The Perch Technique

Fortunately for the dragonfly photographer, many species are creatures of habit and are somewhat predictable in their behavior. The Broad-bodied Chaser, Four-spotted Chaser and Common Darter will all return to a favoured perch between bursts of flight. This perch will usually comprise an exposed branch of twig overhanging the stream or body of water in the flight path. This is particularly appropriate for the males of the species, who will spend most of their time patrolling a stretch of water spanning distances from 10 – 200 metres.

Females will again frequent a favoured perch, however its location will be usually be away from the main body of water. Female Broad-bodied Chasers will typically be found within a 50-100 metre radius of the male activity and will occasionally make trips to the water to deposit eggs. Locating the perch is usually a straight forward task, simply spot the in-flight dragonfly, and maintain eye contact until it decides to take a rest. Once the perch has been located it is time to set up camp in position for your photograph.

Flush and Stalk

Do not expect to stalk up on these species (with the exception of the Common Darter) as they will be quite timid and are likely to take to the air before you get within 3-4 feet of their perch. However, do not despair.. they will be back, and that is when you get your chance to capture a photograph. Be prepared to get down and dirty! Dragonflies are far more likely to return if you keep a low profile, this means lying as close to the ground as possible, and remaining perfectly still.

It will take up to 5 minutes for the dragonfly to regain its confidence and return to the perch, during which time it may take a few fly-bys to investigate your presence. Utilise this time to prepare you camera and setup focus on the wood texture of the perch; don’t be concerned if the dragonfly takes up perch elsewhere, this is not uncommon, and some species will have 2 or three regular perches in a single flight path.

At ground level photography utilising a tripod can be tricky so in many cases you may wish to go free hand, using your elbows to steady the camera. It is always worth taking a small tripod into the field, with a minimum height of 1.5 feet for use in perch photography. Take a look at the Four-spotted Chaser photographs on the site, as these were all captured utilising this technique.

If the natural perches are too difficult to reach, why not place your own twig or small branch into the stream bank and return a day or two later to see if it has become 'adopted'. Please however always be sure to return the habitat to how you found it, and never break branches from live vegetation.

Perched Four Spotted Chaser