8 Great Tips For Photographing Bees
For the macrophile in search of fascinating subjects, colorful backgrounds, and technically challenging photography, look no further than the nearest stand of pollinating flowers. There you will invariably find buzzing, herky-jerky bumblebees bouncing from one flower to the next collecting pollen. How do you shoot something that is so small and in perpetual motion? After much trial and mostly error, here are some tips based on what’s worked for me:
- Choose overcast, shady, or tree-filtered light on warm days.
- Flash is a must for helping to freeze motion and giving pop and catch lights to an image. After trying dual- and ring-flashes, which proved great for tripod work but bulky for hand held close-up shooting, I use a Speedlite on-camera, bent to 45 degrees with the white card pulled out about an inch.
- I use a macro lens with 32 mm of extension tubes on my Canon 5D Mark II. A bit slow on the trigger, but the camera more than makes up for it with 21 MP, great processing, and the ability to crop without an appreciable drop in quality.
- Settings: f/11-f/16 (sweet spot of the lens and still great bokeh with this setup); ISO 800 (move up or down depending on how much background you want seen); Aperture mode; 1/60 sec (sufficient speed combined with the ETTL flash set near 0 EV)
- Focusing trick: use live view with manual focus holding the camera out and moving it quickly to focus range using live view as a fast guide. I know, seems impossible when bees move from one flower to the next every one or two seconds, but even a 1 in 10 chance of hitting the mark is infinitely better than the 1 in 100-200 I was getting before. Remember, focus on their eyes!
- Choose your light, color, and background ahead of time when possible. Set up and wait for the bees to come to you. Watch how some flowers require slower work by the bees, which gives you more time to shoot.
- Anticipate. Bees have a perceptible rhythm and habits. In the time it takes to depress the shutter, the bee may have already moved so sometimes you may want to shoot “before” they move in order to catch them in flight. Even then, though, it’s hard. Some bees are slower and more deliberate than others. Follow them.
- Shoot lots, weed later. Always have extra camera and flash batteries.
The payoff for shooting bee and flower images can be great for those willing to fail a lot and triumph occasionally.