Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Photographing a Bee Box Inspection


My wife and son recently took up beekeeping. Although we’ve had bees for a few months, other than documenting the initial instillation I’ve not taken any bee related photos. I’m not all that interested in taking macro shots of bees, there are plenty of those photos out there already. The shots I wanted to make were of Lori and Wynn as they inspected the hives.  

I knew for the photos to be any good I’d have to get in close and since their hive was being disturbed, the bees would be agitated. We only have two beekeeper suits, Lori was wearing one and Wynn wore the other. Even if we had another suit it would be hard for me to use the camera wearing gloves and a veil so I resigned myself to the fact that I might get stung.





From a technical standpoint it would be difficult to expose for the white outfits and still see detail in their faces under wide brimmed hats and dark veils. I’d start by underexposing the ambient light by 1-2 stops, which would help to keep the suits from blowing out, especially the tops of their hats. In post it's much easier to brighten a dark image than to try and recover blown out highlights. I’d have to light their faces without over-lighting their suits. I needed a light that was directional but as soft as possible so I opted for an 18” beauty dish with a grid attached. I shot with a 24-105 on a Canon 7D. Exposure was 1/250 @ f/8, ISO 100. I used a 1600 Alien Bee with a Fotodiox beauty dish and grid.I used pocket wizards to sync to the strobe.

I had to shoot quickly as a hive inspection is serious stuff. You open the hive, see what’s going on inside then close it up as soon as possible.  I had only been shooting for a few minutes when a bee came after me. I took off running around the yard, ducking under bushes, pulling off my shirt and  self-flagellated as I ran onto the deck and into the house. After I caught my breath I decided to go back and resume shooting. After all, It had only been one bee and I had evaded it successfully.


I hadn’t been shooting long until a bee flew into my hair. I put the camera down and began slapping at my head to try and dislodge it before stinging me. I was able to comb it out of my hair only to have it sting me on the arm.  That was it, I was done, end of shoot. 

 I decided to wait for a few hours for the hive to calm down before taking down the light. When I returned for it I was walking through the lawn barefoot, stepped on a bee and got stung again. Just another painful reminder to respect our new little friends. 


Next time I photograph a hive inspection I’ll be wearing a jumpsuit, gloves and some kind of custom veil that will allow me to raise the camera to my eye. I could try "Live View" but it’s no good when shooting outside in bright sunlight. I’m open to suggestions, leave them in the comment section.

Click to see my beekeepers of Philadelphia gallery