This article shares a selection of bees in-flight test photographs and discusses some of the issues considered when creating these images. All photographs were captured handheld in my backyard during a single, relatively short photo session.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
When it comes to photographing bees in-flight there are a range of options available. Many photographers prefer to set up a tripod and concentrate their efforts on a specific blossom, waiting for a bee to land. The lens used for this style of photography can vary greatly. Often a macro lens is selected, and some kind of remote shutter release is utilized.
As regular readers will know, I absolutely hate using tripods and view them as necessary evils when conditions force their use. One of the reasons that I moved into Olympus gear, and specifically the E-M1X is its incredible IBIS performance. When photographing bees in-flight I much prefer shooting handheld using a long focal length zoom lens as this combination provides me with more flexibility.
When creating these bees in-flight test photographs the short minimum focusing distance of 1.3 metres (~4.3 feet) of the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS was a definite benefit. To provide additional image magnification an M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter was used. As you can see from the EXIF data I was able to photograph these bees in-flight from a fairly short distance. Using the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm zoom handheld allowed me to monitor the in-flight bee activity around multiple blossoms, and quickly adjust to specific opportunities.
I used Pro Capture H to photograph bees in-flight as I find this technology gives me a good assortment of potentially useable images. I had been experimenting with shutter speeds for a couple of days leading up to these bees in-flight test images. Since Pro Capture H relies on the use of the E-M1X’s electronic shutter, rolling shutter effects can be an issue. After trying some slower shutter speeds with some success, I decided to use 1/3200 and 1/4000 for this particular test. I liked the results obtained with the faster shutter speeds.
Rolling shutter effects can sometimes be excessive when using an electronic shutter to photograph bees in-flight. Rather than simply toss out these types of images I played around adding an art treatment like glowing edges to enhance the surreal feeling of the photograph. I found that rolling shutter was more pronounced with larger, heavier bees, and ones that were banking abruptly or flying towards my camera. The best results were obtained when photographing bees moving parallel to the focal plane of my camera’s sensor. Since bees can be very erratic flyers sometimes success involves a bit of guesswork in terms of the direction at which a bee will take flight.
From a composition standpoint it is always important to determine how much of the environment should be included in a photograph of this type. Making bees in-flight a portion of a larger composition can be a pleasing creative approach as it provides more context.
At other times a photographer may want to frame their composition so that the subject been may be flying against an unobstructed background. This really comes down to the personal preference of a photographer and their image objectives.
One needs quick eye-hand coordination to move between individual bees in-flight opportunities, so I tend to work an area of about one square metre of blossoms at a time. This allows me to get my single AF point positioned on a subject bee, or adjacent petal/leaf while the bee is still stationary. I half-depress my shutter release to begin recording images in temporary memory, then fully depress it once the bee has taken flight.
I keep my single AF point in centre frame and recompose with Pro Capture H as necessary. Since bees in-flight can move rapidly from one blossom to another there often isn’t enough time to be moving the AF point around. The depth-of-field can be quite shallow for this type of photography so regularly re-acquiring auto-focus on a subject bee is often required. I use my standard Pro Capture H settings with Pre-Shutter Frames and Frame Limiter both set at 15. I use 60 frames-per-second. It is important to remember that when using Pro Capture H, the first frame locks both auto-focus and exposure for all subsequent frames.
Whenever possible I try to photograph subject bees in-flight that will move towards unobstructed backgrounds. This helps to achieve good subject separation.
I also prefer photographing bees in-flight in bright sunlight. This allows me to use fast shutter speeds in combination with an aperture of f/9 while still keeping my ISO to a maximum of ISO-6400 or less. I find that the range of ISO-2500 to ISO-5000 works quite well given my approach with post processing. I also love to photograph a subject bee in bright sunlight when the background is in dark shadow. This creates some high contrast, dramatic lighting.
Photographing bees in-flight is something that most of us can do. If you happen to own an Olympus camera with Pro Capture H, the task is made much easier, and makes this subject matter very accessible. On a personal basis I find that capturing photographs of bees in-flight is a far more enjoyable experience than photographing perched bees.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted. This is the 1,049th article published on this website since its original inception.
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