Shooting Bees Tutorial

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dalantech's avatar

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If you’ve read my other posts on shooting insects (Shooting Dragonflies: Link and Shooting Butterflies: Link ) then you can photograph the majority of the critters out there. But there are a few more useful tips that I can give you for shooting bees that are different than photographing other creatures so I’m listing them here.

Bees feed in a predictable pattern, both in the area that they are in and on the flowers that they get nectar from. If you see a bee feeding on a flower and it takes off odds are it will be back later (or one just like it). Honey bees communicate the location of the food sources that they discover, so if there is a flower that they like they’ll tell the hive where to find it. Bees feed on different flowers in different ways; some flowers are shallow and it’s easy for the bee to feed from it –maybe they’ll only stay a second or two. Other flowers require the bee to go deep to get the nectar out, so they’ll stay in the flower longer –and you’ll have a better chance of getting the image you want…

Another thing to watch for is that bees move around a flower in a predictable way. I often frame the image and simply wait for the critter to get into the picture. The photo I’ve included with this post is a prime example –all I had to do is wait for the bee to move into the area I wanted it in and then press the shutter release. It was hot that day, the bees were very active, and yet I got a clear shot at twice life size. Easy, once you know what to look for…

A lot of insects, bees included, will occasionally stop to clean themselves. So if you see a bee that's actively feeding, but moving too fast to photograph, watch it for a while and see if it stops to clean the nectar from its legs or antenna.

All insects get a little lethargic when the temperature rapidly drops, and bees seem to have a habit of getting caught out in the open when spring or fall storms roll in. Before, or after, it rains look for bees that have been slowed down by the changing weather so you can photograph them when they are barely moving. The early spring is a “stop and go environment” for bees –one minute they have enough heat to fuel their metabolism and the next the sun is behind the clouds and they get lethargic. I shot a lot of the Miner Bees in my gallery under just those conditions.

If you are getting frustrated by fast moving bees put a little honey in an area where they are feeding and photograph them while they eat. One word of warning: Use a little bit of honey – putting a lot of it down won’t attract bees any faster than using a little, but you might empty out an entire bee hive if you use a lot of honey at once…

On hot days put out a little water in a shallow dark colored saucer and photograph bees that stop for a drink.

Some bees are very aggressive and if they start acting threatening then leave them alone. I’ve had some solitary bees go from casually feeding to being in my face faster than you can snap your fingers, and they’ve chased me out of an area on more than one occasion. They key to not getting stung is to not push them –if the bee wants you to leave then leave…

Last, but not least, never swat a bee that lands on you. Most of the time it's just stopping to take a breather and the bee has no intention of stinging you. I’ve had them land in my hair and all I had to do was shake my head to get them out. If you take a swing at one and miss odds are it will come back at you, and this time you will get stung. Honey bees not only communicate the location of food sources, but they can also tell the hive where to find that irritating photographer…
A tutorila on how to get close to and photograph bees.
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Mellifera-imiya's avatar
Thanks for writing this. I've got a beehive in my backyard but still I haven't made the perfect picture.
dalantech's avatar
Happy to help :)

Just be careful if you are shooting close to the hive. If you shoot bees on comb use plenty of smoke and give them several minutes to calm down.
Morethenselfies's avatar
Excellent tutorial and some really good tips! (Dare I say: lifesavers?)
I think I'll watch you, because it's been AGES since I have done any good macro photography and I want to build up where I left off.
Thanks for your time to make this tutorial btw. :)

dalantech's avatar
Thanks for the props :)
AliceG67's avatar
Thanx so much for the tutorials.

You can't imagine how much I appreciate this.
dalantech's avatar
Happy to help :)
M0NY11's avatar
Have you ever been stung by them? is it dangerous?
dalantech's avatar
Yes, by honey bees. Do not use anything like mosquito repellant (or even cologne) before shooting them (more likely to get stung). But if you look at all my bee photos keep in mind that I've only been stung twice (and I've had three photo sessions with honeybees on their honey comb without wearing any protective gear).
M0NY11's avatar
chirilas's avatar
its so cool! i love doing macro. haven't done flash macro in a while. i dont have much equipment so i often use poor man's macro (reverse lens) and it's cool to read your stuff, it gets me excited to go and photograph bugs again =)
dalantech's avatar
Looking forward to seeing your work :)
chirilas's avatar
this one is not in your tutorials section =)
dalantech's avatar
Thanks -fixed!
Kearna's avatar
Very interesting ! Thank you !
dalantech's avatar
Hope it helps!
TorchwoodWerewolf's avatar
Thank you! I was wondering how to get shots like these- I normally have to wait for one to crawl along half-dead before I can snap it :D
dalantech's avatar
Happy to help :)
Liz-in-BackoBourke's avatar
bees give of a hormone that attracts other bees, thats how kiler bees find you, once bitten ur a target. Love the tips. Thanks for inspiring me not to give up.
alallin's avatar
This is really very useful, I've always wondered how many people manage to get such interesting shots of bees and other insects so close up.

Just as a matter of interest, what lens do you use when shooting bees like this? I'm currently using a compact which has a range from 6.3mm but I am hoping to upgrade to an SLR soon, and I was wondering what sort of lens I would need as I am pretty into my macro photography.

Thanks. (:
BrokenTrinket's avatar
Amazing tutorial
and has been featured here [link]
jon-rista's avatar
Thank you so much for these great tutorials. I've been wondering how you, and some of the other excellent macro photographers here on DA, are able to get such clear, close-up shots of these amazing creatures. Your insight is very valuable, and I hope to put it to good use once weather warms up where I live (Colorado.) Thanks again!
dalantech's avatar
Thanks for the feedback!
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