Is there a future without bees? (part 2)

Urban migrations

In recent years urban areas are becoming more popular with bees. They are migrating from the countryside to the cities, where the lack of heavy pesticide use has resulted in a wide variety of flowers. This is great news for bees, which require the greatest variety of nectar for their survival.

When I moved to Germany, the first thing I noticed as soon as spring arrived was the amount of insects in my garden. I suddenly found myself in a new situation, surrounded by bees. Every day I could see different species of bees flying among flowers and storing up pollen on their legs. It is a great thing to see bees in cities because they are indicators of air quality. As they prefer areas with lower pollution levels, bees are also used as ‘biomarkers’ for areas requiring environmental remediation. If bees disappear from an area it is a sure sign that something is wrong with the local environment.

The disappearance of bees is a subject for increasing concern and fortunately, more people are becoming aware of their importance to the environment at large. City gardens are being planted to attract more bees and more people are starting to follow expert directions on how to make a ‘bee-friendly’ garden. It is becoming more common to find beehives in residential and urban gardens.

In 1993, six sculptures made of natural materials and of different shapes based on hives were erected in Stuttgart by the artist Jeanette Zippel. The artist wanted to create a more visible connection between people and the natural habitat of the bees. The sculptures also serve as hives for wild bees. The place where they stand, Bienengarten (Garden of the Bees), lives up to its name and many flowers have since been planted within this huge green area. The bees fly during the day to collect pollen and nectar and return in the late afternoon to one of their many garden homes.

Patience & photography

Photographing bees is not an easy task. They are always on the move, flying from flower to flower. When they stop, their faces are usually buried inside a flower to collect nectar. Despite this challenge, photographing bees can be pleasurable and even fun, especially when we start to observe their behaviour. As some species like to visit a wider variety of flowers, it means there is a greater variety of colour possibilities to include in any photos.

Personally, I like to photograph the interaction of the bee with the flower. Most of the times they are very active, but sometimes when the flower is particularly rich in nectar they will stay for several incredible minutes, allowing me time to shoot.

One of the challenges of photographing such a small and active insect is that I have to pay greater consideration to the background. I always use the natural scenery to reproduce nature as witnessed with my own eyes. In that case the background receives more of my attention than the subject, thereby resulting in a change of camera position and another attempt.

The secret to getting your shot is to have plenty of patience and to follow the rhythm of the bees. I always leave my house to photograph in the afternoon, when the sun is not too strong, to enjoy smoother and more even, natural light. In the summer, with longer days, the bees continue to work until almost dusk, which gives me enough time to test different angles.

It is less frustrating when you first observe your subject and see if they have some kind of routine. With that in mind, I could notice, when I was in the field, that the bees usually stay hours in the same gardens. Thanks to that, I now have a number of different favourite bee locations – when I want to spend some time photographing them, I know exactly where I can go. I just sit in front of the flowers and enjoy a great moment, learning every time a little bit more about how to shoot these little ones.

Preparing your garden to attract and photograph bees is to do more than satisfy your desire to take photos; you are also playing your part in conserving the environment by giving bees a chance to survive – and help us survive.