Bees One-Handed

This article shares my experiences earlier today, photographing bees one-handed using an E-M1X and M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro lens. Finding their use too restrictive, I’ve always hated using tripods, even with macro photography. So today I decided to do something a little different from the norm.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/800, ISO-6400, photographed one-handed, subject distance 270 mm.

Often when doing macro photography handheld, interesting subjects may be a bit too far away for us to support a camera with both hands. Sometimes we ignore these photographic opportunites and concentrate on others that are easier to reach.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/9, 1/640, ISO-1600, photographed one-handed, subject distance 280 mm.

Today I decided to do something that I hadn’t done before… practice shooting handheld macro photography by exclusively holding my camera with only one hand during the entire photo session.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/9, 1/640, ISO-640, photographed one-handed, subject distance 355 mm.

This included adjusting the position of my single auto-focus point, changing aperture and shutter speed, and exposure compensation if required. I shot in Manual mode and used an auto-ISO setting. I must admit that it felt quite strange to limit my physical contact with my camera to only one hand for a couple of hours.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/9, 1/640, ISO-800, photographed one-handed, subject distance 290 mm.

Photographing bees one handed ended up being a liberating experience. It enabled me to watch individual bees more intently and follow their flight around various blossoms.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/9, 1/640, ISO-5000, photographed one-handed, subject distance 280 mm.

When a subject bee would momentarily land on a blossom I would move my camera in as close as I could by stretching out my right arm and composing from the rear screen.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/9, 1/640, ISO-5000, photographed one-handed, subject distance 280 mm.

I didn’t need to adjust my aperture or shutter speed very much during the practice session. I tended to leave my single auto-focus point in centre frame, although I did adjust it with my thumb on a regular basis. In these instances the AF joystick on my E-M1X came in very handy for both landscape and portrait orientation images.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/9, 1/640, ISO-1000, photographed one-handed, subject distance 285 mm.

One of the most important factors when photographing bees one-handed was the speed at which my camera acquired focus. It was quite a breezy morning and the bees would only spend a second or two on each blossom before moving on to the next. So I had to get my camera in position very rapidly, acquire focus quickly and grab my image.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/7.1, 1/160, ISO-160, photographed one-handed, subject distance 270 mm.

A few areas in my flower gardens are a bit more sheltered, allowing me to use slower shutter speeds and lower ISO values.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-2500, photographed one-handed, subject distance 505 mm.

In many parts of my yard I was photographing in bright sunshine which made things a bit tricky composing from the rear screen of my E-M1X, as I could not change its angle with only one hand on my camera body.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/9, 1/400, ISO-1000, photographed one-handed, subject distance 330 mm.

This exercise of photographing bees one-handed really drove home the importance of having a camera body with a solid, comfortable grip and easy-to-use controls. It didn’t take too long before I could confidently and quickly make the adjustments needed for a photograph one-handed.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/9, 1/640, ISO-4000, photographed one-handed, subject distance 280 mm.

I think doing this type of practice session is very beneficial as it forces a photographer to use their gear in an uncommon way. This helps to build some skills that may come in handy in the future.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/9, 1/800, ISO-1250, photographed one-handed, subject distance 270 mm.

Since this was just a practice photo session, I wasn’t anticipating getting a lot of keeper images. I was pleasantly surprised with the photographs that resulted.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/9, 1/800, ISO-1250, photographed one-handed, subject distance 275 mm.

Once I became accustomed to judging the physical distance needed to capture a handheld macro bee image, I was able to move in tighter. Photographing bees one-handed allowed me to lean into my garden and capture a number of nice, tight images like the one below.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/9, 1/800, ISO-1600, photographed one-handed, subject distance 265 mm.

Mounting an M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro lens on an E-M1X body does look quite bizarre… almost comical. But, it is an incredibly easy set-up to handle when shooting macro images of bees one handed. I also used this approach to capture macro images of flowers and other insects one-handed during my practice session.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 30 mm, efov 81 mm, f/3.8, 1/25, ISO-3200

If you enjoy doing macro photography handheld I would certainly recommend trying this type of practice session. Photographing bees one-handed felt challenging at first… but it was a rewarding exercise as it enabled me to capture images that I would not have otherwise been able to get… given my physical distance away from the subject bees.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/9, 1/800, ISO-1250, photographed one-handed, subject distance 230 mm.

Pushing our skill sets and trying new ways to use our cameras helps expand our physical capabilities. I plan on doing this type of practice session on a regular basis.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Image were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Photographs were cropped to taste and resized for web use.

How you can help keep this site advertising free

My intent is to keep this photography blog advertising free. If you enjoyed this article and/or my website and would like to support my work, you can purchase an eBook, or make a modest $10 donation through PayPal. Both are most appreciated. You can use the Donate button below. Larger donations can be made to through PayPal.

Word of mouth is the best form of endorsement. If you like our website please let your friends and associates know about our work. Linking to this site or to specific articles is allowed with proper acknowledgement. Reproducing articles, or any of the images contained in them, on another website or in any social media posting is a Copyright infringement.

Article and images are Copyright 2020 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent. If you see this article reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Posting comments on offending websites and calling out individuals who steal intellectual property is always appreciated!

12 thoughts on “Bees One-Handed”

  1. A great article that has helped me this last few weeks. I have a different problem – videoing Teddy Bear bees in my back yard. I need to use 150FPS creative Mode which doesn’t allow for auto focus. So I spent one weekend with my fellow movie making group in my backyard. We all had limited success as which has now given each of us a challenge – how to photograph bees etc using high frame rates. I have tried 3 times since, gradually changing my technique using various focusing methods other than auto that is not possible on the G9. This week I began to see improvements in my footage so much that in one clip I actually discovered that I had captured a Preying Mantis trying to catch a bee. As this was all handheld and following the bee around the salvia plant, I could not really see what I was capturing until I reviewed my footage. I have put it on the” Lumix Experience” UK facebook group. as I can’t add a link here. What I also wish to do is to do a photo sequence blended on a single frame. So far As I am unable to keep the plant/Bee/camera still, my efforts in still photos will be put on the backburner until I am skilled at the video process. All good fun. Thanks Tom for your encouragement.

    1. Hi Brian,

      It sounds like you and your group are having a lot of fun with your bee video projects. These types of challenges are fantastic ways to develop skills and expand our capabilities. Since I cancelled my YouTube channel some time ago I really haven’t spent any time doing any personal video work with nature and other subject matter.


  2. Hi Tom, with my EM1 using the stacking feature I got sharper results….but for dead insects…using 12-40 f.2.8. and 16mm extension. Did you try that stacking and mayebe C-AF tracking? for living insects with the 60mm macro ? ( I dont’t have that lens). Tracking is very easy with the EM1.
    As I work the same as you with M ….the suggestion ‘A’ could give you also more freedom and speed with those fast moving creatures within mm’s! The combination f8/9 with fast shutterspeed and low ISO is allways what we are wishing for but your ISO’s are high at the cost of detail……or is that acceptable for you? Now you are MFT fan…did you ever thought of the 100-400 panaleica? I got comparable results with that Tele on my GX8! Could be better on your MX!

    1. Hi Ruud,

      The objective of the images in this article was simply to test how practical it is to do macro photography one-handed with moving insect subjects. There certainly are opportunities to change camera settings to produce potentially better results. I agree that using focus stacking with static subjects, like your example of dead insects, can produce more detailed images. I don’t think using focus stacking with AF-C with a moving subject would work. If you give it a try… let us know how that works for you.

      Photographing bees with a telephoto lens can work very well… but that was not the objective of my test images.

      I would not consider the Panasonic 100-400 mm lens, or any other Panasonic product, based on a brief and disappointing ownership experience I had with that particular brand I had a number of years ago.


      1. Ok Tom, thanks for your quick response.
        I am also trying out many options and found out that I got sharp images with AF tracking and burst… As said the tracking works fine in Olympus.
        Besides that I change Olympus and Panasonic depending on my feelings of the day…can understand your choise for one brand after disappointments…..
        But I very agree with your choise to do ‘normal’ handheld natural macro with the systems you own….
        Will try stacking on the bumblebees in my garden when there is no wind! Results following…

        1. Hi Ruud,

          I certainly would not discourage other people from buying a particular brand of camera gear. My experience was simply my experience… I know other people have found that Panasonic is a good fit for their specific needs.

          Experimenting with our camera gear is always a great thing to do as it allows us to discover new approaches with our photography! I always enjoy hearing from readers about their experiences with their camera equipment.


  3. Tom,

    First thing that came to mind – what steady hand(s) you’ve got 😀 Either that or the Oly’s IBIS is really splendid. Or both.

    Either way, lovely bee images you’ve got there.
    There’s something about bees (like birds, if we can resist resorting to the pun/popular expression LOL) that
    grounds me, especially at a time like this. Like hearing the waves of sparrows feeding outside my window is life-affirming when it seems things are not what they used to be.

    So thank you for continuing to bring us fantastic images of nature and keeping us grounded and sane.


    1. Glad you enjoyed the images Oggie!

      I was using a decently fast shutter speed for most of the bee images in this article which helped quite a bit in terms of image quality. I suspect IBIS was a factor but likely to a lesser extent. The biggest factors when capturing these images one-handed was the auto-focus speed of the E-M1X and the overall ergonomics and handling of the body.

      “Life its own self” is all around us. All we need do is look for it to be inspired and filled with awe.


  4. Thanks for your thorough response, Tom … I get it now.

    I guess, after 45 years(!) of taking photos, much of your operational usage must by now be automatic/muscle-memory responses, based on intuition built on a lot of experience.

    Regards, John TKA

    1. Hi John,

      I think the most important thing is for you to use whatever shooting mode best works for you personally. I know a number of photographers who always use Shutter Priority when photographing birds-in-flight and have for quite a few years. The ‘best’ mode is the one with which you are most comfortable and helps you produce the best work.


  5. An interesting exercise with excellent results, Tom.

    You say you shot in Manual mode, using Auto-ISO, which I’m curious about: (I know you’ve previously answered a similar question from me on this, Tom – but I remain curious; for educational purposes).

    Would it not have been simpler, in this scenario, to put your M1X into shutter-priority mode and let it work out the appropriate aperture using its excellent metering system ?

    What am I missing – – or, what decided you to use Manual mode? Is it just that that’s your usual working method?

    Regards, John TKA

    1. Hi John,

      It is just a matter of personal preference. I find that shooting in Manual gives me the level of creative control that I want with my photography.

      In the case of the bee images in this article… since I had variable wind conditions I adjusted my shutter speed somewhat to allow for swaying movement with flowers etc. Since I was waiting for the bees to land I wasn’t concerned about their wing movement. I did not want my camera to decide on aperture setting as I wanted to control depth-of-field. In this case I wanted a good amount of depth-of-field so most of my images were at f/8 or f/9. My lighting had the potential to change quickly from one bee to the next based on the flower upon which they landed… so I used auto-ISO as I didn’t have sufficient time between images to adjust ISO manually. If my subject matter had been static, i.e. the subjects themselves were not moving and there was no breeze causing movement, I would have shot in Manual mode and set my ISO manually as well. This would have given me even more control over my photos.

      Your comment caused me to think back about how I typically use my cameras. It’s interesting that I cannot remember ever using Shutter Priority mode in over 45 years of camera ownership. I suppose I may have played around with Shutter Priority at some point during the past four and a half decades. For as much as my old, porous brain can remember, using Shutter Priority is a mode that I simply do not remember ever using. I guess I never saw any value in this particular mode when I could shoot in Manual mode, which gives me more creative control.

      All things considered, my preference is to have direct control of aperture, shutter speed and ISO value whenever it is practical based on subject matter and shooting conditions… and not to have my camera make decisions for me. Again… that’s just me. It’s not right or wrong or better… just my preference.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *