Liftoff: Filming A Dragonflies First Flight of the Day

Fall is a great time to film wildlife and nature on the tallgrass prairies in the Midwest. Warm days and cool nights oftentimes produce ground fog and plants and insects covered with dew.
Ground fog and dew quickly vanish once the sun rises, so a wildlife filmmaker needs to act quickly if they are looking to film several subjects.

This one particular morning I decided to stick around until a dragonfly I found on the tallgrass prairie at Indian Creek Nature Center took off on its first flight of the day.
The morning was cool, the winds calm and a high overcast meant that the dew covered dragonfly would take longer to warm up for its maiden flight.

Periodically I could see a little movement. Once the dragonfly flicked its wings, shaking off some dew as if it were not all that happy that the warming process was taking so long. It would be almost another thirty minutes or so before the dragonfly was warmed up enough to prepare for flight.

No creature that takes to the air would ever leave the ground with impaired vision. The dragonfly would wipe the dew off of its large eyes as it slowly started to warm up.

Finally the moment I had been waiting for all morning was about to take place. Almost as if the dragonfly had turned a key, its wings started to move. In a fraction of a second, they were nothing but a blur. For several minutes the dragonfly stayed firmly attached to the stem of grass it had called its home during the previous night. I wasn’t sure how long this would go on but eventually I began to see the dragonflies body start to lift as if the wings had pivoted slightly and were now starting to generate lift. But the dragonfly still clung to the stem of prairie grass.

Suddenly the dragonfly took one quick look to its left and released itself from the stem of prairie grass and exploded into the sky.

When looking at the footage frame by frame the dragonfly exits the camera’s view in just two frames. Although for a few additional frames you can still see the dew off of its wings streaking through the frame.

It was something I had never experienced before and was ecstatic that I decided to stay to watch the first flight of the day!

Finally, the dew had evaporated, the sun had risen higher and the rest of the world was starting to wake up as well.
I marveled at the wonderful show that nature had put on but sadly she had played only to an audience of one.

If I could give you one wildlife filming tip, it would be to stick with a subject and see it through. If I had taken a few minutes of video and then moved on, I would have missed this incredible experience!

I hope you enjoyed this video. Please share with your friends!


And as always, shoot the ordinary and make it extraordinary!

Kevin J Railsback is a wildlife and nature filmmaker

By | 2016-11-06T09:39:04+00:00 September 17th, 2012|Categories: Short Films|Tags: , , , , , |30 Comments

About the Author:

Award-winning filmmaker Kevin J Railsback has traveled as far as Africa to test HD cameras for Panasonic. His stunning nature and wildlife footage has appeared in productions on National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel as well as in commercials for such corporate giants as AT&T.

30 Comments

  1. Mark
    Twitter:
    June 16, 2013 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Very nice film Kevin. For insects warming up and drying out in the morning, it is usually a process I am racing against in trying to photograph them while they are still. It is a process I have witnessed many times, but I don’t think I ever saw it put together on film before.
    Mark invites you to read…A place to call homeMy Profile

    • Kevin J Railsback June 17, 2013 at 10:25 am - Reply

      Mark,

      Thanks for the kind words.
      I stumbled on these dragonflies quite by accident. I guess that’s one of the good things about walking into the sun on a morning with plenty of dew on the ground. The dragonflies wings were lit up like diamonds on the tallgrass prairie.

      I waled a little farther to see if there were any other ones to film so when I turned around and walked back with the sun behind me, I had a difficult time finding them. So I actually went farther down the trail and turned back around since I knew they would be easier to find.

      I used a fast sHutter speed to help get some shallow depth of field and the result was that it made the dragonflies wigs almost look like I filmed it in slow motion. But you’re actually seeing it in real time. Thanks for dropping by. Love reading your blog and checking out the incredible work you’re doing.

  2. Kevin
    Twitter:
    October 3, 2014 at 7:31 am - Reply

    Hello Kevin,
    I have just for the first time seen this video,even though I have been to your site many many times,so good, fantastic.

    I am learning from you, probably something that is THE most essential attribute for any Videographer / Photographer PATIENCE,of which I am infamous for not having any.

    I recently sat for over two hours no more than 15 feet from two Water Dragons,who were catching the last rays and heat from the rapidly setting sun, in the hope either of them would take a leap into the water and swim off to wherever it is they spend their nights.

    No such luck, I had to abandon the steak out due to lack of light and a lack of heat in my own body, however I did get some good CU’s of the beasts as they mockingly refused to move nothing more than an eye brow or wink from time to time.
    However I will be BAACK.

    Again Kevin many thanks for the inspiration and tips.

    Regards Kevin.

    • Kevin J Railsback October 3, 2014 at 9:05 am - Reply

      Kevin,

      Good to hear from you!
      Patience really is one of the hardest things to master when it comes to filming nature and wildlife.
      I purposely get in the longest line at the store so I can watch people in shorter lines get checked out and leave while I’m still waiting. It sounds stupid but it really helps lower your stress and you just accept that you’re going to be in line longer.

      I used to feel an outing was a failure of I didn’t come back with some footage. I learned however that it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

      Being out in nature recharges my batteries and even if I never take the camera out of the bag, I’m better off being in nature than if I hadn’t ventured out.

      Nature and wildlife filmmaking is full of happy accidents, you just need to be patient and let them happen.

      Keep me posted on what you’re up to!

      -Kevin

  3. Kevin
    Twitter:
    October 3, 2014 at 9:32 am - Reply

    Hi Kevin,
    “Nature and wildlife filmmaking is full of happy accidents, you just need to be patient and let them happen.”

    Well said that sums it very well indeed.

    I have been sitting and thinking for long periods of time with my camera ready to go awaiting the arrival of what ever, and have thought to myself on more than one occassion.

    “…….shoot the ordinary and make it extraordinary!”

    Kevin, that statement surely is a key to success, not only for its author, one KJR, but for anyone smart enough to read it and understand it, and more importantly DO IT?

    It is just so unfair that we are only given ONE lifetime, when ten would barely scratch the surface of exploring what is out there.

    I have to force myself to do some editing soon,I have so much to do so little time.

    Hope all is well in the USA for you and all those other wonderful Americans,in the Fall, as we in Sydney welcome in the Spring / Summer.
    Cheers Kevin.

    • Kevin J Railsback October 4, 2014 at 9:33 am - Reply

      Kevin,

      Probably one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned after learning that patience is key, was that there is beauty everywhere.

      I used to think that I had to go to Yellowstone or Africa to find amazing things to film.

      I was on a nature walk with a naturalist at my local nature center a few ears ago. They gave us each a jar and told us to collect an insect that we found.

      I found a weevil.

      What amazed me is that almost everyone had found a different insect.it was then that I realized that I had ignored an entire world just in this one tallgrass prairie!

      So I’ve spent the last several ears just shooting in this praire and I find something new every time I go out.

      Oh I’ll still go to Yellowstone and places like that but I realize now that. I can take the ordinary in my own back yard and make it extraordinary.

      There are so many amazing things in nature. We just need to gear down our expectations and realize that there is more than grizzly bears and mountain lions out there to film. 🙂

      Now I get just as blown away when I can film a dragonfly or a perfect bunch of goldenrod as I do a grizzly bear.

      I also find that this attitude seems to make life in general seem more calm and more amazing.

      It’s good therapy to go out in the field and be amazed by a spittle bug larvae then to be disappointed that you. Didn’t see a deer to film.

      I’d love to visit your neck of the woods one of these days. It’s on my bucket list.

      I think sometimes having someone from somewhere else visit your neck of the woods give you perspective on how special home is.

      Thanks again for the commment! I really appreciate the feedback. Let me know of there’s something you want me to write a post on.

      Hopefully I’ll get back on track soon and be regularly updating the site!!

      -Kevin

  4. Kevin
    Twitter:
    October 4, 2014 at 10:00 am - Reply

    Hey Kevin,
    Could I just say that you should just keep doing what you have been doing thus far,for you have obviously perfected your craft.

    Kevin,simply do what you do best, video the manifestations of the Creator and share your toil with those less able to see or do so, whenever you are able to do so via your web site.

    I cannot tell you the “Wonderments” that have befallen me since I started in Videography / Photography since 1980 to the present time.

    I am blessed and my only regret is that I have only one life to visit and enjoy such Wonderments.

    God Bless.
    Kevin.

  5. Wendy Tomlinson
    Twitter:
    April 29, 2015 at 3:39 am - Reply

    Absolutely stunning. Love the music that goes with the video too. It really makes you feel alive and powerful.
    Wendy Tomlinson invites you to read…Online grocery shopping saves time ~ Time management tip 13My Profile

  6. Trish
    Twitter:
    April 29, 2015 at 10:13 am - Reply

    This is truly beautiful and the music is perfectly uplifting. I think I’ll be visiting often, and hopefully learning along the way. Thank you for sharing!

    • Kevin J Railsback April 29, 2015 at 10:22 am - Reply

      Thanks Trish!

      My fat finger accidentally deleted the CommentLuv link when I went to approve the comment on my phone.
      You’re whitelisted so it won’t happen again! 🙂

      It’s sad that part of the tallgrass prairie where I filmed that dragonfly is being bulldozed to make way for a new nature center building and educational center.

      I’m not sure if all the cars, tour busses and people being in that are will push the dragonflies somewhere else. There’s not many places left for them to go so hopefully they can make do with what is left.

      It’s kind of an oxymoron destroying prairie to educate people people to save it.

      I’m glad I had this moment!

  7. Trish
    Twitter:
    April 29, 2015 at 10:47 am - Reply

    Well I guess I can forgive you then, lol. Thank you 🙂

    It is sad and I agree with you entirely. It’s a bit like draining a pond so you can appreciate the expanse of water. I’d rather teach people to appreciate something while they can learn to love it and protect it rather than showing them the proof that they’ll miss it when it’s gone.

    • Kevin J Railsback April 29, 2015 at 12:09 pm - Reply

      Yay! The Luv stuck this time! I was nervous about hitting reply since the Remove Luv link was right below the reply link. 🙂

      I have mixed feelings. On one hand the nature center is hopefully planting the seeds in the children that visit there to protect the little that we have left.
      The building is totally self sustainable and will have more exhibits, ponds, butterfly gardens etc.

      It just hurts knowing that where the building will stand was my prime dragonfly spot.
      So will they stay close or give up the area? Time will tell.

      The other thing that bothers me is that the building will sit below the hill where my favorite spot on the trail system is.
      Because its farther away from the current building and you have to hike uphill a bit, I’ve only seen maybe four people in all the ears I’ve hiked up there.

      Now with the building being right below the trail even if most people won’t make the effort to hike up a hill, the noise from the cars and buses below will ruin the tranquility of it all.

      The times they are a changin!

  8. Trish
    Twitter:
    April 29, 2015 at 2:00 pm - Reply

    Awww… don’t be nervous. I can always just post again, lol.

    I get what you’re saying. There are so many beautiful places I got to experience that my children won’t. For instance, I spent a very large part of my childhood in the mountains of Tennessee, and it was amazing. You could hike for days and not see another human being (and I was usually alone so I didn’t). There were places where the trees would break and a waterfall would tower before you when you least expected it, the thick trees and underbrush muffling the sound until you broke through. It never failed to take my breath away, even though I knew where they were. And they’re still there. I can even take my kids to see them, but they’re going to view one from the side of the highway as we pass by, another from a Walmart parking lot, and yet another from the driveway of a new McMansion in a new development full of them. They’ll never get to experience breaking through the trees and having it roaring before you, just begging for you to sit down and just breathe for a little while. And that makes me very sad. Things change yes, and we change with them, but I still wish some things could remain the same.

    • Kevin J Railsback April 29, 2015 at 9:10 pm - Reply

      I agree Trish. I wish some things would never be touched by the hand of man and just left on it’s own.

      Seems that nature is under attack everywhere in the name of progress. I think however, that really progress is the ability to protect something and say we will never touch this and we’ll just have to make do with what we have and figure out another way.

      • Trish
        Twitter:
        April 30, 2015 at 10:59 am - Reply

        I wish we (as a whole) seemed more capable of doing that.

  9. Kevin J Railsback April 30, 2015 at 11:55 am - Reply

    Most people don’t understand that we’ve become a reactive society instead of a proactive society. Well, maybe we always have been reactive and it’s just gotten worse.

    We’ll spend millions of dollars down the road because we don’t want to spend thousands now. People have to know that the planet only has finite resources and when they’re gone, so are we. Yet everyone seems to carry on like there is no end in sight and somehow down the road a solution will present itself that will allow us to keep on going as we are right now.

    It just boggles my mind that people are perfectly happy to be blissfully ignorant of reality.

  10. Trish
    Twitter:
    April 30, 2015 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    I think most things boggle my mind these days, as far as society is concerned anyway. You’re right though. Common sense seems to be a thing of the far distant past and I’m not sure it can be recovered. A picture lasts forever, yes? That’s all we’ll have left of so many things and I don’t think people will realize that until it’s too late. It’s like something you said (I think? Somewhere on here?) about photographers walking right past some of the most amazing things because it’s been ‘overdone’ (my wording entirely, I’m sure you said it more eloquently, lol). We’re numb (as a society) to the simple, natural beauties of the world. No longer excited unless it’s on a screen in our hands and involves the Kardashian’s (that is their name, right?). A sad state of affairs falling on (mostly) deaf ears I think.

    • Kevin J Railsback April 30, 2015 at 1:29 pm - Reply

      Trish,

      I think it was the post about being ok to shoot clich’es. I don’t know how to make the little symbol above the e on my iPad but I’m guessing you figured out what I. Was sayin. 🙂

      I mean why would you go to Yellowstone and not film Old Faithful?

      Do I really think I can make a significant change? Probably not but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t keep trying.

      So I try to show the beauty in the natural world in hoes that one day when a plant, animal or ecosystem is threatened with extinction that I’ve filmed people will remember my work and say it’s worth saving,let make it happen.

      I’m also hoping that I win Powerball. I wonder which one has better odds?

      • Trish
        Twitter:
        April 30, 2015 at 1:58 pm - Reply

        LOL!! Those little symbols are the bane of my existence (I’ve been known to consult a thesaurus specifically to avoid them). So, yeah, I hear what you’re saying 🙂

        Um, no, I would not. If I made it to Yellowstone I’d film EVERYTHING! It looks amazing.

        I understand. I do my work with dogs, my son and I have adopted wolves, my daughter adopted two cheetahs at a local zoo, H supports polar bears. We try to help, because how could we not?

        Of course it’s worth saving. Your work is beautiful (I’d say it in Cherokee, because it sounds prettier but then I’d have to find those damned symbols, lol).

        Powerball… nice. I’m always hoping for Mega Millions. I’m greedy in my fantasy world! (I don’t think either of us has great odds though, unfortunately)

  11. Angela June 1, 2015 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    I love dragonflies and this is a stunning shot of one!

    • Kevin J Railsback June 1, 2015 at 1:32 pm - Reply

      Thanks Angela!

      It was a wonderful morning filming dew covered dragonflies. Haven’t had a morning like that since.
      Hopefully conditions will be right this year and I can find more to film!

  12. jandi June 2, 2015 at 1:51 am - Reply

    this is absolutely enthralling… really beautiful. yes, there is beauty everywhere… we just need to look…

    • Kevin J Railsback June 2, 2015 at 11:32 am - Reply

      Sadly most people don’t take the time to see.
      It’s amazing when I take people out in the field with me how much they miss!

  13. image-in-ing June 2, 2015 at 5:16 am - Reply

    Gorgeous shot! Gossamer wings full of light and glimmer.
    Please come link up at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2015/06/nesting.html

    • Kevin J Railsback June 2, 2015 at 11:40 am - Reply

      I love dragonflies and I love them even more when they’re covered in dew!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it!

  14. Hannah June 2, 2015 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    Incredible capture of the first exciting flight in the dew. I’m puzzling over what structures are lit up in circles or spirals on the back of the dragonfly’s head. They glow mysteriously, as though lit from within or channeling light.

    • Kevin J Railsback June 3, 2015 at 8:39 am - Reply

      Hannah,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it!

      I’m not sure what those are on the back of the dragonflies head. It does look like light coming from within doesn’t it?

      I’ll have to see if I can find some anatomy drawings on dragonflies and see if they list what that is.

      Whatever it is, it’s awesome! 🙂

  15. Stephanie Volkert
    Twitter:
    June 6, 2015 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    Wanna know something awesome? Your photo had the most clicks at the Macro Monday Mixer 😀 Congrats!

    • Kevin J Railsback June 6, 2015 at 1:50 pm - Reply

      Hey Stephanie,

      That’s awesome!

      I’m thinking about doing a Silent Sunday just to have a photo for the mixer. 🙂

Leave A Comment

CommentLuv badge
Filmmaking Naturally uses premium CommentLuv which allows you to put your keywords with your name if you have had 5 approved comments. Use your real name and then @ your keywords (maximum of 3)