Beekeeping through the camera lens – a talk by Simon Croson

On Wednesday night I went to a talk by Simon Croson at the London Beekeepers’ Association in south London. Simon had travelled all the way down from Lincolnshire to share his expertise in taking photos of bees with us.

He has taken an impressively quick journey from novice to small-scale bee farmer and bee photography prize winner. He started beekeeping in 2006 and then took his Basic Beekeeping exam in 2007. Since then he has won the Apimondia Gold medal for bee photography in 2011 and 2013 and launched his own honey company, The Artisan Honey Company Ltd. A tall, imposing man with broad shoulders and what I call a ‘badger beard’, he was previously in the RAF. See the article ‘Honey, I found a new career‘ to find out more about his progress.

Why take bee photos? (as if most of us needed much persuading!)

  • Helps you get a better understanding of bees – why and how they do what they do
  • Build your own teaching reference library to show others
  • Photos make you question things

The first “real bee photo” Simon took was of varroa mites on his bees, which had been given to him by a certain supplier. Thanks to the photo, word got around that this supplier was selling varroa infested bees. Simon found himself being tapped on the back at a beekeeping event and asked by the supplier “What’s this I hear that you’ve been saying my bees have varroa?”. Simon showed him the photo, only for the supplier to say “So that’s what they look like!”. It just goes to show that even very experienced beekeepers can be ignorant of bee biology and diseases.

Simon’s kit

  • Olympus DSLR, various lenses, ring flash
  • Uses a 50mm macro lens for most of his work
  • Recommends a purpose built macro lens rather than an adapter if you can afford it.

You can find out more about his equipment on his website at: sicroson.com/Sicroson.com/Olympus_Cameras.html

Simon’s tips for getting a good photo:

  • Try to move in close rather than zooming in – get within a couple of inches of your subject.
  • Move in gradually and slowly towards bees you are photographing, so you don’t startle them off.
  • You might need artificial light – a flash on a camera could be shadowed out as you get close. Simon uses a ring flash, which produces nice diffused light to let you get lots of detail.
  • Foraging bees are quicker but are less aggressive than when in the hives. Find a flower bees are visiting and wait by it.
  • Put your camera on manual focus.
  • Use f-stops to isolate the subject or increase the area in focus. F-stops range from 1.2 to 45 and control the size of the lens aperture.
  • Use shallow depth of field with a low f-stop number to get small parts of the bee in focus. The eyes will usually be the most interesting part to focus on.
Trophallaxis

Photo of trophallaxis (food sharing) between bees by Drew Scott. Note how the eyes are in focus and the background blurry.

More on F-stops

A shallow depth of field using a wide aperture (low f-stop number – f2.8/f4 etc) to let lots of light in results in a soft and blurry background which helps draw the eye to the bees in the foreground.

F45 is really deep depth of field with a narrow aperture restricting light into the camera – you need an enormous amount of light around to be able to see much in the resulting photo. When using an f22 or higher stop Simon recommends using a ring flash, unless it’s a really bright sunny day.

Basic principles

  • Understand how your bees react to cameras. Wear protection around bees at unfamiliar hives. Cameras generate electromagnetic fields which the bees can sense and might be bothered by.
  • Get in as close as you safely can, don’t zoom.
  • If wearing a veil, don’t press your camera close to your face to look through – a recipe for getting stung. Try to use your camera’s live view screen instead.
  • No point using a tripod or monopod as bees move around too much. Instead brace your camera with your hands and hold it as tightly as you can to reduce shake.
  • Use flash to freeze movement and add detail.
  • During brood inspections, keep the frame as parallel to the lens as possible so that the cells are in focus. A ring flash is good for clear photos of eggs.
  • Get creative – there are lots of cheap apps that let you convert parts of your photo to black & white and do other exciting special effects.
Get in close. Photo by Drew Scott.

Get in close. Photo by Drew Scott.

There are certain times when bees are easier to photograph. For instance, newly emerged bees are more docile and move more slowly on the frames. If you’ve accidentally broken brace comb during an inspection, resulting in exposed larvae or dribbled honey, the bees will be preoccupied in cleaning this up and often too busy to notice you. Foragers will clean their antennae just before they set off; drones clean their antennae and eyes when returning.

Bee tending to a larvae which had unfortunately had its cell accidentally broken during a inspection. Photo by Drew Scott.

Bee tending to a larvae which had unfortunately had its cell accidentally broken during a inspection. Photo by Drew Scott.

Simon is a big user of Facebook and posts photos there nearly every day, for instance in the community ‘From Virginia to Lincolnshire – Beekeeping Across The Pond‘. As he says, the great thing about photos is they can be appreciated by everyone, no matter what language you speak. He has 80,000 photos stored on his Macbook, so there’s a lot to post! A book is being planned, but he’s rather secretive about it.

After the talk I do feel inspired to have a go with Drew’s fancy camera, though he will have to explain to me how to switch between f-stops. All the technical terms are still a bit mysterious to me, think I really need a practical session experimenting with all the settings to understand them.

Some more excellent bee photographers:

  • Rose Lynn-Fisher – never mind macro, Rose’s thing is microscopic photos of bee parts. They’re even more fascinating (and hairy!) up this close.
  • Elise Fog – Elise commented below. Her close-ups of pollen showered bees of all kinds are spectacular. Checkout her camera setup, which she told me via Twitter weighs 5 lb 9 oz.
  • Eric Tourneret, ‘The Bee Photographer’ – Eric travels the world taking beautiful photos of bees and beekeepers. There is probably no aspect of bee behaviour he hasn’t yet captured and his website has useful captions explaining each photo.
  • Mark Berkery – Mark has a fascination and love for insects of all kinds, which he photographs up close, taking great care not to harm them. His posts are very philosophical as well as containing amazing photos.
  • Stephen Falk – recommended by Philip Strange in the comments below. Nice closeups of native bees, flies and wasps.
  • Zachary Huang – recommended by theprospectofbees in the comments – “Zachary Huang, an associate professor at Michigan State University, has a nice bee photography site at http://ww2.beetography.com/index.php. We do not know what all his tricks are.” I especially like his UV flower photos.

Photographers who blog about how to take good insect photos:

I know I’ve read some other great posts about taking insect photos, but can’t recall the authors/find the links now, so do comment and let me know about any others (even if you wrote them yourself, don’t be modest!).

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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33 Responses to Beekeeping through the camera lens – a talk by Simon Croson

  1. clare1023 says:

    very interesting – and useful camera blog !! Clare xx

    Date: Sun, 1 Feb 2015 09:55:55 +0000 To: clarecvernon@hotmail.co.uk

    Like

  2. Great post Emily. I agree with not using a tripod too. Everyone recommended one when I started out in macro photography, but I find it just gets in the way of following the bees and insects.

    Like

  3. Anne says:

    Dear Emily, thank you so much for sharing this with us, the sharing of knowledge is great, you are educating others in a way you may not realise. Wishing you many happy hours with your bees and photographing them. Anne

    Like

  4. Grower says:

    Good tips. I look forward to trying some more photography when flying insect weather returns.

    Like

  5. disperser says:

    Nice post, and good links. Thanks.

    Like

  6. Paul says:

    I bought a macro lens to try this our last year, they girls are where too quick for me. I need more practice, very interesting review. Thanks

    Like

  7. Jonathan Harding says:

    Thank you for the interesting post and links.
    Pentax digital cameras are quite useful in that they can still use the old manual macro lenses which are excellent quality but obtainable relatively cheaply second hand. Some recent cameras also have ‘focus peaking’ which puts a sort of light halo round the the insect when it is in focus which is helpful on the digital screen( if the sun is not too bright on the screen!).
    Agreed that tripods are mostly useless except perhaps to explain to passers -by what you are doing crawling in the undergrowth!.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. solarbeez says:

    Olympus? Now I’ve got another camera to research. I wonder if he takes any videos. I’d love to have a sharp macro video lens. But those pictures were taken by Drew. They are some very nice shots. What kind of camera set up is he using? Can he take macro video?

    Like

  9. Very interesting post, I had never thought about the poor bee keeper trying to take pictures of bees with a veil on! Drew’s picture of the larva and the bee is great, she continues tending it, although she has never done it outside the hive before. Amelia

    Like

    • Emily Scott says:

      Yes, it can be a bad idea around moody bees as they are attracted to your facial area anyway due to the carbon dioxide we breathe out. And the eye area is of course one of the most painful areas to get stung. The larvae may have been producing distress pheromones which attracted the bee to it.

      Like

  10. Thanks for sharing this. Another photographer is Steven Falk: https://www.flickr.com/photos/63075200@N07/

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Zachary Huang, an associate professor at Michigan State University, has a nice bee photography site at http://ww2.beetography.com/index.php/ . We do not know what all his tricks are.

    Like

  12. donna213 says:

    Good tips. I never had one bee ever care I was photographing it even with using flash. I guess it would be vastly different with a whole hive of them though. I especially like Rose Lynn Fisher’s images. They are mesmorizing. Nice photos in your post.

    Like

    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Donna. I’ve never had a bee take offence either, even when taking photos inside my hives. I think it really does depend on the temperament of the colony. Bees are also more likely to be grumpy in bad weather, but luckily you are unlikely to be taking photos in pouring rain or thunderstorms. Glad you liked Rose Lynn Fisher’s work.

      Like

  13. Elise Fog says:

    I love taking photos of bees… all kinds of bees, including honeybees, bumblebees, mining bees, sweat bees… and the many other bees I find around my property! I’ve actually become quite involved in bee advocacy since becoming so involved in my observations behind the lens. I use a Canon 40D with a dedicated MP-E 65mm macro lens, and an MT-24EX ring flash (which has two flash heads positionable around a ring, rather than being fixed in place like a traditional ring flash). I’ve made many customizations to this setup over the years! Here’s a bit about my setup (tripod-fee and very close to my subjects, of course): http://enlightenedbugs.com/moments/2010/09/07/a-buggy-looking-camera/ And here’s a snap of the most recent customizations to the flash heads (how-to blog post coming soon!): https://twitter.com/enlightenedbugs/status/561602114808332288 And here are a few of my photos: http://enlightenedbugs.com I’ve also put together a lot of information on saving bees here: http://savebees.org

    Like

  14. Simon Croson says:

    Well thank you for the platform – if you need any of my photos to push into this blog, give me a shout or look me up on facebook – I’m just working on a beekeeping photography hang out with the BeeCraft team – happy snapping – thanks again.

    Like

  15. To take images of bees in flight, it’s helpful to have a camera that will allow you to shoot seven to eight frames a second. See honey bee in flight heading toward a tower of jewels. http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=2652. I shoot with a Nikon D700, Nikon D800 and a Canon 7D with assorted macro lenses, and write a nightly Bug Squad blog at http://ucanr.edu/blogs/bugsquad/index.cfm.

    Like

  16. moseskuria18 says:

    Hi. What kind of word press theme do you use? Which one

    Like

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