Making a beeline…

"Bumblebee, Bombus centralis, flying toward Yellow Foxglove"

Bombus centralis approaching Digitalis grandiflora

Photographing insects in flight can be difficult. Your subject is moving quickly and unpredictably, and it seems every attempt you make turns out to be a blurry failure.

Here are some strategies that I used to help increase my chances. I know that if  I can predict a flight path, I can improve my chances immensely. Three opportunities to forecast a flight path come to mind – at nest and roosting sites and at flowers. However, even when attempting to photograph bees visiting a productive flower,  it is often impossible to tell what the angle of approach will be, so setting up your camera to ‘trap’ the bees as they come in to land can often be fruitless: you cannot guess at what angle the bee will approach the bloom, and the minimal depth of field will not be forgiving of the bees that do not approach the flower at your pre-focused location. More often than not, the approach is so quick that you the most you get is open air and, perhaps, the departing tail of your subject. So what can you do to improve your chances?

Some resort to complex and expensive “break-beam” systems, that trigger the camera and flash when the subject passes through a certain point on which the camera is focused. I don’t have this system, so I needed a different technique to obtain an in-flight shot. First, I took the time to observe bees and how they approached a flower. Open faced flowers like daisies were inevitably approached from all sides and at all angles, making predicting a flight path almost impossible. Flowers with a more concave shape, required bees to narrow their flight path further. Tubular flowers, like the foxglove, require landing bees to narrow their angle of approach, sometimes to the point where they would hover directly in front of the blossom before moving in to land.  By observing bees carefully, I could see which size of bloom was most popular, and I was able to predict roughly the best focus point for photographing a bee approaching a bloom. Then it was a matter of waiting for the bees to come in. It took only 10 hand-held shots to make one succesful capture of this bumblebee (most likely Bombus centralis) in flight, as it approached this tubular yellow foxglove blossom.

Thanks to David Walter for the ID.

Related Posts

Look, always look (The Bug Geek)

Cicada Killer on the fly (Beetles in the Bush)

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This entry was posted in Alberta, Apidae, Canada, Edmonton, garden, Hymenoptera, macro, photography, Season, Summer, Technique and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .


  1. Morgan Jackson 11 July, 2012 at 10:22 AM #

    Oh my! That is an amazing photo Adrian, and one that I would hang on my wall. Thanks also for the tips, I’ll certainly have to try this sometime!

    • Adrian 11 July, 2012 at 10:46 AM #

      Thanks Morgan. I tend to be a wandering photographer, and to shoot what chance brings my way. This time I took more time to observe (as the Bug Geek reminded me) and it certainly had a pay-off!

  2. Ms S 13 July, 2012 at 10:23 PM #

    Best bee photo I have ever seen–on many levels. Not to mention the impossibly cute subject. 🙂

    • Adrian 23 July, 2012 at 3:22 AM #

      🙂 She is cute, and she fell into place perfectly with the yellow fox glove blooms.

  3. Africa Gomez 21 July, 2012 at 2:26 PM #

    Gorgeous shot! I liked the wandering photographer description, fits me too. Your shot shows that the sit and wait approach pays well.

    • Adrian 23 July, 2012 at 3:33 AM #

      Thanks Africa. It has given me some ideas for a few more techniques that may increase success, which I hope to explore with what remains of our summer!

  4. TGIQ 22 July, 2012 at 7:11 PM #

    Holy schamoley. That is one stunning photo!!! *jaw on the floor*

  5. Dragonfly Woman 29 July, 2012 at 1:51 PM #

    This is an incredible shot! Just lovely.

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