Honey bees up close: Macro Photography

I have never considered photography as a thing for me. When it comes to artwork, I usually prefer mediums like graphite, oil paint, or even watercolor.

And though I still like all of those things, I’m finding that my love for honey bees and honey bee forage plants have combined to make a superpower:

Honey bee Macro photography! Which pretty much means really close up pictures of wee little bees.

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honey bee foraging on clematis
Honey bee on Clematis. This little one did not fly on to the next, she dropped to the next blossom below. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

In order to take macro shots of my ‘little girls,’ I have to use the right kind of camera. Not just any camera will do and some are better than others. But in 2016 my wife and I were gifted a small camera for taking pictures as we attempted a thru-hike of the Applachian Trail from Maine to Georgia.

We did not finish. But we did make it about 120 miles, starting in Maine. Anyways, the camera we used for that trip and that I still use for chasing around my honey bees is the Olympus TG-4. It has some amazing macro settings that are perfect for those really detailed, close-up shots.

honey bee on green-headed cone flower foraging
Honey bee on Green-Headed Cone flower. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

When it comes to the Olympus TG-4, it’s perfect for on-the-go photography. It’s made to be tough. You can drop it, drown it, and it’s even sting proof, ha ha.

Nowadays though, the TG-4 has a predecessor; Olympus has come out with its offspring, the Olympus TG-5. I have not used the TG-5 because its daddy is still going strong. And with the Gigastone 64MB SD memory card, I have well over 3,000 pictures stored away.

honey bee foraging on dogbane
Honey bee on Dogbane. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

However, the camera alone didn’t take all of the awesome shots of bees and things. I had to learn how to use it. Basically, the camera comes with a Microscope setting.

Within this setting there are four options: Microscope, which lets you shoot photos up close; Focus Stacking, which allows you to shoot photos with extended depth of field; Focus BKT, which takes multiple pictures at once at different focus positions; and Microscope Control, which lets you shoot super up-close photos making small subjects appear large.

honey bee foraging on florida snow
Honey bee on Florida Snow. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

I tend to use the first and last settings depending upon which plant I find honey bees foraging.

Here’s where the really interesting part comes into play. I have observed that honey bees work every flower and blossom differently. What I mean by that is sometimes a bee will land on a blossom, stick its tongue in and then suddenly take off faster than you can blink.

Other times, a bee will land on a blossom or flower head and really take its time, maybe even crawl around if it’s something like goldenrod that has thousands of small flowers available.

honey bee foraging on goldenrod
Honey bee on Goldenrod. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

As a photographer of honey bees, and a free-handed, tripod-less one at that, I can tell you that taking pictures of honey bees can be quite challenging. But after a lot of practice I eventually began to learn how a honey bee forages a blossom depending upon its shape.

And by learning this, I was able to predict how a bee would forage something so that I could position my camera and time my shot appropriately.

For example, Jewelweed is a great opportunity to get a shot of a honey bee foraging with its wings beating in the air while hovering right in front of the blossom opening. Florida Snow is perfect for getting a shot of a honey bee while diving face first into its goal, which looks a lot like dumpster diving.

honey bee foraging Jewelweed
Honey bee on Jewelweed; or rather in front of Jewelweed. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

With my Olympus TG-4, I am super impressed whenever I get a great shot of a honey bee doing what it does best. And do you want to know the secret to how I get pictures like the ones here in this post?

I’ll tell you; you take A LOT of pictures then delete the bad ones to see what you have left. Which pretty much boils down to practice, practice, oh yeah and some more practice.

honey bee foraging on millet
Honey bee on Millet; a cover crop. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

This hobby actually started out with wanting to know what certain wildflowers were to identify them. I would take a shot, go home and look it up in my books. Eventually, I started seeing my bees on these flowers.

As a result, I know what my bees are foraging, where they are foraging, how much they are foraging, and when they are foraging. What really helped was reading my all-time favorite book American Honey Plants by Frank C. Pellett.

This book essentially taught me what to look for as far as what honey bees forage in my area. Taking pictures of honey bees foraging is an excellent hobby to add to my hiking hobby.

honey bee foraging confederate rose, a type of hibiscus
Honey bee on Confederate Rose, a type of Hibiscus. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

My next challenge in macro photography is to get some really good shots of bees foraging arboreal blossoms (tree flowers). In my area it’s a real challenge to get high enough to see Tulip Poplar blossoms.

I have taken a few good shots of Sourwood blossoms but never with any honey bees…yet. In addition to these I have two types of Cherry trees, Persimmon trees, and even Black Locust (#besthoneyever). I especially want to get Sourwood and Persimmon.

honey bee foraging st. john's wort
Honey bee on Wild St. John’s Wort. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

My goal today is to introduce you to a couple of concepts: becoming more aware of the plants in your area, especially the ones that offer forage for honey bees. And to introduce the camera that I use to take my own pictures.

I’ve had quite a few people ask me, “What camera do you use to take such really awesome, super-cool fantabulous pictures?” To which I reply, “Oh, these amatuer photos? It’s just an Olympus TG-4.”

How about you? Are you into photography? What is your pleasure? I would love to hear from you. And if you’re tech-smart then maybe you could even post a picture in the comments below. Read more about wildflowers in my posts: Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee. Part 1 & Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee. Part 2.

Thanks for joining me today and until next time remember,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee.~

Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Extraordinaire

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