflies. Be sure to read the camera manual, so you know how to set the camera controls for “macro” mode. Set the sensitivity (ISO) to 100 or 200. Try to avoid higher settings, which often produce digital “noise” with P&S cameras. If the camera has image stabilization, be sure it is activated. Use aperture-preferred (the “A” setting) mode, and experiment with different apertures to get a sense for the best settings for exposure and depth-of-field. You will probably have to rely on autofocus with a P&S camera, since most do not have a usable manual focus system. Remember that the autofocus sensor (usually a small circle in the center of the viewfinder or LCD screen) must be placed over the body of the dragonfly, otherwise the camera will focus on the background and the dragonfly may be out of focus. However, most P&S digital cameras provide extensive depth-of-field, and if you set the f-stop (aperture) to its maximum value, usually around f/8, you will have a fair amount of leeway in focusing. To maximize the working distance between you and the dragonfly, set the zoom lens to the longest focal length setting that will still permit the camera to operate in “macro” mode.

I’ll have more to say in future newsletters and in my new book, Digital Garden Photography, about my strong preference for digital single lens reflex (SLR) cameras for serious photography, and photographing dragonflies and damselflies is no exception. SLR cameras have larger sensors that produce better images, which can be further enhanced by shooting in “RAW” mode rather than “JPEG” mode. Most digital SLR cameras have excellent optical viewfinders and manual focusing systems, both of which aid in composition and obtaining sharp photographs of dragonflies. You don’t need to spend a fortune: an entry-level consumer dSLR, such as the Nikon D40X or the Canon EOS 400D/Digital Rebel XTi, provides a 10-megapixel sensor and a kit lens, usually around 18-55mm, for an investment of about $750.

An 18-55mm zoom lens is an excellent choice for general outdoor photography, but it may not focus close enough to provide a frame-filling image of a dragonfly, so if you plan to do a lot of dragonfly photography you may wish to consider a longer lens, such as a 70-200mm zoom lens or a “macro’ lens designed especially for close-up photography. My favorite lens for dragonfly photography is the Sigma 180mm APO Macro, and I can also use my 18-200mm Zoom Nikkor, which is not as sharp as the Sigma lens but does have the added advantage of Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) system, which improves the sharpness of hand-held photographs. My April, 2006 Website Newsletter has an article on choosing a macro lens:


Another advantage of a long focal length lens, such as a 180mm or 200mm macro lens or a 70-200mm zoom lens used at the 200mm setting, is the very small depth-of-field so that the background behind the dragonfly appears as a diffuse blur, which helps to isolate the dragonfly so it stands out in the photograph. This is much harder to do with a 50mm lens, which also requires a closer working distance to achieve the same magnification.

If your zoom lens doesn’t focus close enough for dragonfly photography, you can invest in close-up filters, such as the Nikon “T” series, which screw in to the front of the lens and provide a “macro” capability. This will certainly be much less expensive than purchasing a special-purpose 180mm or 200mm macro lens. When used with a high-quality zoom lens these close-up filters provide excellent optical performance, and they won’t affect exposure metering or vibration reduction, both of which may be impaired by the use of extension tubes, which are short tubes that attach between the camera and the lens to provide a closer focusing distance.

Although I generally use a tripod for close-up photography of stationary subjects, including early morning natural light photos of dragonflies roosting in wetlands or meadows, trying to use a tripod to photograph dragonflies that are flying around during the day is usually an exercise in frustration. It’s very difficult to manipulate a tripod in grasses and other tall vegetation, and all too easy to disturb the dragonfly, which will fly away. Worse, grasses sway in the slightest breeze, and it’s usually impossible to keep the dragonfly in sharp focus. I often photograph dragonflies in wetlands and along rivers and streams while wading in up to a foot of water, and hand-holding the camera is the only practical approach in these precarious conditions.

What about a monopod? I’ve tried several, but although monopods do provide a measure of additional support for the camera and lens I find the need to constantly adjust the length and angle of the monopod as the dragonflies and damselflies move around in low vegetation is simply too much trouble. If you figure out how to do it easily let me know!

Natural light or flash? Although I like to use natural light for stationary close-up subjects, such as wildflower portraits, mushrooms, or roosting, dew-covered dragonflies early in the morning, I prefer to use flash to photograph active dragonflies, for several reasons. First, using flash ensures that the temperature of the light remains constant, so that the color of the dragonflies in your photographs will be consistent, regardless of the time of day or whether it is sunny or cloudy. With natural light, the variation in the color and temperature of the light may cause the same dragonfly to take on different colors depending on the light. In addition, the short duration of the flash helps to minimize any movement of the dragonfly, and allows you to use a small f/stop, if needed, to obtain adequate depth-of-field.

A single flash produces a harsh light that can produce multiple reflections from the body of the dragonfly if the light from the flash is not diffused. For this reason, I prefer to use a ringlight, which mounts on the end of the lens and creates a bright but diffuse light that provides repeatable, attractive lighting for dragonfly portraits. Ringlights are made by Nikon, Canon, and several other companies. I use the Nikon SB-29 ringlight, either at full manual output when working at a distance of 18-24 inches or at ¼ output when working very close to a small dragonfly or damselfly. I set my camera to 1/250-second at an ISO of 100, which ensures that I don’t get a ghost image from the ambient light exposure, then vary the f/stop, usually within the range of f/11 to f/22, to adjust the exposure. You may wish to try TTL (through-the-lens) metering, but because dragonflies and damselflies have thin bodies and transparent wings the camera meter will often be measuring the light from the background, which may result in an inaccurate exposure.

When you have spotted a dragonfly or damselfly you would like to photograph, plan your approach with care. Move slowly, and avoid casting a shadow on the dragonfly with your body, which will often make the dragonfly fly away. Try to position the camera so that you are parallel to the body of the insect to minimize problems with depth-of-field. Rather than constantly refocusing, set the camera to a fixed focus and try moving the entire camera and lens until the dragonfly appears sharp. You’ll want to take plenty of shots, including some bracketed exposures so you will have some choices when you review the photos at home on your PC/MAC. With dragonflies, to get the wings sharp, shoot looking down on the back of the insect, at right angles to the plane of the wings. But take photos from the side too, which reveals the lateral stripes, dots and other features that are often important aids to identification. With damselflies, most photographs are best taken from the side. For positive identification of some species of dragonflies and damselflies you will also need to take a close-up photograph of the tip of the tail.

Dragonflies and damselflies can be addictive, and there are many organizations that can help you expand your odonata enjoyment and expertise . At the national level, The Dragonfly Society of the Americas (DSA) conducts several meetings each year and produces a newsletter, Argia, and other publications. Their website is:


In my home state of Ohio, the Ohio Odonata Society (OOS) promotes knowledge and enjoyment of dragonflies and damselflies in Ohio. OOS maintains records on dragonfly distribution within Ohio’s 88 counties, has produced several publications, and conducts an annual dragonfly symposium each year in the Buckeye State. The OOS website is:


Another excellent organization is the North American Butterfly Association (NABA). Although butterflies are the primary focus of NABA, many NABA members have a strong interest and expertise in dragonflies, and it’s definitely worthwhile getting to know some of the NABA members in your area. NABA’s website is:


In Northeast Ohio, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH) conducts extensive field research in dragonfly distribution and behaviour, and offers numerous field trips conducted by CMNH dragonfly experts during spring, summer, and fall to CMNH natural areas and other field locations. For more information, visit the CMNH website at:


If you would like to learn more about dragonflies and damselflies and how to photograph them, consider attending my Holden Arboretum workshop, Digital Bugs, on August 11, 2007. We have also added some new dragonfly and damselfly photographs to the website to whet your appetite for these gossamer-winged critters.


The website has been redesigned and reprogrammed by my talented webmaster, Jon Wilhelm, to make it much easier to maintain and easier for yours truly to update the content.

The major change, in addition to a new color scheme, is that the old subject galleries (e.g. barns, bridges, etc) have been replaced by a searchable, keyword-based database which allows you to create your own gallery by entering one or more keywords in a “Google-like” fashion. You can create your own lightbox of images and even email it to a friend or client. You can even send a postcard using one of my photos.

Over the remainder of the year, we will be expanding the database from 800 photos to more than 2,000 images.

Thanks, Jon, for your hard work and elegant new website design!

Have a great summer!
Ian & Fuji

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