Chasing Bees

I have new found respect for insect photographers — especially ones who shoot very busy bees. I recently shot bees at sunset with my 50-140mm at 140mm wide open (f/2.8) at its minimum focus distance (3ft), and man! Are those bees are hard to track and keep in focus.

At f/2.8 at this distance, you’ve got a depth-of-field less than half an inch (4mm according to DOFMaster). That’s eyelashes in focus but eyes out of focus territory. (In this case, tiny flower in focus, bee on it out of focus.)

To deal with this, my Fuji (like some other cameras) has eye detection focus. You can even set it to focus on the left or the right eye.

But it doesn’t have bee detection focus (and continuous focus isn’t going to be able to determine that you want to track the tiny bee). Here is another example of flower in focus, but bee on the flower not in focus.

I took dozens of photos of the bees. The bees didn’t look very good in most of the photos or their wings were going faster than the shutter speed I wanted to stay below due to the low light (a bit like shooting kids in low light).


Stronger telephoto with smaller aperture

  • My 50-230mm is f/6.7 at 230mm (same 3ft minimum distance)
  • but according to DOFMaster, the narrower field of view reduces the depth-of-field from 4mm to less than 3mm

Get closer (with smaller aperture)

  • My old Nikon 50mm f/1.8 can shoot as close as 6in
  • but I would have a hard time tracking the bees at 12in.
  • and at 12in
    • at f/4 we only increase depth-of-field to 5mm
    • at f/5.6 it is 7mm
    • at f/8 it is 10mm
  • but that old Nikon would be manual focus, but still the best option so far.
  • (having no image stabilization is not a problem since I can’t shoot busy bees with a slow shutter speed anyway.)

Shoot on a mostly sunny day (slightly cloudy to reduce harsh shadows)

  • Again, certainly an option.
  • Maybe use a flash to help reduce harsh shadows.


Shooting busy bees is difficult under good conditions, but certainly not any easier at sunset.


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