Better ways to photograph odonates?

Hello everyone! I am very lucky that I get to see a lot of odonates while out in the field. However, is rare that I get to photograph the live ones. So far I’ve only been able to take pics of a half-drowned one and another that had a wing stuck to a blade of grass.
The thing is, I have a butterfly-style net that I could use to capture the ones that are flying around so I can take pictures. Would this be okay or would it hurt them? I would of course release them afterwards but im afraid they would get hurt in the process or become too stressed out and die. I have tried to sneak up on resting odonates very slowly (while wearing a camo shirt btw) but they inevitably fly away. Do you guys have any tips I could use? Is there some special method to sneak up on them? I have access to a normal phone camera and a pair of binoculars, tho I don’t thing those would help with such small animals.


There is another thread that discusses this, but I can’t find it. A few things:

  • if you successfully net an ode, you can generally safely handle them so long as you do it properly and try to minimize the time handling them. Hold them by the wings, making sure to hold all 4 wings. They are not strong enough to pull away. Like this, then try and photograph both the body and abdomen as the field marks for a particular species may be one one or both of these

  • different families of odes have different behaviours. Things like skimmers spend a lot of time perched, and often return to the same spot, so you can stake it out and photograph them. Others like darners spend much more time patrolling, so to see one landed you often need to just track it and then try to locate where it landed. They do often patrol a consistent path though. Some species always perch on the ground, some on vegetation, some on rocks in the water etc.

  • always put them back down by perching them on some vegetation, tree limb etc just in case they have to recover

  • if you see an ode perched and want to approach to try and photograph, do everything possible not to put your shadow over it (this holds true for all small items), when you spend your life as a prey item, a shadow suddenly overhead is a trigger to flee as quickly as possible.

  • depending on how long the handle is, a butterfly net may not be long enough to really catch them easily, but there are nets with arms over a meter long you can get

  • as much as possible due to their smaller size, I try to minimize handling damselflies, but you can do it safely too.

  • in some cases it is easier rather than trying to catch them in flight, which is still doable with practice, you can try and sneak up and place the net over top them when perched. and then grab and close the net so you can coax them up into it and then retrieve them.


Looks like this thread is similar:


How important is it (usually) to see an unobscured view of the wing venation?

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Thank you very much! I’ll try this next time I go out, there’s this big red dragonfly I’ve been trying to take pics of for months already, haha. Would leaving them on the shore of my pond be okay? They seem to frequent it a lot (im guessing cause they go there to lay eggs) but other animals like wasps and frogs also go there. Should I stay nearby while they recuperate?


It is great that you are interested in odonates. But if you want to photograph them the best way is to upgrade your photo equipment; capturing them just to take photographs is unnecessary and undesirable. I’ve taken photos of over a 100 species of odonates without having to capture a single one. All you need is a camera/lens that will allow you to take photos from a greater distance.


One tidbit that a number of experienced ode seekers have told me is: If you come across a perched dragonfly/damselfly and it flies away, just stand there for a few moments. Most are territorial and will return to the same perch. It has worked for me many times.

If you can, I would also take JimMoore’s advice and get a lens where you don’t have to be so close. I, unfortunately, don’t have one. I have to move very, very, very, slowly and I do miss shots. But, it is too much fun to quit.

Now, there are a number of species that patrol all day long. But, if you know where they are and can get there early in the morning when it is still cool, you may catch them perched in the sun trying to heat up or you can get a photo of them covered in dew drops.

Best of luck!


Unfortunately getting a good camera is out of the question for me rn, but I am planning to get a magnifying glass for my cellphone, would that work too?
I have noticed that the bigger odonates are the ones that usually fly around, or “patrol” as you guys say they do (are they territorial? I see a lot of them in pairs of 2 or 4), and only the smaller damselflies seem to land in my pond, except for the big red dragonfly I mentioned, that one seemed to love circling it. Yesterday I was sitting on the shore and I saw an odonate that looked like they were about to land close by so I stood very still, but they seemed to notice me anyway and didn’t land? (again I was wearing camo/green clothes and sitting still)

Try without camo gear… I’ve had situations with birding where I was able to walk up closer to a species of bird when in bright colours than when drably clothed… I’m guessing a brightly clothed human is easier to keep an eye on while going about their normal, than a partly hidden but still obvious one.


You can also get clip-on telephoto lenses for cell phones. I recently got a clip-on macro lens and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the photos.


I have so far only photographed three odonates. One was on a leaf, one on the ground, and one very high in a tree. For the low ones I just got as close as I thought I could without scaring them, then zoomed in with my camera until they basically filled the whole screen, and took the picture. Those pictures are quite good and have reached RG. The tree one was probably 15 feet up at least, I only knew it was there because I saw it land while I was photographing a bird. I just zoomed in as much as possible, but it wasn’t really enough. That observation is still at “Dragonflies (Suborder Anisoptera)”. My camera is a point-and-shoot with 720mm optic zoom. Leaf, ground, tree.


@odole thank you so much! And yes they do seem to be showing up more now, though most of them are flying around and not landing on the pond, while during summer there were less but they were all heading directly there (probably a result of the recent rains and them having more access to water bodies). My pond has several emerging water plants, as well as logs and such. Mostly I see them landing on the cattails and other water plants. Will they still be attracted to the sticks even if those plants are around? I will try regardless.

@fluffyinca honestly your pictures look amazing! As I mentioned I only photograph the ones I can get close to (so either dead or injured odonates so far, like the one that got their wing stuck in a blade of grass) as you can see even those pictures aren’t of the best quality, hence why im hoping to get a macro lens for my phone soon, maybe that will help. But I’ve tried taking pics of some damselflies that were not more than half a metre away from me but because of their size and my phone’s camera quality the photos turned out awful. Still, I will try the stalking method you guys suggested. Thanks!


Wing venation is important with a few species but most in my area (SW US) can be identified from a clear photo showing the whole body and wings. The male appendages at the tip of the abdomen may be more important, especially for some damselflies like Bluets which all look pretty similar overall. For the bigger dragonflies, body and abdomen color pattern, and sometimes the wing color pattern, if it has one, can be distinctive enough for an ID.


In my experience not very. I can only reliably speak for my home area of Ontario, Canada but I can’t think of any species which rely on it for separation. And even if they do what a reliable reference is. It is abdomen markings( and or shape/ size of the segments), thorax markings and reproductive organ shape that matters most.

@abrub in my experience while I can’t speak for your area, up to 90 percent of dragonflies can be identified by good pictures and about 75 percent visually, with lower numbers for damselflies. The challenge is some species offer few chances for good in situ pictures. For example with good pics, I can easily separate Canada, Lake and Green-striped Darners, but visually or even worse in flight have almost no chance to separate them. Positive identification means netting them or getting very lucky with a photo opportunity.

The best thing you can do is try to learn what species are in your area, and in particular which can be identified by sight and don’t need to be netted. Don’t spend time trying to net them if it is not needed. Only do it for those for whom it is the only realistic way to confirm an ID.


@abrub a good resource to help learn your local species is the iNat checklist itself. It looks like you are in the Buenos Aires area, so here is the checklist for Buenos Aires province showing all the odonata species from the area. Right now the list has 54 different from iNat observations as well as a few species which have no iNat records from the area which I have manually added from GBIF specimen records.

Buenos Aires province ode checklist

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@cmcheatle thanks a lot for the info! I’ll be sure to read up on my local odonates’ behaviour and ID methods.

@odole I’ll add a stick next time I visit the pond for sure and sit still with my camera in hand. Will let you know if it works as soon as I get more ode pics haha.

Thank you both for all the help!

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Back before digitial images, we used to catch them, cool then in a cooler, then perch them and click away until they flew off.
For skiimmers, try putting a perch out for them and focus on it and wait.
Several Ode websites discuss this, inc. our dearly loved and now deceased Greg Lasley.


In odonates found in my area, the abdominal makings( if any), the thorax markings and the anal appendages (in cases like differentiating species of the Copera Genus, etc.) are the most important.

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