Gorgeous pictures with a Point-and-Shoot: Macro Photography

Have you ever considered macro photography? There’s a certain something to this style of photography that is unlike any other.

In my first post on this topic, Honey bees up close: Macro Photography, I shared what I do as a hobbyist photographer with the hope to encourage more people like you to get out there and identify what types of wildflowers that honey bees love to forage.

Today, I want to share with you the method and how-to behind all of my really cool shots of honey bees doing their thing.

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honey bee foraging henbit
Honey bee foraging Henbit. Not the best composition here but this is a small flower and it is usually still a bit cold outside when this blooms so the bee doesn’t want to spend too long sitting still and getting too cold. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

First off, if you’re a new reader then I want to let you know what camera I use to take these great shots with. It’s an Olympus TG-4 that I’ve had for about three years now.

This hobby started out as simply taking pictures of flowers that I would find while out hiking in the forest. I would then come home, get out my plant books and try to identify the flowers from my own pictures.

Well it eventually evolved into taking pictures of honey bees (usually mine) foraging wildflowers. And voila! Instant hobby. I love it. So now let’s get down to my method.

As a heads up, there’s going to be some technical talk when it comes to camera settings.

On my Olympus TG-4, there is a Microscope Mode. Within this mode there are four individual macro settings. Microscope which let’s you shoot photos up close; Focus Stacking which lets you shoot photos with extended depth of field, Focus BKT which takes multiple pictures at once at different focus positions (you need a tripod for this), and Microscope Control which lets you shoot super up-close photos making small subjects appear large.

And with this camera there’s no additional lens needed for macro photography like there is with most.

honey bee foraging joe pye weed
Honey bee foraging Sweet Joe-Pye Weed. You’ll notice that this bee is not as close as most of my others. This was taken full zoom, full arm extension, and I could still only get this close. An excellent example of the flower determining your shot because this plant was about 9 feet tall. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

For taking pictures of honey bees, I use the first and last options, but mostly the first one, Microscope.

Within this picture-taking mode, I have the camera set to the following settings: Pop Art 1, which brightens the subject a little; Flash Off; Exposure Composition is set to zero; WB Auto (I don’t know what WB means); ISO Auto; Single Picture; 16M (for a really high resolution picture); and a 3:2 ratio.

For those of you who completely do not understand the last paragraph, that’s okay. I don’t either. I’ve simply played with them enough to know what gets me the best shot possible.

honey bee foraging butterfly bush
Honey bee on Butterfly Bush. This photo isn’t perfect, there’s some blurriness to it but I wanted to share it to show that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be awesome.
Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

So here’s what I do next: The Zoom ranges between 1.2 to 4.0x. When I grab my camera and go outside, I begin exploring. I usually have a good idea of where I’m going to find my honey bees foraging.

I’ve been doing this long enough to know what blooms and when it blooms. But sometimes I am especially surprised because I will find a flower that I’ve never seen a honey bee on before.

The Method So I have my camera mode set to Microscope, my setting is set to Microscope, and I go ahead and push the zoom button until it’s halfway. I quickly bring my camera to within two or three inches of the bee on flower, push the shutter button down halfway to focus and as soon as it is focused I take as many shots as I can.

honey bee foraging goldenrod
Honey bee on Goldenrod. You can see from my angle that the camera was pretty much right in front of her. Sometimes I get the camera so close that I almost touch the bee.
Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

The Break Down When I bring my camera into position, I’m watching the LCD screen for the exact second that my camera achieves focus. At this point I take as many shots as I can while keeping an eye on the camera.

I keep my other eye on the honey bee. You see, honey bees move fast, really fast! This is part of the reason I only zoom in halfway. This allows me to still get some really great close-up details while still being out far enough to snap a shot of a moving subject and still keep it within my frame.

Each type of flower they forage will dictate how I approach it, and the type of shot that I’ll get. Some flowers are so tiny that a bee hardly sticks around long enough to get a decent shot. A good example of this is Smartweed. What a challenging flower!

But then there are flowers like Golden Glow. Each flower head has dozens of little flowers with nectar inside. A honey bee or two will be on one of these flowers for ten seconds or more which is a great opportunity for an amazing shot. And if they fly away, it’s only a few inches away onto the next blossom.

honey bee foraging smartweed
Honey bee foraging Smartweed. I barely made this shot in time, as you can tell. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

The wildflowers that are deep in structure and require that a honey bee actually stick its head down into it are the best ones for photographing. The deep flower means that the bee has to take its time to fly up to the flower, land on it, walk around till it finds the opening, dive inside for treasure, then start to back out before it finally takes off at lightening speed to start all over.

Some of my favorite shots are the ones that a honey bee cannot necessarily land on. Jewelweed is a hanging blossom much like a carrot dangles from a stick in front of a donkey’s muzzle.

As a result, a bee approaches slowly and then has to grab onto the blossom’s lower petals. The reason this makes for such a super photo is because you can eventually time it just right to get their wings beating in the air. And in a picture, a honey bee’s buzzing wings are really shiny and pretty.

honey bee foraging jewelweed
Honey bee on Jewelweed. One of my most favorite shots. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

As usual, I must pause to recommend a book that I value greatly. American Honey Plants by Frank C. Pellett. This is a wonderful source for learning about honey bee forage throughout the States. It breaks things down as Major or Minor sources of forage and even goes over the different regions within each state. Check out my review of this book on my Gear page.

I took some very basic photography lessons way back in high school. That’s back when film was still a big thing. I’m pretty certain that digital cameras were not even an option yet.

I remember our art instructor, Mr. Parrish taping up the windows and doors to transform our classroom into a darkroom for an hour and a half so that we could develop our own film. That was an amazing experience. But with digital there’s no guessing.

honey bee gathering water
Honey bee gathering water. They aren’t all on blossom duty. Sometimes they get thirsty too! This mud hole makes for a great photo opportunity. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Once I have had my fill of taking pictures or I simply start getting hungry, I start making my way back to the house. At this point I’m going through all the pictures that I just took and deleting all the blurry ones. The more I gain experience, the more picky I get when it comes to what I consider to be a ‘keeper’ or a throw away.

It’s while I’m going through and culling out the bad that I find what possible treasures I may have captured. Then I share the really good ones with my wife and we ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhhh’ together.

What about you? Is there anything in particular that you love taking pictures of? I would really be interested in hearing from you and what you love to capture. And if you are into macro photography, maybe you have some recommendations for cameras and stuff. Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks so much for joining me today and until next time remember,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee.~

Jonathan Hargus/Photographer Extraordinaire

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Out of all the pictures I’ve taken of the many different flowers with bees buzzing on them, I have to say that Golden Glow is probably the easiest. It offers so much forage, there are bees all over it and I could take pictures for hours. But then there are those rare moments when you snap a photo of a bee on some rare flower…how exciting!

  2. Katkoot says:

    Very beautiful pictures! The honeybee on Sweet Joe-Pye Weed is my favourite. Must have been very difficult balancing the camera for that one. Are these photos the inspiration to your illustrations ?

    1. Thanks! I’m so glad that you have a favorite 😁 And you’re right, these pictures are my inspiration for my illustrations. You’re the first to notice.

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