How to photograph pond minibeasts

3 ways to photograph the wildlife in your pond, with photographer Laurie Campbell. 

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Southern hawker dragonfly
All images by Laurie Campbell

 

It’s often said that one of the most beneficial things you can do to attract wildlife to your garden is to create a pond. It needn’t be particularly big – even some sort of water feature in a container will be seen as an oasis where everything from garden birds to foxes will almost immediately come to drink.

Later, as the pond becomes established, whole communities of aquatic life begin to form. Because you have regular access, you are in the perfect position to observe and document the changes as a steady variety of potential subjects find their way to your creation. In terms of minibeasts, these can be loosely divided into those that can be photographed on and above the surface, such as pond-skaters, whirligig beetles and damselflies, and those below, such as three-spined sticklebacks and caddis-fly larvae that require being photographed in a carefully prepared tank.

Getting acquainted with ponds and their diminutive inhabitants can open up a whole new world of photographic potential. Here are three ways to capture them on camera:

 

1. Southern hawker dragonfly (main image, above)

This was my first ever sighting of a southern hawker, and all the more exciting because it turned up in my garden pond. Normally I would choose a telephoto macro lens attached to a tripod and stalk the subject, but for this image I used a hand-held camera fitted with a fisheye lens. 

Insects are less likely to flee from your approach when the air is cooler. I took this photo in mid-October, but in warmer months try early or late in the day.

With the dragonfly less than 15cm away, the 180-degree angle of view of the fisheye lens allowed me to show it within its surroundings. The inclusion of the summerhouse points to a garden setting.

It’s hard to use tripods with fisheye lenses because of the problem of including the legs in the picture, so I supported the camera for the 1/40-sec shutter speed by resting both my elbows on the ground.

Crouching low down allowed me to compose the dragonfly against the sky, avoid casting my shadow over the scene and keep my subject at ease by appearing largely below the skyline.

 

 

2. Garden snail

Taking photographs around water may give you the chance to work a reflection into the composition. For this image of a snail on a log, the low viewpoint and calm conditions with the sun low in the sky from behind created the perfect combination. Virtually any subject would look good in this situation.

 

 

3. Great diving beetle

The only way to capture this beetle was to place it in a small glass tank with some pondweed and photograph it through the side, indoors and in subdued lighting to avoid reflections from the glass. The scene was lit by a single electronic flash that was fitted with a diffuser and positioned to fire directly down into the water from above.

 

See more brilliant nature photography by Laurie Campbell. 

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