Photographing Bees
Photographing Bees: Tips and Techniques

As a nature lover, I enjoy spending time in my garden and observing the beautiful creatures that inhabit it. Among these creatures are bees, which are not only important pollinators but also fascinating subjects for macro photography.

In this blog post, I will share some tips and techniques I’ve learned for photographing bees up close and personal.

Lipotriches sp inside the Portulaca flower
  1. Get to Know Your Subject

Before you start photographing bees, take the time to read, observe and learn about their behavior. Some common solitary bees in Australia include the Blue-banded Bee, the Reed Bee, and the Teddy Bear Bee. Familiarizing yourself with their behavior, habitats, and preferred flowers can help you anticipate their movements and capture better photos.

To attract bees to your backyard, plant a variety of flowering plants and herbs that provide a continuous source of nectar and pollen. Providing nesting sites, such as wood blocks with pre-drilled holes or artificial bee houses, can also help.

  1. Use The Appropriate Equipment

A macro lens is an essential tool for photographing bees as it allows you to get up close and capture fine details. I normally use my 105mm macro lens (Lester A Dine 105mm f/2.8 or the Micro-Nikor 105mm f/4) which is known for its sharpness and clarity. It also provides a reasonable working distance from the front of the lens to the bee. For even greater magnification (i.e. 2X-3X), I like to use the reverse lens method with a Nikkor 28mm AIS lens and a PK-13 extension tube. Another possible option is to attach the Raynox DCR-250 in front of my macro lens.

Check out this page if you’re interested to learn about my gear.

3. Get the Right Magnification

The size of bees can vary, but some of the common native and solitary bees in Australia include the Blue-banded Bee (around 10-12mm long) and the Teddy Bear Bee (around 12-15mm long). To get the right magnification, it’s helpful to know the size of the bee you’re photographing and your camera sensor size (23.5 x 15.6 mm for my Nikon D7200) adjust your lens and camera settings accordingly. As a general rule, I aim for a magnification of at least 1:1 or higher.

Amegilla sp on the Salvia

4. Use Manual Focus

When photographing bees up close, autofocus can struggle to lock onto the subject. I find it faster use manual focus and move my body closer or further away to adjust the focus. Of course this will require practice and you’ll get better to more you do it.

5. Use Flash

Use a flash: A flash is essential for macro photography because it can help freeze motion and provide enough light for a good exposure. I use a hot shoe flash (Meike 320) with a diffuser to soften the light. I set the flash to manual mode with the flash power set to 1/16.

Tetragonula carbonaria (native stingless bee)

6. Validate your settings

My go-to settings are aperture f/11, increase ISO as needed, and shooting in raw. I always take test shots to validate my settings before starting the actual shoot. This will also give you the opportunity to think about the background, colours, what to include (or not) in the frame.

7. Get the Eyes In Focus

The eyes are the most important part to focus on. When focusing, having the eyes in focus is my trigger point i.e. when I click the shutter. Of course this is not applicable if the eyes are not included in the shot 😀

Lipotriches sp visiting the Common Silkpod flower
In-flight entertainment featuring the Lipotriches sp.

8. Observe Bees Activities

Bees exhibit different behaviors throughout the day. (Buzz) pollinating, roosting at night, and nest building are just a few examples. Observing the different activities can lead to unique and interesting photos.

9. Be Patient and Persistent

For every good photo, there’s hundreds of blurry and bad ones. Photographing these beautiful and amazing creatures require patience and persistence.

Amegilla cingulata buzz polinating the egg plant

In conclusion, photographing bees can be a rewarding and exciting experience. With the right equipment and techniques, you can capture stunning macro shots and learn more about these important pollinators. Remember to always respect the bees and their habitat, and never harm or disturb them for the sake of a photograph. Happy shooting!