Photo Analysis Bee E-mail

Photo of bee on flower

Insects are one of my personal favourite subjects to photograph.  One of the reasons why insects are fun is perhaps that they are so alien.  When you get close enough, and you get a good shot then you are almost always surprised by how different they really are to mammals.  If an insect were two meters tall you would generally consider it an alien in appearance.  With a macrolens or a photo lens you can really get this difference onto the frame...


Photo of bee on flowerAs always in photography, getting close enough is a primary concern.  Everyone has personally seen an innordinate number of insects like bees from afar, but what you often want to achieve is the type of proximity that children are looking for when they explore insects.  You want to really get "eye to eye" with your subject.  That is generally what a Macro lens is for.  A macro lens generally replicates the size of the subject on film, roughly 1:1 (i.e. the scale on the picture corresponds to the scale in real life).  Generally a macro lens forces you to be within just a few centimeters of your subject.  You can go for a [made-up-word warning] tele-macro [made-up-word warning] lens (i.e. something like a 100mm - 250mm Macro lens), but these are generally very expensive.  This particular picture was taken with a Nikon 105mm Macro lens, which worked fine for me.  Remember that non-SLR cameras often also have a Macro feature that will be of use.

When it comes to insects it's tempting to "chase" the subject, i.e. to move your camera about trying to keep a particular bee in focus and then snap along like you're hunting deer or something.  This will usually fail, primarily because the bees are so very muPhoto of bee on flower closeupch faster than you think, and move about at very high speeds giving you blurry images.  Even when they sit down to suck nectar it's just for a very short time and then they fly away almost before you can whisper "composition".  One trick, used in this particular picture, is to frame the picture first, note the simple flower-as-a-sun in the top right corner, and then just wait for the bee to come in for landing.  Of course, this doesn't guarantee perfect positioning of the bee, but it is after all a living organism (no, don't try using a disected bee and creating a fake shot).

To get the sharpness you see on the eyes (see the closeup to the right) you need to have a very quick shutterspeed.  This particular picture wast taken at 1/640 with an aperture of f9,0.  Note that since we're using a Macro lens the depth of field is quite shallow even at f9.  For comparison f7-9 will generally be adequate for a normal portrait, but if you look at the closeup ot the right, the "whiskers" are actually slightly out of focus.  But as always it's a balance between sharpness and getting enough light.

When it comes to light you might argue that the picture is slightly underexposed.  Note the sharp rise to the left of the histogram and the fact that there is fairly little data in the "pure-white" section to the very right.  The pure black patch is on the bees back and is in fact underexposed, but I don't think it matters significantly in this case.  There are no, and should not be, andy pure whites in this picture.  Remember that pure white seldom occurs out there, it's usually a shade or two below as the white petals in this picture.

Now leave your complaints in the comments below and go wait for an insect.



Photo of bee on flower histogram


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