Saturday, October 31, 2009

Send in the clouds, er, I mean the bees?

After a couple days of rain, Thursday afternoon came, and no precipitation. I thought I could squeeze in the shoot I had put off for more than two weeks. As I got all my gear together, something didn't seem quite right. Even when I stepped outside to load the car, something seemed amiss.

Then I looked to the sky, and it dawned on me ... There was no sun. In fact, I could see nothing but clouds -- and dense clouds at that. Everywhere. I needed the sun for the shoot I had in mind, and from the looks of the dreary sky, I sensed there was no hope of seeing it anytime soon before dark, so I glumly retrieved my gear and headed back toward my house when I noticed them.

The bees.

We got a hard frost in Central Indiana about mid-October, killing off most of my plants with blooms. My broccoli plants, which are hardy in cooler temperatures, were the lone survivors and still popping buds and yellow flowers, so the bees -- lacking any other pollination source nearby -- were flocking to them.

I had been wanting to test the bokeh (photographer-speak for the quality of the smooth, out-of-focus background) of my f/2.8 macro lens at its widest apertures for some time. I thought this would be a good time to try it since I already had my gear with me right there. Trouble was, one of my telephoto lenses was on the camera body, so ... I first fired a few shots of the bees with it. Then off came the telephoto, and on went the macro. The bulk of the 275 frames I shot were with it.

As I fully expected, it would be darn hard to get a lot of depth in focus on shots taken with a true macro lens wide open and as close to the subject as I was hoping to get. But still, I found the results intriguing ... and kept firing away. I did make some adjustments to the camera settings -- bumping the ISO up to as high as 400 and stopping down (decreasing the size of the aperture) one to three stops to adapt to the darkening conditions. But I stuck to the bokeh test plan.

Do I wish I'd have stopped down to 5.6 or 8? In a way, yes. I think these would have given me more spectacular pictures. But I got the answers to my curiosity: At 2.8, I found that my macro has some darn good bokeh ... and at 2.8, when I could nail the focus point on those jittery creatures and thin plant stems swaying in the day's higher than average breeze, I got some interesting shots.

The bees -- so many of them -- didn't seem to care that I was hovering over them. I think they were worried that if they didn't stay on course, they'd lose out to the next bee! I saw as many as four of them on one plant at the same time, three of which were within touching distance of each other!

And now, a sidebar story on the broccoli plants (a floret from which I include here): Usually, gardeners, if they want to grow broccoli as much as possible, have to rely on two plantings per growing season -- one in spring, another in fall. The brutal, sustained summer sun and heat (usually 85 degrees or more) kills off the spring planting at some point.

But we had such a mild summer in Central Indiana this year -- only two days of 90 degrees or more -- that I didn't need a second, autumn planting. Plants grown from seed planted in spring survived the whole growing season, and they're still thriving as of this writing.

If you're interested in seeing more images from the shoot, visit the Bees album at my online gallery. Follow this link:

Bees -- nature's pollinators

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