Bees are a fun subject to photograph, giving you a closer look into the intriguing world of these industrious and most important pollinating insects. If you’re up to the challenge, familiarize yourself with these camera techniques.
Best time to take photos of bees
Bees are most active when the pollen count is high. Early morning and evening, the cooler times of the day, are often ideal. Insects are generally less active when the temperature is cool.
A bright day is the best since you need good light to capture detail and to obtain the highest shutter speed possible. Dry weather brings out more bees, unlike humidity that dampens the pollen and following rain that washes some of it away.
Where to focus
One of the main techniques to photographing bees, like all flying insects, is to focus on where you anticipate it will land. This is much easier than following a bee with the camera, which is often an exercise in futility. If you take time to observe their behavior, you can often predict where a bee will land and take off from the blossom.
I often take the shots from a side angle. Capturing the rear end of a bee rarely makes for an attractive photo.
Bees are extremely intent when gathering pollen so they may not appear the least bit concerned that you are nearby. Their intense focus provides an opportunity to move in close with you camera. Saying this, bees can be unpredictable so exercise caution, especially if you’re unaware of the type of bees you’re photographing. If you’re allergic to bee stings or sensitive to pollen, find another subject.
Using your camera
As you get close to the subject, watch for shadows cast from your body or camera. Approach the bee from the opposite direction of the light.
If you’re using a compact digital camera, keep the lens at wide angle and set it to macro or super macro mode. For shots of a bee in the near distance, zoom in with the lens. Watch the shutter speed so it’s as fast as possible. To increase the shutter speed, raise the ISO but not to much as it can increase noise in the image. As a general rule, use the lowest ISO setting practicable to achieve maximum detail.
Using a digital single reflex camera has advantages. Response and shot-to-shot time are faster than almost all compact cameras. Because DSLRs have large sensors, images are cleaner at high ISO numbers. For some shots, use continuous mode especially if you’re trying to capture a bee in flight or landing or taking off from the flower. Lock focus first, and then fully depress the shutter.
For many shots, using the mid aperture range is best, since depth-of-field is deeper and more of the subject will be in sharp focus. Because compact cameras have small sensors, an incredible amount of depth-of-field can be achieved. Using a DSLR can be more challenging since the degree of what’s in sharp focus varies with each lens.
DSLR users have more equipment options for close-up photography such a dedicated macro lenses, extension tubes and close-up filters. Some of these are also available to those who have advanced compact cameras that accept lens adapters.
Related reading: Extreme Macro Photography - this comprehensive series takes a look at photographing insects up close and personal. It includes information about camera settings and use of a flash and other accessories.
Photos: © Gail Bjork