Fortress of Solitude
This is a photo I thought would be impossible, but one variable played in my favour: the weather. I was able to move my ultraviolet studio outdoors to photograph a very cooperative bee.
This is the exact same subject that I posted a few days ago: a female green Sweat Bee in a Pink Persian Cornflower… but this view is quite transformative. These bees do not sit still for the length of time required to position flashes right on top of it, and then drape the entire setup in black fabric to block out ambient light. You can’t create such a stage and expect a bee to fly into it, but the last few days have been very cold, and that’s the ticket.
Temperatures yesterday and today only hit a high of 14C / 57F. For brief moments of sunshine, these sweat bees were active, but in the shade they became trapped until the weather warmed up. I walked by this particular cornflower twice, a half hour apart – the same bee was resting in the same spot. I knew I had my opportunity to work with an almost-static subject for a period of time.
Here is the setup: donkom.ca/bts/_1011314.jpg – two UV flashes mounted to tripods, sitting as close as possible to the flower. The entire setup is covered with a large piece of black felt, pulled back in this instance to see the flower properly. To shoot this, the camera (Lumix GX9) was handheld and moving the camera forward and back, around the bee to find the right slice of focus.
At first, the bee was nestled into a corner of the flower and you could only see its backside. I made the decision to pull a few flower petals out to see the bee more clearly, which was a huge improvement, but the bee was still rather… immobile. The cold weather had basically put it to sleep, and it didn’t look lively enough in the initial images. So, how do you warm up a bee?
Breathe on it. A few lungfuls of warm air across the flower, and the bee started to get more active, moving around the flower from the out edges (don’t fly away before I get the shot!) and back to the middle where this image was taken.
The flower was about to burst forth with pollen in the center, still contained within the stamens and making them glow. Many insects have eyes that fluoresce blue, but very few have wings that will also fluoresce. In my adventures I have encounter select species of cicada and dragonfly that have glowing wings, but no bees so far. No exception here, but all of the hairs on this little beauty fluoresced an ever-so-pale yellow. The iridescent green colourings seen in normal light are completely absent.
I had to push the Lumix GX9 to ISO 3200 as only two flashes could be fit over the subject in the field, and only one burst of light could happen. It performed better than I expected, though most macro images can handle a significant amount of noise reduction and still have all the detail you need. The framerate in the electronic viewfinder drops in low light in order to maintain the same level of visibility, which as first can be a distraction. After using the camera in this scenario for a few times, it’s easy to see the benefits now – when you’ve got the perfect focus, you know it. Much less guess work involved, which is helpful when the flash recycle time is 2-3 seconds on a full blast.
There you have it – this little bee’s fortress of solitude.
A few places you’ll find my workshops and presentations coming up:
2018 dates at my own studio and gardens: www.donkom.ca/workshops/
Toronto Floral Photography Workshop, June 21-22: form.jotform.com/81358042448963
“Capturing Invisible Light” Infrared and Ultraviolet presentation, 2hrs (FREE!): www.meetup.com/Mirrorless-Meetups/events/250852760/
NECCC, Amherst MA July 13-15: www.neccc.org/
Princeton Photo Workshops, hands-on infrared, water droplets and floral: princetondigitalphotoworkshop.com/infraredkom/ and princetondigitalphotoworkshop.com/macro/
Mike Moats Macro Photography Conference, near Cleveland OH October 27-28: www.tinylandscapes.com/blog/macro-photo-conference-2018
If you’d like to learn from me, or just watch my creative process, some of those might be of value to you. :)
And always, my podcast Photo Geek Weekly: photogeekweekly.com/