I have to admit I have a lot of respect for (or should I say a fear of?) bees but given one little bee sting could potentially kill me I guess I have to. Despite the unhealthy relationship I have bees I have to say that bee photography is something I do enjoy, and with a local fen a few miles from where I live full of bees I can have a go at photographing these critters whenever I want, which is pretty cool.
Most bee photography photos are macro pictures and extreme close up shots of bees crawling over flowers caked in pollen. Whilst it is interesting to see what a bee really looks like up close I have to admit that I struggle to see why some photographers concentrate solely on macro pictures of bees. One or two extreme close up macro pictures of bees is cool, and I have to say that my bee photography portfolio does include a few of this type pf macro pictures of bees, but it is pointless taking too many of them. In hindsight, getting up close and personal to bees armed with a macro lens was pretty stupid, and I was fortunate (or extremely lucky) not to get one retaliate and sting.
Extreme close up photos of bees have limited uses and are not really a commercial shot that is going to make you any money. Over the years my bee photography has generated a little income (through sales of postcards, greetings cards, postage stamps and posters) however I have never sold any product with macro pictures of bees. Based on my personal experience, and the fact I like to earn with my photography, I have reached the conclusion it is not commercially viable capturing loads and loads of macro pictures of bees, even if I wanted to.
I leave the macro lens well alone for my bee photography nowadays and prefer to keep my distance and capture photos of bees flying from flower to flower collecting pollen, and bees crawling over the flower heads. Based on my personal experience these are the commercial shots that earn money, therefore this is what I focus my bee photography on.
Equipment for bee photography
After several years having a bash at bee photography I have reached the conclusion it is best to be as mobile as possible, and take as little photography equipment as possible. Whenever I go out photographing bees I take the bare essentials, which comprises a camera, a single lens, a speed light (attached to a wireless flash trigger) and the usual lens cleaning cloth, lens pen, memory cards and spare battery.
Over the years I have experimented with various photography equipment (cameras and lenses) for bee photography, and I think that I have finally got the perfect set up.
Even though I own a full frame camera (a Canon 6d) the camera I use for bee photography is a mark 1 Canon 7d, and I have to say I love it. The 7d is an great camera that is perfect for bee photography and the reasons I say this are as follows:-
I highly recommend the Canon 7d for bee photography, however if you are not a Canon fan or want a different branded camera to photograph bees you need to make sure the camera has a quick auto focus, a high burst rate and a crop sensor and you’ll be fine.
The lens I use for bee photography is the Canon 28 – 300L IS and I consider it the perfect lens for taking pictures of bees, and the reasons I say this are as follows:-
The Canon 28 – 300L IS lens is a professional grade L series lens which means it is made from the best materials and utilises the best optics and glass.
With a focal range of 28mm – 300mm (effective 44.8mm – 480mm) I can zoom in nice and tight for some frame filling shots (but not true macro pictures) of the bees or pull back a bit and include some flowers, foliage or background. The Canon 28 – 300 is a versatile lens and allows me to capture a wide variety of shots.
The Canon 28 – 300L IS lens has image stabilisation which means I can get sharp hand held shots at slower shutter speeds. Canon claims the image stabilisation is good for 4 stops, however I can seldom push it that far. If I am lucky I can get 3.5 stops (although my hit rate at this is quite low) however I consistently get 2.5 – 3 stops, which is plenty good enough for me.
The Canon 28 – 300L IS lens gets a bit of a hard time from other photographers, and I think this is unjustified. Before I bought the Canon 28-300L IS lens I read some negative reviews about it being:-
I was almost put off buying this lens by the reviews, although I did find some good ones about it, but I decided to go to a local camera shop and take a look at one for myself. After holding the Canon 28-300L IS lens and taking some test shots I immediately knew it was the perfect lens for bee photography so I bought one, and haven’t looked back since. The Canon 28-300L IS lens is an excellent lens and I am so glad I tried one out and not followed the “buy one at your peril” advice in the reviews I read. If you’re interested here are what I consider the pros and cons of the Canon 28-300L IS lens.
The speed light I use for bee photography is the Godox Ving 860, which I consider the best value flash currently available. Since a speed light only provides a bit of extra light when I need it to I am not bothered about Canon branding. Before I bought the Godox Ving I used a Canon 600EX, but due to a bit of a mishap I had to buy a new flash gun for a photo shoot, but I was broke. A replacement 600EX was out of the question so I opted for the cheap and cheerful Godox Ving, and boy am I glad I did. The Godox Ving doesn’t feel as tough as the Canon 600EX but it is just as powerful, it has the same range of features, it is more user friendly and it utilises a single cell battery. I was so impressed with the Ving I ended up buying three more! When I invested in more Godox Ving speed lights I spent less money on a set of three than the cost of a single Canon 600EX. You can’t get much better than that. If you are interested in a full write up on the Godox Ving speed lights take a look at “Review of the Godox Ving 860”, and you will soon appreciate just how good they are.
Whenever I use a flash for bee photography I use it off camera so I have more control over the direction of the light. Off camera flash cords (whilst super cheap) are a total pain in the ass, and it is all too easy to get hampered by the cord and all tangled up. I tried with off camera flash cords and failed miserably, so I bought a flash trigger instead.
The flash trigger I use is the Yongnuo 622 paired with the Yongnuo TX transmitter. The Yongnou 622 flash trigger is small, discreet, supports ETTL flash (which is essential for bee photography) and is also way cheaper than the popular flash triggers (i.e. the pocket wizards). Using the flash trigger is way better than using the off camera flash cord, and it allows full movement of where and how to position the flash. If you are interested in a full write up about the Yongnuo 622 flash triggers (and how they can make you bee photography that bit easier) take a look at “Review of the Yongnuo 622 flash triggers”.
I find the above setup (the Canon 7d combined with theCanon 28-300L IS lens and Godox Ving flash (fired using the wireless Yongnuo 622 flash trigger) perfect for bee photography, and I have discovered you really don’t need anything else.
"My bee photography kit - Canon 7d, Canon 28 - 300L IS and Godox Ving 860 flash"
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.