Monday, March 23, 2020

Emerging Mason Bees

Hatching Female Mason Bee II
Last year when I harvested my Mason Bee cocoons I realized, all too late, that I had a unique opportunity to document the critters emerging but I really wasn't prepared for it. I was just shooting on the fly, with no real thought about the compositions that I was looking for. As a result the image to the right is the best shot that I took last spring, and I'm not happy with it.

After reviewing the images I took, and kicking myself for not doing a better job, I was determined to put some real effort into documenting my Mason Bee's first day. So off and on over the summer and into the winter months I thought about the compositions I wanted to get, angles that would make their emergence easy to see and understand. But I gotta admit that luck also played a part in the photos I was able to create, cause I managed to be mentally "in zone" during some pretty unique situations. Like when this Mason Bee was chewing its way out of the cocoon:

Emerging Blue Mason Bee X

There was also the time I was unrolling a paper insert and the paper broke right at the point where a Mason Bee had taken the top off of his cocoon:

Emerging Blue Mason Bee III

Then the tricky shots, like trying to get as much of the bee's antenna in the plane of focus as it was actively emerging from a cocoon:

Emerging Blue Mason Bee IX

I captured a lot more images, ten in the first series that I posted to my Flickr gallery, and I'm saving some to post this fall when all the critters are gone. I get all of my Mason Bee supplies from Crown Bees, and this article is not sponsored by them. I'm giving them a plug because their customer service is excellent and they provide a lot of online information to make raising your own Mason Bees easy. We have a small garden that produces more vegetables than we can eat and it's due to all of the solitary bees that visit my yard.

In addition to photographing them emerge I also got a few shots of newly emerged Mason Bees.

Newly Emerged Blue Mason Bee III [6000x4000] [OC]

It was also a good opportunity to photograph them warming up on my finger before they took off and joined the rest of the bees in my yard.

Newborn Blue Mason Bee

I'm really happy with the emergence images that I created this year, and always happy when I can look back over my photos and see improvements in my image quality. As always those photos are single, uncropped, frames taken hand held. I usually pick an area to lock the focus, like a bee's mandible, and then twist the camera in my hand to lay the area of acceptable focus over the critter's face. The end result is a "magic angle" that makes the most out of what little depth exists above 2x and F11. So for those of you who look at my photos and think that Canon's MP-E 65mm can somehow defy the laws of physics and provide more depth of field than other macro lenses, well, it's not the lens ;) Until next time happy shooting!

Footnote: Lately I've noticed a disturbing trend to pose dead insects and photograph them in such a way that it looks like they're flying, or in one case a "fight" between a jumping spider and bug. Although I think it's pretty creative, and when it's done right the images are really impressive, it's misleading to try to trick the viewer by not being honest about how an image was taken. I'd hate for someone who's new to macro to see those kind of shots and think that it's actually possible to take a focus stack of a subject that's in motion, especially after spending thousands on gear to take images that are impossible unless the subject is dead. Granted I'll bait a subject so that it will let me get close, but when I do bait them you know I've done it because I tell you. IMHO it's important for a photographer to be honest about their work. One easy way to tell if a shot has been faked is to see if it is a focus stack, especially if the scene is a dynamic one. Maybe one day the hardware will get to a point where it will be possible to capture frames fast enough to focus stack a moving subject. But that tech isn't here yet. So when you see a photo of a flying insect and it's razor sharp with a lot of depth know that it's a fake.

Footnote part due: Thanks to everyone who has reached out during the pandemic to ask how I'm doing! Italy has been hit pretty hard, and unfortunately it's not over. But me and mine are well, and we're fortunate to live in a villa that has a yard. It's gotta be really tough for those who are quarantined with only a balcony! Stay safe everyone, limit your contact with others, and wash your hands religiously...