BBC Countryfile Photo Competition 2009
In September 2009 I entered the BBC’s annual Countryfile Photo Competition with this photo I’d taken of a Blue-Tailed Damselfly (see left). Luckily, my mother called me on the day Countryfile gets broadcast to remind me that the competition finalists were being chosen during that night’s broadcast.
While watching that evening’s episode, you can imagine our surprise when my own photo was held up by none other than Chris Packham, who commented on the damselfly’s eyes. My photo wasn’t chosen as one of the 12 finalists for the 2010 Countryfile Calendar but we were certainly thrilled to get a mention out of 31,000 entries on national television by a respected Wildlife enthusiast and fellow photographer.
I’ve been lucky to have spent quite a bit of time photographing damselflies this summer. I’ve spotted a lot more Blue-Tailed Damselflies (Ischnura elegans) than any other species in my local area (London & South East). The Blue-Tailed Damselfly is a common and widespread species and will sometimes live happily in and around ponds and lakes that more “posh” species would avoid.
Blue-Tails like to spend quite a large part of their time at rest close to where their prey is found, usually among the flora found at the edges of ponds and lakes. Something I’ve found with this species in particular is how approachable they can be in comparision with the Common Blue Damselfly for example. They still require a certain amount of stealth in approach though, and will fly off in response to sudden movements. Brushing against whatever plant they are resting on doesn’t help, but is very easily done. I also try to avoid moving my shadow in front of the insect (except on the occasions when it can actually help reduce harsh sunlight in the photo).
Male Blue-Tailed Damselflies (see right) are aptly named and usually easily identifiable by their stripey blue head and thorax, and also by segment 8 on their body being entirely blue. The female of this species however is quite interesting in that there are several common colour forms.
Initially, while learning about Blue-Tails, I often thought that Blue-Tailed females were a totally different species due to the wide range of colours. These colour forms include pink, violet and green. The main photo at the beginning of the article shows a red form and the mating wheel photo below shows a brown form.
Getting The Shot
It was quite an overcast morning when I went ‘hunting’ damselflies, and I used my “macro combo” of Panasonic TZ5 with a Raynox 250 close-up lens (connected via a home-made vitamin bottle adapter). Even though I primarily use Canon D-SLRs for most of my photos, I find that for macro subjects, I feel more comfortable with my trusty little pocket-sized digital camera.
I was able to manouver the camera into position and actually rest the lens a just a couple of inches further up the briar from the damselfly, while still managing to keep a pleasing head-on angle between the lens and the insect. The sheer size of the Canon SLR would have prevented the nice angle, as I’d have been pointing down on top of the insect much more with the SLR setup. The position of the briar behind an iron fence also ruled out the use of a tripod (which I tend to shy away from anyway).
With the smaller camera, I was also able to hold the briar against the camera lens so that when I moved, the briar would move too. This was quite tricky as the briar was obviously thorny, as briars tend to be, so I didn’t want to pick up too many thorns, and also had to be as gentle as possible as to not freak out the little damselfly and ruin the shot. As it turned out, I was lucky as she was in a very relaxed mood and allowed me to take several shots from different positions at different zoom levels.
Prints of this photo are available in the gallery here.