A Ninety-Degree Difference

A young friend once described dragonflies as being “all buzz and all wings.” It’s an apt description, although “jewel of the skies” seems equally appropriate.

It’s always a treat to find one at rest, showing off those jewel-like qualities. This one, which I take to be a pennant of some kind — perhaps a Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) — was kind enough to remain at rest for several minutes. From my vantage point at the side of a county road, I was able to photograph it with a background of grasses on the other side of the ditch that was attracting so many of its kind.

Then, I decided to change position. Turning ninety degrees to my right, I posed the dragonfly against the gray and not necessarily appealing ditch water; the striations in the background are reflections of the reeds on the other side of the ditch.

It’s the same dragonfly and the same perch, shown only minutes apart, but the feel of the photo has changed. As in photography, so in life: what’s offered as ‘background’ — of a person or of an issue — can make quite a difference in our perception.

Comments always are welcome.

73 thoughts on “A Ninety-Degree Difference

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. It’s amazing how many treasures can be found in the ditches. I’d actually stopped to photograph some Sagittaria, but the dragonflies came along as lagniappe!

  1. Beautiful shots of what I also believe is a Halloween Pennant, a female one. I love the apt descriptor that you used–“jewel of the skies”–that captures the magical quality of dragonflies. Your sage reminder resonated with me too–perspective always matters.

    1. The tendency of the pennants to perch at the tips of plants always is a first clue for me. I love their cooperativeness — or their love of showing off. We’re just awash in dragonflies right now, and it’s that time of year when I have to swoosh away damselflies when I’m at work. They’re not always so good at distinguishing between water and fresh, shiny varnish.

      1. Some dragonflies have a similar problem telling shiny vehicles from water and I have seen them trying to lay their eggs on a car. Pennants are great because they are easy to see when they perch like that, but whenever there is the slightest breeze they flap all around–like a pennant. :)

  2. Spectacular creatures! I love watching the dragonflies and damselflies that appear along the river near us.

    1. Some of them, like the pennants, are strong fliers, too. It was blowing about 20-25 mph this day, and it was amazing to watch this creature rise into the air and hover in that wind before landing back on his perch.

  3. For those of us who wish only to take a picture and not capture them, dragonflies can be frustrating. They never seem to land and if they do it is for a nanosecond at a hundred paces. Pennants of all kinds, for some reason seem to be a little more cooperative!

    1. As you pointed out in your current post, there are birds that offer similar frustrations. I’ve spent more than a few hours trying to photograph swallows, without success — although I did once capture a perfectly in-focus tail feather! One trick I’ve learned for photographing dragonflies is based on their tendency to return to a spot multiple times. If I scare one off, it’s better to sit and wait for it to come back, rather than chasing after it.

  4. The word perception itself is subject to interpretation based on your perception of it, which in turn is based on your life experiences. Volumes have been written.

    Your two dragonfly images are a great example of how images, and therefore thoughts, can be manipulated when examined from different angles.

    The most important element in a photograph is it’s initial impact on the viewer. Therefore, I vote for image number one.

    1. I perceive that your perception of ‘perception’ is especially perceptive! And, yes. There are volumes out there, and given the nature of the topic, I’m sure there will be more. Even the novelists have gotten in on the action; one of my favorites, Lawrence Durrell, put it well in his novel Balthazaar:

      “We live…lives based upon selected fictions. Our view of reality is conditioned by our position in space and time – not by our personalities, as we like to think. Thus every interpretation of reality is based upon a unique position. Two paces east or west and the whole picture is changed.”

      Exactly so. As for the photos, it’s been interesting to see how many people preferred the first; I’m glad it appealed to you.

  5. Great shots, Linda. I like the first one more. In San Angelo lately I had my first opportunity to take pictures of a dragonfly, but it had to be so quick that I could not get really good shots. Still, I’m happy I got them.
    Have a great Sunday,

    1. I didn’t mean for this to be a contest, but after reading the rest of the comments, it seems the first photo ‘won.’ It makes sense that you would have been photographing dragonflies in San Angelo; I’ll bet the water lily place supported swarms of them. There are people who can photograph them in flight as well as at rest, but I’ve not managed that little trick yet!

  6. A little philosophy with a couple of great photographs is a wonderful way to start my day. Thanks!

    1. I’ll bet you feel a bit like a dragonfly at this point, flitting hither and yon as you are. Thanks for the good words — I’m pleased that you like the photos.

  7. You’ve got good neutral backgrounds in both portraits. As for backgrounds of people, the possible species name you gave for your pennant dragonfly immediately reminded me of the character Éponine in Les misérables.

    1. What an interesting association. It occurs to me that Hugo’s Éponine did a little flitting around, in her way. I was glad that this dragonfly stopped its flitting for a time, so I could play with those backgrounds and eliminate the considerable ‘noise’ that was around.

  8. The 2 perspectives really say something different about dragonflies, or at least they do to me. The first says “This is a hunting machine surveying the territory.” The second says “This is a flying machine preparing to lift off into the gray unknown.” Those shots might make a good projective test – the interpretation probably says as much about the viewer as about the dragonfly. Great contrasting shots.

    1. It’s been interesting to note the general preference for the first photo. I suspect that part of the reason is that it’s more typically ‘dragonfly.’ I don’t remember seeing a view from the rear quite like the one in the second photo; that may be why I’m so fond of it. For me, that image evokes someone standing at the edge of a high diving board, arms spread to either side. Or, I can imagine the dragonfly thinking, “I’m tired of all this wing flapping. I’m going to try gliding for a while.”

    2. And this just occurred to me: one of the basic ‘life choices’ I put on my WordPress bio page is “Both/and” or “Either/or.” I posted this pair assuming they’d be seen as an example of “both/and,” yet several readers seemed to assume I was asking for a choice to be made: “either/or.” Very interesting.

  9. Amazing what one can find in a ditch, huh, Linda? This one’s a beauty, and I’m glad you called forth your supply of patience to get it just right — well worth the effort!

    1. Ditches bring riches, Debbie! It was easier to be patient in this instance, because I’d remembered my knee-high boots — not to keep me dry, but to protect against the fireants that were everywhere. They’re as annoying as the mosquitoes, but they’re part of the dragonfly world, so they have to be accepted, too. (But I don’t have to like them, and I don’t!)

  10. I love seeing these buzzing about. In the first photo, she looks to be in motion. In the second, paused, ready for take-off. I have not seen one of these with these colors before. Beautiful variation.

    1. Yesterday, I witnessed a swarm of a different species that I couldn’t identify. They were very small, but there had to have been thousands of them — the sort of substantial insect cloud that occasionally gets picked up on our NWS radar. Your view of the second accords with mine; another commenter said she looks like a biplane, and as soon as I read that, I thought, “Sure enough.”

  11. I love summer when our yard is shadowed by dragonflies doing their search grid patterns. I even encouraged my son to do a science fair project about whether or not mowing the grass attracts dragonflies because they always came out whenever I mowed. He never took me up on it, but that gives you a sense for how many dragonflies we’d have in our yard. I’d count 20 or 30 in a generally medium-large yard (for Houston), all of them flying at different heights. It was cool!

    1. As soon as you wrote ‘search grid patterns,’ I thought of the Coast Guard’s search and rescue missions. Since I’m so close to Clear Lake and Galveston Bay, it’s easy to spot them when there’s been an unfortunate incident and they’ve been called in. In fact, I wrote a poem called “Search Pattern” many years ago, after the death of Roger Stone during October’s Harvest Moon Regatta.

      I wonder if your mowing disturbed the mosquitoes in the grass, and that’s what attracted the dragonflies. It makes sense, because some of our mosquitoes love grass, and dragonflies love mosquitoes. The Smithsonian says that a single dragonfly can eat from thirty to hundreds of mosquitoes each day. When I learned that, I moved dragonflies into the ‘best friends’ category.

  12. great shots. we get a lot of dragonflies here with all the open ground. especially over at the shop. I caught a glimpse of the yard over there from the house the other day. something was swooping and diving and eating mosquitoes but from the distance I couldn’t tell if it was the purple martins that pass through or the dragonflies that hang around all summer. before I put the parrot feather water plant in the small pond a red dragonfly would lays eggs in it. they do that by swooping down and slapping the surface of the water with their tail end.

    1. There’s something about dragonfly behaviors — mating, egg laying, aerial acrobatics — that’s so compelling. They’re everywhere, but they’re so ‘flighty’ that it can be hard even to keep track of them with the eye, let alone with a camera. They’re unbelievably colorful, too. One of my favorites is called the Roseate Skimmer. I rarely see it, but it’s a real beauty.

    1. As soon as you wrote ‘biplane’ I saw it. I was thinking more of someone at the end of a high diving board with both arms spread, or a dragonfly who was contemplating gliding rather than flapping. Biplane or glider, it’s the same general concept.

  13. My love of dragons and damsels and other small creatures began as an offshoot of chasing birds. As with many subjects, the more one explores the more one seeks to become informed.

    Your Halloween Pennant is, truly, a “jewel of the sky”. As I began to learn about insect photography, I learned the importance of attempting to photograph a subject from many angles in order to assist in identification.

    Your perception about – perception – is so correct. Viewing an object or an idea from a different position gives us a new background to consider.

    Thank you for yet another “daily deep thought” to ponder. Not to mention a beautiful photograph to enjoy!

    1. In the same way, my introduction to insects and birds began to develop because of my infatuation with flowers. And, yes: those various views are important for identifying anything. I’m still bad about failing to get photos of leaves and stems, but gradually I’m developing the habit.

      Any police officer, schoolteacher, or parent who’s trying to figure out what ‘really’ happened knows the importance of those differing perspectives. And, as I once heard a person in law enforcement say, beware the person who shows up with buckets of details. Sometimes there can be too much extraneous information, and the important things get missed. As in life, so in photography: hence the simplified backgrounds!

    1. Green certainly is the color of summer, and I think after such a long, hard winter, any bit of green is going to be appreciated.

      Speaking of changing position, I’ve noticed that the plantings in a local commercial area are suddenly much more attractive. They always were gorgeous from the ‘front,’ but if you walked around and looked at them from different perspectives, they were far less appealing. I wonder if they might have someone in charge now who plants with sight lines from every direction in mind.

    1. Any decent insect photo’s a thrill for me, and dragonflies are at the top of the list; they’re pretty, and they certainly are a challenge to camera-capture. I’m glad you enjoyed seeing this one.

  14. Gorgeous captures, Linda. Dragons and Damsels have so much color, much like butterflies and depending on light and position (as you’ve so aptly demonstrated) they really can appear different. I just saw my first dragonfly yesterday at my pond. They’ve been slow to appear this year, sad to say, but I was glad to see one.

    1. When it comes to color, the damselflies can be real stunners; the jewel-like reds and blues are especially appealing. I rarely see dragonflies around the boats, unless they’re just passing through, but the damselflies seem to enjoy the environment, and I often see them perched on docklines, railings, and such.

      It’s an odd year, for sure. Yesterday I was at the Brazoria refuge, and there were Indian paintbrush everywhere. Steve S. has been posting basketflowers galore, and every posting left me verklempt, thinking we weren’t going to have any. This weekend, I finally found some — most with still tightly wrapped buds. And the silverleaf nightshade, that I thought wasn’t going to make it? Yesterday it and Illinois bundleflower were everywhere, thicker than I’d ever seen them. Oddities abound!

    1. I know that drone manufacturers have used dragonflies for models; now I’m wondering if helicopter inventors did, too. It makes sense that they would, since the movement is so similar. Speaking of hovering, it was very windy the day I took these photos, and it was great fun to watch the dragonflies rise into the air, and then hold their position despite the wind. Clever, and strong.

  15. These are exceptional photos. You are lucky to have had fairly cooperative subjects. I used to see dragonflies in my yard but have not seen any for more than four years. it is the same with the butterflies. I just do no understand but oh well I get to see them on your blog.

    1. They may or may not have known they were cooperating. One advantage of a long lens is that it allows me to stay some distance from insects that otherwise would skedaddle as I moved closer.
      Even a few extra feet can make a difference.

      Are you in an area where they spray for mosquitoes? I know they’re a health hazard for humans, but they’re dinner for dragonflies. If the mosquito population has gone down, they might have moved on to greener pastures, so to speak.

      1. i don’t think my area has been sprayed for mosquitoes. The area has good drainage and there are no lying spots, I live on higher ground so to speak but there are still plenty of mosquitoes buzzing around. Fortunately That is one bug that is not fond of my skin They land in me but don’t bite me.

  16. Dragonflies have to manage four wings and six legs. They zip about like crazy and perch on a stalk of grass. I have no wings, and only two legs to manage, and there are days when level, unobstructed ground is tricky. Sigh. The wings have the look of thin slices of “tortoise shell.” I always marvel at insects. They’re so tiny and miraculous.

    1. ‘Miraculous’ is the right word, and so much isn’t visible to the unaided human eye: to mine, at least. Before I got my macro lens, I had no idea that aphids could be cute, or that tiny, half-inch long katydid nymphs sit around on leaves cleaning their antennae. Dragonflies (and even damselflies) are bigger, but no less amazing. Like hummingbirds, they have to sustain themselves with remarkable amounts of food: great news for those of us who despise one of their favorite treats — mosquitoes.

    1. The action/reflection model works in almost every context, and it works especially well in photography. Every new photo is a result of lessons learned in the past, and these are prime examples. I’m glad you enjoyed them!

    1. I can’t help laughing. Seeing Rick at the ER and seeing him only hours later at the Cork Poppers gathering must have been a human example of what a difference context can make. Of course more than background was at play, but still: and I know which of those images I prefer!

    1. Dragonflies are great. As a child I feared them — probably because of that noisy unpredictability — but eventually I moved to Texas, learned they eat mosquitoes, and all was forgiven.

    1. Pennant dragonflies love to perch at the top of plants; that’s how they got that common name. They seem to ‘fly’ like a pennant even when they’re perched and not flying. Their tendency to perch makes them one of my favorites, since I haven’t yet developed the skill or the patience to catch them in midair.

  17. The first is a very fun shot and the second against the gray is a wonderful play on the colors and the geometry of it is nice too!! I enjoy trying to capture dragon flies but always seem just shy of what I’d like out of it. Maybe all of us shutterbugs gravitate towards dragon flies or damsel flies and the like. They are very cool. Good going!!

    1. The perchers are fun; the ones that flit here and there can drive me crazy. Even though I’ve learned that waiting for some of them to land will work, there are others that seem utterly opposed to anything but flying. On the other hand, at work a few days ago the most beautiful damselfly landed on my finger. It stayed put while I brought it up to eye level, and we had a few minutes of damsel-to-damsel communication. Of course there was no way for a photo, but I didn’t really care. The jewel-like greens and blues were wonderful.

      1. That is very true. For some reason even if I get a decent chance I don’t really nail the body detail as I’d like…maybe movement…maybe distance…maybe me!! :) But it is always worth it because are so beautiful to look at. We have the Halloween Pennant too and I think that is the only dragonfly I have ever posted an image of…as you say…it agreeably..perched!!

        Important to take equal joy in what our ‘natural’ lenses capture to our organic database as what our cameras capture to the memory card.

        1. Don’t you think part of the problem with dragonflies is that we’re always having to make a choice about where to focus? If we get the face and the eyes, the end of the tail is most likely out of focus, and so on. And you’re exactly right about letting our natural lenses do their job. Annie Dillard put it perfectly: “When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut.”

  18. Yep, perspective in most everything can make a huge difference. FInding just the right angle for these shots allows us to see many of the features only one would allow. I like your backgrounds and the poses of these pennants.

    1. Now, if only I could discipline myself to take more photos of the leaves and stems of plants! I’m usually so focused on the pleasures of the flowers I ignore some of the details that would make IDs much easier. I have been playing with backgrounds a good bit, and managed what I think would be called a high key background for today’s post. It really is fun — although sometimes I have to reconstruct what I did to figure out how I got the result!

      1. I often tend to focus more on the flowers too. Most flowers are easily identified but when you get into subspecies or those which are easily confused with each other then leaves and other parts are key. I keep telling myself, while in front of the computer trying to home in on an ID, that I should carry a key with me. But do I?

  19. I’m intrigued by dragonflies. They seem like the perfect insect to me. I know butterflies get all the hype, but the simplicity of dragonfly wings calls to me. Beautiful photos

    1. When I discovered that the symbol of the Texas Master Naturalists was a dragonfly rather than a butterfly, I was pleased. Butterflies are wonderful, and deserve the publicity they get, but dragonflies are equally beautiful — and eat mosquitos, as well. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. I certainly enjoyed making them.

  20. The photos speak to the need to have as many different perspectives as possible, Linda. We still may not perceive the truth of something, but we are closer to it.
    On another note, Peggy and I are going to a local event tonight where a woman who works with African women and cloth is bringing a number of samples to see if we can find a match for the piece you sent me in terms of making the quilt. –Curt

    1. Or, at least be exposed to different perspectives. We may prefer one over another, just as several people said they liked one photo more than the other — but informed choice always is a better choice.

      I hope you found some treasures last night! Did the woman have country cloth? Fanti cloth? Wax prints? Gosh, I’d love to have a chance to head up to the Guinea border and browse those markets! I did the next best thing, and browsed Etsy. I really liked this. Free shipping from Sierra Leone!

      1. Definitely Linda. Having a perspective is critical for decision making and living. An informed perspective adds depth to both.

        Fun site you sent us to. Peggy and I went through all of their patterns. The woman at the Ruch Market has a variety of types of cloth. Admittedly, going up the the Guinea Border would be ideal, albeit expensive. :)

  21. I rarely see dragonflies. Maybe I need to get my mind in the gutter. (Hey a ditch is a kind of gutter, right?) I enjoyed the two perspectives.

    1. Well, you have quite a variety to choose from! I’ve found them hovering around every sort of water, and a gutter’s as good as a bay. They do tend to prefer fresh water: at least, as I understand it, but we have some salt water species here, so I’d guess they’re pretty widely distributed.

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