On Becoming an Expert in Your Subject Matter

Recently I provided a link to an article about 10 traits that it takes to become a good photographer. One trait was –

You need to be a subject-matter expert, whether it’s birds or people or cars or waterfalls. Good photographers learn all there is to know about their subjects BEFORE they pick up a camera.

I named this as my weakest trait because I’m interested in too many subjects – a jack of all trades and master of none – however one does pick up some subject matter expertise when serious about succeeding at photography. Having said that, I’m not totally uninformed about all of my subject matter of interest. What follows is an example of the type of “expert” knowledge that leads to successful images (and becoming a better photographer).
The specific example subject is dragonflies. The expertise also applies to butterflies, moths, damselflies, mayflies, ….., and similar critters. It took me many hours over several years of observation to learn this. Read what follows and you can become an instant expert. There are lots of subjects to practice on here in Heritage Hunt. Give it a try.
The “expertise” is described in the caption below the following image. In order to read it, click on the image to enlarge.

Here is another example using the same technique.

The “expertise” doesn’t end with knowing that these critters have a tendency to return to the same spot after flying off. The important thing about shooting fauna of any sort is to become familiar with all of their habits. For example, the next image did not rely on knowing about the “return” habit used in the 1st two. Instead it relied on knowing that dragonflies (as well as damselflies, butterflies, moths, etc.) have difficulty flying in the early morning because their wings are usually covered with dew (and if it’s cool that adds to their sluggishness). So the second “secret” is to get out in the very early morning and find the critter perched on its overnight resting place before it begins to move.  Early morning is the key (plus knowing where they hang out over night).
This critter was one of several hundred in a meadow shortly after sunrise – temperature in the low 40’s (F). The poor creatures were too cold to move and the conditions allowed me to make shots like this with a 1:1 macro lens with a 1.4x teleconverter to get this larger than life size abstract. I put a “Plamp” (plant clamp) on the grass seed stalk where the dragonfly was perched, set up a tripod with the lens less than a foot away and made dozens of shots. The dragonfly would occasionally change its position on the seed stalk slightly but no big moves or flying. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

If you prefer butterflies, the field of thistle across the Dickey Ridge visitor center access road from the visitor center building is the home for a gazillion of them starting in mid-summer (Shenandoah National Park). Skyline Drive near milepost 5. Focus on the “return thistle” (camera on tripod) and wait. It doesn’t take long.

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