Here’s a simple image of a worker bee circling in for a landing at her hive.
It’d be nice if I could say I used my mad photography skillz to snap a few shots and walk away with this winning photo. But the reality is that the process took two weeks and several thousand exposures of trial and error. Most looked like this, give or take a few unfocused blobs:
Leaving aside the obvious- that I snapped continuous servos along the bees’ landing path with the result that one of every 30 had a bee in focus somewhere in the frame- I spent considerable time working out the more effective combinations of camera angle, sunlight, time of day, lens, and camera settings.
I tried my 35mm prime lens with and without an extension tube, the 17-40 wide-angle zoom with extension tube, and the 100mm macro. I tried exposures of 1/800 to 1/5000 sec, ISO 800 to 3200, apertures of f/2 to f/6. But mostly, I waited for the right conditions of ambient sunlight and fired away.
I quickly discovered a one hour window in early afternoon with ideal natural light. Then, the sun hits the hives at such an angle that incoming bees are backlit against a shadowy background, while light reflecting off the front of the hives provides a slight fill. On days when I could arrange to be home around lunchtime, I sat next to the hives and shot until the lighting had passed.
The photo at the top came yesterday. A thin overcast took the glare off the sunlight, but not so much that I had to slow the shutter speed to compensate. Then it was just a matter of taking enough shots to get lucky. About 700.
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens on a Canon EOS 7D
ISO 2500, 1/4000 sec, f/4.0