If you follow this blog you know one thing about me…I really, really like all things photography. My professional career has revolved around photographing adventure sports, editorial travel assignments, commercial portraits and loads of how-to stories for photography magazines. But when I am not on an assignment, I really like to photograph almost any subject. And sometimes the subject doesn’t even matter, I just want to explore the photo craft and lighting involved in creating the picture. Being at home for months now, I have had plenty of time to find new subjects. I really felt I had discovered every subject I could find in my house or yard. But then walking down the sidewalk the other day I noticed bees on some beautiful purple salvia in our front yard. Hmmm, I hadn’t shot that yet. How hard could it be? And since I was working on some new macro images for our online class, I decided to take some bee shots. What possibly could go wrong?
I went inside, grabbed my trusty D850 and macro 105mm F2.8. I took a seat on the sidewalk, and started zeroing in on my first unsuspecting bee. Single frame advance, 1/1500 at F4, autofocus set to single point. I’ve photographed exotic wildlife on seven continents using these setttings, they don’t fail. The bee lands, I put my autofocus on the bee, and hit the shutter as the little guy hides behind a flower. Okay, wait for it, then his head comes out for a millisecond, I blaze away, and get a partial antennae as he ducks back down. Are you kidding me? Fine, I switch to CH and get ready to blaze away at 7 FPS. Somehow the bee knows Nikon camera settings, because now he is really moving fast. I try to track him as he scales the flowers, and feel confident I got the shot. But reviewing my LCD tells a different story. F4 on a 105mm up close isn’t giving me enough depth of field. I have successfully taken 47 images with tack sharp bee butts and blurry heads. Hmmm. I concentrate even harder, I am going to nail this damn bee to the flower no matter what. But that was when I realized this bee had a friend, who currently was boring into my scalp getting ready for the big sting. I let out a war cry, dropped my camera, and jumped up dancing like a wild man on an LSD trip. Worse yet, my neighbor had been watching all this from his porch. The sight was made more memorable because I was wearing my face mask… except now I was wearing it on the top of my head, torn to shreds as I attempted to swat the bee off my head.
Okay, I was pissed. I stormed downstairs into my office, grabbed my flagship D5 off the shelf, slapped the 105mm macro on to it, and went right back to bee land on the salvia. I set the D5 to CH and 12 FPS, engaged the reliable ‘group area autofocus’, and set my shutter speed to 1/1000. I have nailed eagles with talons locked in midair using this setup. No little honey bee 6 inches away would survive the onslaught of blazing camera frames I was bringing to the party. While I had been grabbing my other camera, the bees had been devising their own plans. Evidently my war cry was bee language for “let’s get really agitated and sting anything nearby”. Unfazed, I slowly stalked the bee swarm in my front yard…memories of stalking grizz in Alaska floated through my mind. I calmly sat down next the salvia, and found my first target. I let it rip on the D5, smirking because I knew I had this bee dead to rights. In all my shooting I have never maxed out the D5 buffer using XQD cards, but I was getting really close. It sounded like the sidelines of an NFL game during a big play…I just held the shutter button down. But now the bees were erratic and buzzing frantically, and I was struggling to get a decent frame. My neighbor had called his wife out to the porch, and I noticed they were sipping cocktails as I fought for my life on the sidewalk getting a decent bee photo.
Five minutes turned into forty five minutes when I noticed a strange hot painful feeling on my legs. I gasped when I looked at my skinny white legs…instead of white they looked bell pepper red. I forgot about the relentless midday Colorado high altitude sun. Add sunburn to my casualty list along with the lump on my head. I remembered all those interviews with famous photographers, and they all said one thing..”never give up, be persistent, and get the shot.” Kids riding their bikes through the neighborhood were stopping nearby because evidently the word had gotten out about the crazy sunburnt photographer wearing a torn up face mask on his lumpy head. Finally, my flash card read full. I either had the shot or I didn’t. I retreated to my office to begin culling my images.
I’m sipping my own cocktail right now, nursing my wounds. I feel more wasted than after a full day of photographing African wildlife. After more than 1200 images, I found one shot I like. Yep, only one. But I am more proud of that one bee photo than I am of photographing breaching humpback whales. Just remember, stalking bees is dangerous, but you can experience the wildest photo safari right in your own front yard during these stay at home times.