• Andrew JK Tan

Nikon D850 - Nature Photography, Dragonfly In Flight

Dragonflies are "huge" if compared to my favourite insect the Robberfly so photographing them close up is really not that challenging. I decided then I wanted to photograph Dragonflies or at least 1 Dragonfly in flight to increase the challenge stakes.

A FEW CONSIDERATIONS - A photographer always needs to plan well before starting

1. I had to find a pond or stream of some kind with a good concentration of dragonflies to photograph. In the end I decided on a pond that was located in Ang Mo Kio Park.

2. I wanted an overcast day where the sun had to be behind clouds so that I had a gigantic softbox. This would provide me with the best lighting condition to capture the Dragonflies without the nasty reflections appearing on it's compound eyes .... today morning (1st Oct) was exactly that kind of a day

3. I was not going to get myself wet so no wading in the pond for me (... and to protect my hardware)

4. I decided that using a macro lens to photograph a dragonfly in flight was going to be almost impossible given the shooting distance and the speed that they would be moving, hence the decision to use my Nikkor 80-400mm and try to capture them from a distance

5. Since it was going to be outdoors with relatively strong daylight and having to photograph my subjects at least 6 feet away (the minimum focusing distance for the 80-400 is 5.7 feet or 1.75 meters) , I was going to skip using any flash or strobes to make it easier, eliminating any complex setup.


1. Nikon D850 in DX mode to get maximum magnification at 600mm angle of view (20 Megapixel Resolution)

2. Nikkor 80-400mm f4.5/5.6

3. RAW format

4. AF-C - D72 (Dynamic AF Area mode)

5. AF-C release priority set to Release+Focus

6. ISO setting that would allow at least a shutter speed of 1/1600s or faster

7. Aperture set to largest opening

8. Hand-Held

9. No flash


A composite creation to show a Dragonfly in flight and landing sequence.

The above composite was created by the following three sequential captures by the D850 at 600mm angle of view, firing at 7FPS hand-held. ISO1600, 1/2500s, f5.6

For this sequence , I pre-focused on the edges of the leaf and followed the dragonfly as best possible as it landed.

Well is there more ?

Yes, a couple more where I tried to follow focus a creature that would not fly in a predictable manner. It was crazy, frustrating but fun. There were some passer-bys who were wondering why this photographer was using such a long lens and photographing the water lilies in the pond by moving in a random and unpredictable manner. They could not see the blue Dragonflies that I was chasing around with my setup.

One last Landing action image !!!

I have photographed Dragonflies in flight with my trusty speed demon the Nikon D4 and my previous all-rounder Nikon, the D810. Here are my thoughts if I compared how the Nikon D850 performed vs. the time when I used the D4 and the D810

1. The D850 overall handling and shutter response was fast and quick and definitely felt faster than my D810 for sure (FYI, I had also used the D810 in 1.5DX mode and was also capable of 7FPS in DX mode). The D850 felt slower than my D4 which was not a surprise as I could burst at greater than 10FPS with the D4

2. Focus hit rate wise, the D850 was comparable to the D4 & definitely better than the D810. However I still feel that if I used the D5, the D5 would still come out tops Focus Hit Rate wise.

3. The D850 is much lighter and easier to hand-hold than my D4 which is very important when trying to photograph subjects which have an unpredictable flight path over a prolonged period of time.

4. Overall image details , to me the D850 trumps the D4 and D810 in the case of Dragonflies in flight. The D850 wins this one at ISO1600.

So there you have it, I have successfully used the new Nikon D850 to photograph Dragonflies in flight and I can assure you, that they are NOT the easiest subject to photograph in flight in an uncontrolled natural environment. So if you try, don't give up, you may need more than 1 session though but I am sure you will catch a couple too.

Hope you like the images shared, till the next blog ....... Happy shooting with the D850.