Bees are mesmerizing. One of my favorite things to do is sit out by our hive and watch the bees bringing back pollen. Even this small glimpse into their world…only that ledge of coming and going is fascinating.
In today’s world of sharing our lives via the internet, beekeepers feel the draw to document their beekeeping experience with their friends and family. So whether you write a beekeeping or nature blog, sell honey or just want to photograph these fascinating creatures with your camera, here are a few tips to help you get the best images.
As always, I encourage you to work with what you have. If you only have the phone on your camera, or an inexpensive point and shoot then make that work. With practice, you can take some quality images from a variety of equipment. But for the purpose of this article, I will share what I use.
Camera and Lens
My camera is the Nikon D5100. For most of my beekeeping photos, I use my Tamaron 70-300mm lens. It lets me zoom in quite a bit and has a macro setting so I still get a decent depth of field.
The ability to zoom-in makes photographing bees really convenient. Bees are small, and they don’t like to be disturbed so having the ability to stand back, yet fill the frame with detailed bee activity makes for great photography.
Learn to love your rapid shot. Especially when trying to capture flying bees. Bees are fast! Rapid shot allows you to continuously fire photos while holding down the camera button. Sometimes it takes quantity to get quality. In other words, you may have to take a dozen or more photos to get 1 good one. One of the great advantages of shooting digital vs film, you don’t have to pay for wasted shots.
A great place to capture bees mid-flight is right at the hive entrance. Set your focus on the entrance opening and as the bees come and go, rapid fire. You’re sure to get a few good images using this technique.
Movement = Light. If you are photographing a moving subject you need a well-lit area. If there isn’t enough light, the moving object will appear blurry. Bees are in constant motion so a well lit time of day is essential.
The Golden Hour
For those of you familiar with photography you’ve probably heard of the Golden Hour. For those not familiar with it, it is that beautiful part of the day just before the sun sinks under the horizon… where the world is drenched in gorgeous golden light. This time of day makes any photo radiate with a warm, golden color that is striking. But the fact that bees are yellow makes them even more stunning. I love to do hive inspections during the Golden Hour, the amber honey, the wheat colored natural wood of the frames and the bees themselves makes for a glowing experience in the camera.
Like I said before, bees are tiny. Some of the most interesting photos give the viewer a glimpse into their tiny world. The best way to show this is to fill up your photo frame with bee details.
When I photograph, my motto is “no wasted space”. Make each pixel of the photo tell a story. We want to see the multi colors of the reflection on the bee’s eyes, the tiny feather-like hairs on the thorax, the texture of the wax comb, the shape of the pollen pocket etc.
You can always crop photos afterward, but the most natural and pleasing cropping takes place with the camera in hand.
Get comfortable, bring a chair out to your hive so you can sit and really study your bees. Learn their behaviors and flight patterns so you can anticipate the next shot. That’s what drew me to photography in the first place, it is a great way to study nature. It makes you look at objects differently and for longer periods of time. You can also study the subject long after the sun’s gone down because you have a digital image to look at.
Even if you’re not photographing bees, take your camera out daily. Photograph flowers, insects, birds, people. You’ll learn the most in the doing.
Also, study photographers that you admire. Why do you like a certain shot. How would you replicate it?
Become fluent in a good editing software
Sometimes bees don’t give you much to work with, they’re almost always in constant movement. But you can do a lot with a bad photo in a good editing program. Play around with the different features, then take that knowledge out to the field.
Take cropping for example…
If you like a photo better cropped in the editor, what could you have done differently while taking the photo to fill the frame in a better way? This goes with exposure, color balance etc.
Use autofocus until you get really quick with your manual settings. An out-of-focus photo is the one thing that is hard to edit. It’s almost impossible to bring that blur back into concrete lines naturally. So do your best to work on getting images in focus the first time.
Be the photographer or be the beekeeper
It’s not to say that you can’t do both, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to photograph bees while someone else is doing the hive inspection. I’m lucky in that my husband will do the inspecting while I snap photos. It would be difficult for him to orchestrate his gloves, hood, hive tool and the camera, all while paying attention to the safety of the bees.
If you don’t have a helper, try to be as organized as you can. Get your settings right on your camera before you open the hive.