Shooting Leaf Cutter Bees in Action

22/07/2012 - 15:46

I put up a few thoughts on shooting bees in an earlier thread and several people suggested they may like to see a bit more on the subject.

In this short article I am sharing some thoughts following the dicsovery of some Leaf Cutter Bees in my garden and my first attempts to photograph them in action.

I know others have also had a go at this so maybe they would like to contribute some thoughts here too?

I first noticed that we may have these in the garden when I spotted that leaves of my Rosa Banksiae were being eaten leaving small circular cut-outs


I watched these over several days and spotted a small bee approaching them but nothing more. Then, one day I caught one in action (without my camera of course Grin )

today I wandered out and there were a couple of them making regular visits so I put the olympus 12-50 kit lens on the OMD EM5, set to macro mode. I aimed to keep the shutter speed up around 1/1000th sec so despite the sun I set it to ISO400 with f6.7. Initial attempts were made using single shot, single AF but I missed a few key points so then changed to high speed shooting (9fps on the EM5).
I found this necessary as the bees cut through the leaf very quickly, using AF, hand-held, by the time I had focused the bee was off!

Watching the bees arriving and selecting the leaf (anything up to 7 leaves were visited before it settled on the one it wanted) gave me time to roughly pre-focus so that the moment it started cutting I was able to get final focus and start shooting.

The bee cuts in a circular motion, straddling the edge of the leaf


As it cuts it rolls the leaf up between its legs


Until it has nearly finished and the leaf is curled under it


The next step happens very quickly and I haven't yet cracked the technique to get the shot properly, at 9 fps on the EM5 you lose the focus following (it only focuses on the first frame) so although the bee is in frame it is unsharp


So, its the same basic technique I use for all my macro work, intial observation, learn a little of the pattern of behaviour, then try to sort out a technique that will capture the behaviour you want.

I hope this was of some interest, if you know how to get that last step - Please let me know how you do it! 


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