Purple Tropical Water Lily by Todd Henson

Purple tropical water lily at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

Water lilies can be such beautiful photographic subjects. But often they grow in crowded, busy, sometimes dirty ponds that create a compositional challenge. And they are often growing far enough into the pond you can’t quite get close enough to fill the frame or position them against a decent background.

But if you keep looking you can sometimes find a great subject against a pleasing background. I was fortunate to find such a situation at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, D.C.

I was there for the lotus flowers, but the park also hosts water lily ponds, and I love trying to photograph water lilies. So this trip I actually went to the water lily ponds before looking at the lotus ponds.

I’m glad I did. It was still early and the sun wasn’t yet fully out over the ponds. This created a nice, soft light to show off the flowers without any harsh shadows.

Now to find a subject. I was very fortunate to find a lone water lily growing well above the water. And positioned just behind the water lily was a good sized lily pad.

Often the lily pads are damaged or dirty. But this lily pad was fairly intact and not too discolored. There were some off color patches, but by using a telephoto lens and a large aperture, which created a shallow depth of field, I was able to blur the lily pad enough that any rough patches mostly disappeared into the background.

I did the best I could to stand tall enough to look into the flower as much as possible. I wanted to see all that beautiful detail and color, the purples and the fiery oranges.

I also tried to line up the stem of the flower with the notch in the bottom of the lily pad, and place the flower so it was surrounded by out of focus green from the lily pad in the water behind it.

In the end this is my favorite photograph from the trip.

Familiar Bluet Damselfly - The Story Behind the Image by Todd Henson

Final image of Familiar Bluet Damselfly

I’d been hiking through a park looking for insects to photograph. I observed and made images of dragonflies, spiders, butterflies, and moths, but I was most drawn to the light blue Familiar Bluet damselfly. Damselflies are fascinating creatures. They are smaller and more delicate than dragonflies, but otherwise look similar. The Familiar Bluet is light blue with patches and stripes of black. It has a long, straight abdomen that can be quite flexible.

What drew me to the Familiar Bluet this day was the nice contrast of the blue damselfly in front of a pale green background of out of focus plants. So I started looking for damselflies with good poses in front of workable backgrounds. The first couple images I made did show the damselfly against a green background, but the background was somewhat busy with blades of grass crossing the frame.

Familiar Bluet Damselfly against distracting background

Better background, but still distracting

Another image I made has the damselfly posed on a curling leaf. The damselfly looks good, but it’s not a very attractive leaf, with several holes and dark spots. One of the holes is lined up with the head of the damselfly, which I find distracting.

Familiar Bluet Damselfly on leaf. Still not what I'm looking for.

Finally, I found a background that seemed more promising. The damselfly had landed on a plant with small narrow leaves that in some ways reminded me of the damselfly’s narrow body. But my first images in this environment had a busy background with a large branch directly behind the damselfly. I found the light areas of the branch distracting, so I kept looking for a different position, watching and waiting as the damselfly would fly from perch to perch.

Familiar Bluet Damselfly. Getting better.

The key to these situations is patience. Stay in one area for a while. Work the scene. Watch the behavior of the insects. Observe how they sometimes return to the same perch over and over again. If this perch happens to be a good one then set up the camera aimed at the perch. Get everything ready and then wait for the insect to return. It often will. That’s what occurred in this situation. I’d found what I felt was an attractive perch. The perch was far enough from most of the rest of the background to keep the background nicely out of focus. The background was light green that contrasted well with the light blue of the Familiar Bluet damselfly. I was able to line up the damselfly parallel enough with the focal plane of the camera to get most all of it in reasonable focus. I’d also stopped down the aperture to f/13 to help give me enough depth of field to cover the damselfly but not too much of the background. This proved to be the image I was most pleased with.

Final image of Familiar Bluet Damselfly.