After shooting macro photography regularly for a while, one may get bored especially when we have captured most of the common insects such as ants, spiders, grasshoppers, beetles, damselflies, dragonflies, butterfllies, etc. Rare insects, behavioural and action shots are hard to come by and it is quite normal that we may return home empty handed or only a handful of unimpressive shots despite spending a few hours in the field. Since we are seeing these common subjects so often, how then do we make them looks more appealing or add interest to these images? Yes, morning dew is the answer and I have started photographing them since 2008 venturing out very early in the morning before the sun rises.
Dew is liquid water in the form of droplets that appears on grass, flowers, spider webs and any other cool surfaces usually in the early morning due to condensation. On a normal warm day, water evaporates from the warm ground into the air known as “water vapour”. In the evening, the ground begins to cool and when it reaches a temperature known as “dew point”, the air will no longer able to hold all the moisture. Water vapor in the air will begin to condense and return back to liquid water resulting in the formation of dew.
Morning dewdrop is a wonderful photographic subject by itself. When seeing them up close, they look surprisingly refleshing and attractive even when they are found clinging on still subjects such as leaves, exoskeleton, spiderweb, flowers, etc. These are relative easy to shoot as we do not have to worry that we would scare them away like insects do. We can take our own sweet time composing with different angles and experimenting with different setting.
With the affordability of DSLR, there are many macro photographers out there. Having a sharp image with nice details and clean background will not get much attention nowadays unless our work stands out as being interesting and unique. Morning dew can complement and very effective in making an ordinary subject looks amazingly different. I personally find insects cover in morning dew strikingly beautiful and eye-catching.
Finding insects on a cool, dewy morning is easy. Just walk slowly through any low field and look closely. Practically everything is photogenic because even common things become extraordinary when coated with a layer of dew. Some subjects that are well worth looking for include damselflies, dragonflies, spiders, butterflies, tiny insects like beetles & ladybirds, Leaf-footed bug nymph, etc.
I have photographed many damselflies covered or surrounded by morning dew. This image below remains one of my favourites which was taken way back in 2008. I have written a short article on “Damselflies in dew” here.
I am less successful in finding dragonflies with dew. I have seen some stunning images of dragonflies covered with heavy dew but most were taken overseas. Somehow, dew doesn’t cling on them for long in Singapore.
Spiders usually repair or build new webs at night. Hence, spiderwebs are plentiful and finding them in the morning is not a problem. The best places to find webs are grassy fields with small bushes in them. Spiders often attach their web between a bush and the nearby grass making it difficult to shoot even on a less windy morning. The web is so thin and light and the slightest breeze would result in motion blur in our images.
Lawn Wolf Spiders also builds sheet-webs but on the grassy grounds and therefore is relatively less affected by light wind. Lynx spiders do not build web but they look equally gorgeous when they are sparkled with dew drops all over them.
Butterflies are one of the most difficult subjects to photograph. They tend to be very skittish and most would not stay still on a particular spot for long. The best time for shooting butterflies is first thing in the morning when they are just starting to wake up. As butterflies are cold-blooded creatures, the chilly morning would make them less alert and they are moving just a bit slower. With dew covers over its body, they are unlikely to fly away and we would have a better chance to get that winning shot.
The most common butterfly species that I often see early in the morning is the tiny Lesser Grass Blue. They would cling on plant stem, bug or flower, sometime in upside down position. Occasionally I would find Day Flying moths and skippers too.
I also like to search for tiny insects of about 10 mm or smaller and they usually look so pretty when surrounded with different size of dew drops.
Here are some of the very small insects soaked with morning dew.
When shooting dew, I prefer natural ambient light instead of using flash. This is especially important as the use of flash often wake up and scare away insects such as common flies and ants.
Whenever possible, try to position in such a way that you get the sun reflected in the dews producing a sparking “starburst” effect.
Using a smaller aperture of say f/16 and or underexposing the image a little would have a higher chance of getting such an effect.
When would you find heavy dew?
I used to have the wrong impression that if it is raining today, it should be a dewy morning the next day which is not really the case. Certain conditions tend to create greater quantities of dew than others. More dew is formed on cool, clear nights than on warm, cloudy nights. Moreover, wind causes dew to evaporate, try to shoot dew on mornings when the previous night was calm. From my records, April & October appear to be the best periods to find dewy mornings.
What is the best time to photograph dew?
Generally, you need to be there at first light usually at 7.00 am. There are certain months such as October & November where the first light can be as early as 6.45 am. Singapore has a warm climate and therefore the dew does not last very long. It will only remain while the temperature is low and before the sun warms things up. Very often, dew is evaporated by 8.30 am. In short, photographing dew is a race between the time when there is finally enough light to shoot by and the time when the wind starts blowing too hard, or the dew evaporates. We can consider ourselves lucky if we are able to get one hour of ideal dew shooting conditions in the morning. Most of my better dew photos were taken between 6.45 am to 8.15 am.
Where are the best places to find dews in Singapore?
There will be much fewer dew formation under tree cover than it is in the open. So, it is unlikely that you will find dews in forested areas. From my experience, Wild Wild West @ Cooperation Road End (WWW), the entrance of Kranji Nature Trail (KNT), Holland Woods & Venus Drive, Zhenghua Nature Trail, Mandai Green have lots of bushes not under tree covers and these are some of the best places in Singapore to photograph dewy subjects. Unfortunately, KNT is currently under redevelopment for a nature recreation park while WWW is now under construction into industrial areas.
Let us hope there will be fewer or no redevelopment of our limited greenery.
Anyway, photographing dew is a great way to enjoy the quiet, freshness and beauty of early morning. You are likely to find many enchanting sights you didn’t know existed before. Once you start shooting dew, you may get addicted like me, and I am sure you would produce many interesting and unique photographs.