Like a Shutter: Release: Miracle

ebony jeweling damselfly portrait

The ebony jewelwing has proven to be an elusive capture for me over recent years; miraculously this beauty was one of two that allowed me to approach close enough for high-magnification shots.

Way back (it seems so long now!) when I toiled with my trusty (and still kickin’ if not often used) Canon Powershot A620, there was a pathway in my neighborhood state park, and this pathway was not a trail, perhaps some sort of old access road that appeared to be sort of maintained if rarely used. One day, hoping for new subjects and habitats, which can be as close as one different flower or bush, I went up then down the mostly-cleared, pine-needle terrain of this path for a very short distance before coming out at a marshy area where the stream flowing from the pond was making its way to an outlet. I was treated with one of the more wonderful bug realms I had stumbled upon at that point in my bug journey: it was a playground or maybe, more aptly-put, a kingdom for a number of broad-winged demoiselles (i.e. damselflies). They were Calopteryx maculata, the Ebony Jewelwing, and they engaged in apparent territorial and mating battles between the tall grasses rising in patches around and sometimes within a very shallow stretch of the stream.

The full sun and the limits of my A620 provided enough photographic challenges as it was, but these jewelwings while not entirely happy to have a giant intruder, kept about their serious business, allowing me to photography them. In between dashes, I’d shoot one fanning its beautiful black stain-glassed wings or try for one of the females that were less involved in the activity. They were wary enough to give me a little bit of a hard time, but I got plenty of shots, including some near-misses of in-flight shots that left me hoping (futilely) for another chance to capture that most magical moment winged creatures inherently enjoy. As it turned out, I never have found an opportunity to shoot them in flight or in such large, esaily accessible numbers again. I returned the following year to the same spot, but it appeared a beaver had dammed up the stream, and just like that it seemed a whole new habitat. Not a single jewelwing to be found.

I have checked that spot intermittently the past few years, though I don’t think I even bothered the past year or two. The ebony jewelwings are still around however, particularly in one stretch in the woods at the edge of the main driveway. They are usually alighted upon a bush, basking in the sun, at good heights for shooting but they are impossibly wary. Having a rig for true macro photography has meant that getting close enough to simply fire off a shot, without much regard for such luxuries as focus or a framing (sarcasm alert!) was a huge victory. The much-coveted Odonate portrait, highlighting those big, beautiful compound eyes, was of course the prize, but good luck with that! These damsels might have taunted me a little or might have fluttered off at the slightest movement even at a great distance, but either way, I wasn’t going to get close enough.

That is until this month. I was having a pretty good shooting day up to that point, when I saw them there in the usual spot in the bushes below the tall pines, maybe four or five or six of them, so close but so far as usual. I was however at that moment ready. That means energy up and mind open: ready to shoot something, anything even slightly interesting, which these beauties fit the bill. So I told myself, let’s give it a go, it’s only up from here on the jewelwing front. To my amazement, I was fast upon one that appeared receptive to my approach (or maybe paralyzed by fear?). And then even more surprisingly after taking a few, measured somewhat composed shots, one of its brethren alighted upon a nearby leaf on the same bush, which meant I had to choose one to shoot all of a sudden — what a dilemma! A nice one to have for sure, but given the likely possibility that going for one would scare off the other given their close proximity, I had to choose wisely. I stuck with the one I had been shooting, because it was used to the camera a little by then. I’m not sure if that is a sound basis to go off, because sometimes I think maybe it’s also primed to fly off as the tension has already built up. In any event, it worked out, I fired off a good number of additional shots before it took off. Much to my delight, the other one was still hanging around and I managed a handful of shots of that one as well!

All in all, it was your typical June 1st Christmas miracle; it was one of those bug photographer “highs” that I hope all those inclined to such wonders get to experience. Now while I actually had time to set my camera and arrange the frame, it still was not what I’d call comfortable shooting. I wonder if I could have controlled the highlights a little better with some extra margin for error, but I just went with it to a certain degree. I guess that you just have to let a miracle happen for it to happen.



4 thoughts on “Like a Shutter: Release: Miracle

    1. Hi Victor, I did use a flash, SB600 on manual output as per usual. According to the EXIF on the RAW file it was at 25% output, which sounds about right. I usually like to keep the noise down so I stay at native ISO (200 on the D5000) but I think I bumped it up to 320 for this shot so I didn’t have to blast the flash at higher output. 2 cans coke can diffuser to soften it up a bit; specular highlights on the eyes came out fairly even but the reflections on the snout were a bit harsh; hard to account for it, especially with the insect’s skittishness and the ultra metallic sheen of their bodies. I did some layer masking in GIMP to tone down the snout; thought about painting over the burnt out spots but ultimately decided that was a bit too “unnatural.”

      Also if you or anyone else is interested, this shot is uncropped; the focal length was not recorded due to the lens being reversed, but it was probably around 24 or 28mm, if I may hazard a guess from how the subject fills the frame.

      On Mon, Jun 9, 2014 at 3:23 PM, wrote:


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