Bug Shots

A closer look at insect photography

Flight of the Hover Fly

Posted by Darren on May 2, 2010

A rather windy an unproductive photo session today, though I did see quite a few examples of the Common Hover Fly (Ischiodon scutellaris). A fascinating insect to watch in flight and a difficult one to photograph.  I’ve had mixed luck with photographing hover-flies in the past and find that later in the afternoon is a far more productive time to catch them.  During the middle of the day they are certainly more active, and their flight patterns are far more erratic.  This is not a great time to try and photograph unless you can frame and focus in a second before they shift position in the air.  In the later afternoon I often find them settling down to roost on twigs and leaves, and they are reluctant to give up this spot easily. If disturbed they will take off and hover around the vicinity of the roost, often to return to the very same leaf.  This is the best time to shoot as they are quite persistent in reclaiming their position and will not hover far from this spot.   Watching these insects in flight is truly fascinating and the control they exhibit, even in windy conditions is amazing.  From a photography perspective, the sunlight in these shots is a bit harsh, but I was happy to hit the focus reasonably well in flight.  I’m still hoping for better shots of these beautiful insects in flight, and enjoy the challenge of improving my technique here.

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8 Responses to “Flight of the Hover Fly”

  1. Great tips on getting good shots of these insects in flight – resting photos are a dime a dozen, but good ones hovering in flight are gems. What was your shutter speed?

    • Darren said

      Hi Ted, thanks for the comments. I mostly shoot at 1/200s, the maximum flash sync speed for the Nikon D90. It usually proves sufficient to prevent motion blur of the subject but gives moving wings a nice blurred effect.

  2. One question for you Darren: how close to the flies were you when you took these photos?

    • Darren said

      Hi Miguel, these flies were quite close, about 20 to 30 cm away. I have also cropped these photos some to get the desired composition. I find that during this time of the afternoon, you can get quite close to these hover-flies without them spooking. They just seem focused on finding that important roost for the evening and less concerned about movement around them. If you can frame and focus quickly, they will usually hover over the spot long enough for you to get a few shots. Catching bees in flight is a different story altogether. You need to catch them when they are distracted in flowers and try and time the take off when shooting. Every flying insect seems to have a different technique which you need to work out before shooting for better success.

  3. Kerry said

    Excellent captures, especially that last one.

  4. Love the in-flight shots, something I haven’t been too successful with yet. I am going to try later in the day, as you suggest.

    • Darren said

      Hi Adrian. Good luck with the shoot. It’s a technique that works for me. Once the Hover flies seem to find a suitable roost for the evening, they are quite reluctant to loose this spot and will hover close by which is the best time to shoot. I find that insects in general seem far more sedate in the later afternoon which allows you to get a lot closer than in the middle of the day. Looking forward to seeing some shots.

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