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Bee Up and Doing

And have a heart for any fate.

August 23, 2023 Close Ups :: Good Things

Bees are so busy here they don’t always go back to the hive for the night. Sometimes they bunk on our flowers instead.

Male bumblebees are apt to not return to the hive at night, especially in late summer. When they spend the night away from home, bumblebees latch onto blooms or branches where they’ve been gathering nectar and pollen. Then they slow their metabolism and drop their body temperature which induces a state of deep rest.

A Bumblebee wakes up after a night on an alstroemeria flower.

When the sun comes up, slumbering bumblebees wake slowly. They stretch their wings and legs, shake off the morning dew and start foraging again.

This pollen-coated bee had climbed inside an alstroemeria flower headfirst and fell asleep. As it woke, it backed out and dozed a few times like it wasn’t quite ready to join the other bees as they arrived from the hive. Soon enough it would be buzzing around our garden with its kin, doing what it's evolved to do.

Today would be the 104th birthday of Bernice Bragstad, my mother-in-law. Her motto for motivation was a phrase from the poem “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

“Let us, then, be up and doing, with a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait.”

She shared the stanza in her junior high school valedictorian speech. And she recited it lovingly to urge us into action as long as I knew her, always with a sparkle in her eye. I miss her and I think of her often, especially when I watch a bee that is up and doing.

Learn more about Bernice whose passion for reading changed many lives including mine:


SUBJECT: Bumblebee (Bombus species) on Alstroemeria 'Inca Ice'

LOCATION: Our garden, Mishawaka, Indiana

CONDITIONS: Clear, calm, early morning. 55 degrees F.

EQUIPMENT and SETTINGS: Nikon D850, AF micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4-D; Gitzo tripod, Really Right Stuff ball head, electronic cable release. Matrix metering, Aperture priority, Auto focus.

EXPOSURE: 1/125 sec. at f/22, ISO 1250

Bumblebees are my favorite bees to watch and photograph. Sometimes I've been so fascinated by them that I forget to click the shutter. That's a habit I'm not likely to break.

I'm still curious about their life cycle and body shape. As a hive member, a bumblebee devotes itself to the perpetuation of the community. And some physicists say the bee shouldn't be able to fly -- its body is too big and its wings are too small. The bumblebee proves them wrong.

Recently, science has shown that a bumblebee doesn't flap its wings up and down, but sweeps them back and forth. There still are some mysteries about its flight. High-speed photography is helping researchers solve them.

Mysterious or not, I'm happy with Rimsky-Korsakov's musical depiction of the bee's aerial acrobatics. His orchestral interlude, "The Flight of the Bumblebee" is the best description of a bumblebee's airborne life. 'Nuff said.

Now on to making the photograph. First, it's obvious that there was no flying going on here. The bumblebee was still waking up. It stirred as the sun came up, but it was in no hurry. So far it had only backed out of the alstroemeria to rest on a petal.

Without movement by the bee or the air, the shutter speed was not much of a concern. But in case the bee moved a bit, I chose a fast enough speed and ISO to freeze some action.

Depth of field was the bigger consideration. What aperture would be small enough to record detail on the bee's body, head, wings and legs? It would also have to show sharpness in the surrounding flowers. But it should not be so small that it created distracting details in the leaves and stems below the bee.

As much as I rely on the LCD view screen for a good approximation, I still confirm sharpness in close ups with the depth-of-field preview function. When the situation is not too dark, of course. In low light, the preview goes almost black which is no help. Then I count on my experience with this macro lens in tight close ups and a magnified view on the LCD screen.

You'll find that you need smaller and smaller apertures to get adequate depth of field with a macro lens or any lens that allows a close-focusing distance. A flat subject might be sharp enough at f/16. For a more three-dimensional thing, it may take dialing the aperture setting down to its smallest opening before you're happy.

That's why most true macro lenses have minimum apertures of f/32 or smaller. The 200mm macro lens I used can stop down to f/36. There are times I've used that aperture when the subject and conditions required it.

If the subject is unmoving, focus stacking consecutive exposure made with f/8 may make a better image than a single f/36 exposure can. Why not do both when the subject and conditions allow? When in doubt, make an f/36 exposure first, especially with a subject that might move.

For the composition, I chose an overhead angle on the bee. I needed a clear view of the bee's body with room to spare around it. I wanted to see details inside several flowers, too. And finally, I liked the gentle C-curve the flowers made across the frame.

From the tripod, I positioned the camera back to align parallel or flat to the bee's body. That would assure as much sharpness as possible with my chosen aperture. To accentuate the C-curve, I rotated the camera on the lens' tripod collar while keeping it parallel to the bee.

I focused on the bee's back, dialed in f/11, clicked a few frames, moved to f/16 for a few frames and then to f/22 for a few more. I made a quick review of the depth-of-fields on them, hoping the bee wouldn't move. Then I chose Manual exposure, dialed in f/8, clicked a frame and adjusted the shutter speed according to the histogram.

Next, I engaged Focus Shift for focus stacking, and focused on the important element closest to the camera -- the tip of a flower petal. When I started the Focus Shift mode, I knew the camera would make 30 frames that I would stack later. I did this a few more times, refocusing on the closest petal each time. Once I stacked the consecutive images, I used the Blur tool in Photoshop to soften details in the leaves and stems below the bee.

The image above is a single frame at f/22. It was pleasing enough for posting after I softened the background plant parts with the Blur tool.

That's the process for making what looks like a fast, simple snapshot. Oh, if it were that quick. But then where's the challenge in that?

Nature :: Wildlife :: Gardens

© Cliff Zenor : All images and text copyright by Cliff Zenor 2010-2024.

Contents cannot be copied or used in any form without the written permission of

Cliff Zenor Photography. All rights reserved.


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