Freezing Dragonflies in Flight

Ghislain Simard

Photographing butterflies from as early as ten years old, Ghislain Simard is now known as an expert of high-speed photography, especially when it comes to capturing insects in flight. Shifting his focus to dragonflies, he designed his own high-speed tools in order to freeze these agile fliers in motion. Using the H6D-100c and various HC lenses combined with a home-made laser system to trigger the flash, Ghislain created elegant, painting-like images of dragonflies frozen in time.

© GHISLAIN SIMARD
CAMERA: HASSELBLAD H6D-100C
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/111.000S
APERTURE: F/6,3
ISO: 64
FOCAL LENGTH: 210MM (HC 4/210)

WHERE TO SHOOT DRAGONFLIES

Dragonflies are not very fond of photographers getting too close to them, usually changing their flight path to avoid any lens that gets in their way. Since they fly over water, this adds another layer of separation between the subject and the photographer. Usually shooting these insects in the south-east of France, Ghislain uses the telephoto Hasselblad HC 4,5/300 Lens to overcome the distance. But that seems to be the least of his problems when shooting these quick creatures.

© GHISLAIN SIMARD
CAMERA: HASSELBLAD H6D-100C
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/111.000S
APERTURE: F/10
ISO: 100
FOCAL LENGTH: 120MM (HC 4/120)

#1: CAPTURING THE DRAGONFLY AT THE RIGHT MOMENT

There are a few matters to address when trying to shoot the speedy and elusive dragonfly. The most obvious is that of actually being able to take the photo at the exact second necessary. To solve this, Ghislain used a home-made electronic system in combination with a laser; this laser detects the subject as it flies into focus, triggering the camera at just the right moment.

© GHISLAIN SIMARD
CAMERA: HASSELBLAD H6D-100C

© GHISLAIN SIMARD
CAMERA: HASSELBLAD H6D-100C

#2: AVOID BLURRING THE DRAGONFLY

The second issue is to avoid blurring when freezing the fast movement of the dragonfly. “It’s even more difficult to freeze very rapid movement if the scene is framed close-up. A single wing-beat takes the subject right across the frame!” exclaims Ghislain. In order to overcome this, Ghislain used electronic flash systems that generate very brief flashes capable of freezing even the fastest actions. Upgrading to high voltage flash units, the exposure time was as fast as 1/111,000 of a second.

#3: SHUTTER LAG TIME

The third obstacle to overcome was the shutter lag time, as this brief time lapse is a big delay when your subject is moving very quickly. “The leaf shutter of the HC Lenses is very fast, and it helps to minimize the impact of shutter opening delay. For the fastest shots, with the assistance of Hasselblad, it was possible to make the medium format camera to effectively trigger the flash directly via the sensor, without any mechanical shutter, making my H6D far faster than any 35mm DSLR I’ve previously used,” says Ghislain.

© GHISLAIN SIMARD
CAMERA: HASSELBLAD H6D-100C
SHUTTER SPEED: 1/111.000S
APERTURE: F/3,5
ISO: 64
FOCAL LENGTH: 50MM (HC 3,5/50)

The advanced characteristics of the H6D-100c result in unprecedented image quality in wildlife photography, but not only because of high pixel count. The higher magnification ratio required with larger sensors provides a nicer bokeh. There’s a kind of 3D effect with the H6D-100c that I have never seen delivered by a 35mm DSLR.

ABOUT GHISLAIN SIMARD

Nature macro photographer Ghislain Simard has had a passion for insects since childhood. From photographing butterflies frozen on flowers, he realized his images were missing something. Inspired by the high-speed nature photography of Stephen Dalton, Ghislain realised he wanted the thrill of capturing insects in flight. Wanting to push technical limits further, Ghislain had to develop his own high-speed tools that were not yet available on the market. “Since then, my pictures have made me discover a different planet – the world of insects where gravity plays no part.” See more of his work here.

JOHN ALEXANDER

ISLE TO ISLE

Taking to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, John Alexander sought to capture the colours of the soft early winter light along with a selection of the people who share the same affinity for their landscapes.

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