I’ve long had a fascination for bees, the incredible, furry little insects that live in complex social structures, communicate through dances, and pollinate a vast number of the crops and flowers that we depend on. And of course they make honey. In fact, one of my long term goals is to someday do a photo essay on bees and bee keeping, and one of these days I’ll get around to it.
But in the meantime I work with bees when I’m able to, which means when I come across one that is approachable. So when I came across a patch of wildflowers atop Big Pocono State Park the other evening, I was thrilled to see that it was loaded with bees. And no exaggeration it was loaded – the photo above gives a sense of that, for despite being a macro image shot from only inches away, there are still six bees visible.
Fortunately I’d brought my Takumar 50mm macro with me that evening – I got it on the camera and went to work while there was still some direct sunlight on my subjects. (Normally direct light could have been too harsh, but this close to sunset it had a great warm, diffused look.) As with all wildlife, the goal is to get the photos without stressing them out. I guess that goes double in this case because, unlike songbirds which may just flee the location, stressed-out bees are liable to sink a stinger in you if they feel threatened.
I started shooting from farther out and slowly crept in, a couple of inches at a time, until I was in true macro range. The bees were engrossed in their pollen-gathering and didn’t show any reaction, which made it easy to work with the all-manual Takumar and get the shots I wanted. I shot at f/5.6, which didn’t quite give the depth of field that might have been ideal, but which did help blur out the backgrounds and balanced well with the available light at ISO 400.
I really have no idea why they were so interested in this particular patch of wildflowers, if they were at prime pollination or what. The flowers stretched for a couple of meters to either side, but at other point was there the same concentration of bees. Whatever brought them there together must have been irresistible to them.
As I’ve said before, these are the moments that keep me in love with nature and wildlife photography, the moments that validate all the early mornings, missed meals, and sweaty hikes. They are somewhat uncommon and it’s far too easy to miss them if you’re not paying attention – if I had walked a few meters away, or had decided not to check out this grassy area at the end of the parking lot along the treeline, I’d never have seen these guys. So points to be for blind, dumb luck, I guess.
I made this last image an hour later; the sun was at the horizon and the light had dimmed. I assume the bees were all gone, but in another flower across the summit I found this guy, still foraging. It’s an entirely different look, shot with an entirely different lens – the 14mm, which is what was on the camera at the time – but I thought I’d include it anyway: