Honeybee closeup, focus on one eye

Photographing Through Glass: Honeybee Portrait

This honeybee is photographed through glass in an observation hive. She (for all honeybee workers are female) is perched atop a plastic vessel that is used by a beekeeper to introduce a new queen to the hive. It is fortunate because it is otherwise difficult get a bee looking at you face-on in this hive; most of them have their back or belly facing you as they move along the glass and comb beneath.

The photographic challenges in this particular subject were photographing through glass and low light. Photographing through glass has two problems. First is reflection, which we’ll get to in a moment. Second, you are pointing your space-age quality optics through not-so-space-age window glass. (This is not unlike covering your $1000 lens with a $10 filter, but I digress.) And, to boot, this glass is trod upon on the inside surface by bees constantly, and is rarely cleaned. This reduces contrast and sharpness. There is not much that can be done here, except to tip all the other factors in your favor as much as possible, and clean it up in post-processing.

Low light is another issue. If you’ve ever tried taking pictures of animals in an enclosed space, such as a zoo building, light is at a premium. This can be solved with a flash in many cases, assuming the animals don’t mind. However, such settings often have glass. Aside from the optical challenges, photographing through glass gives reflections from ambient light and flash that ruin your shot. This is where a big external flash earns its keep. The built-in flashes even on DSLRs tend to be close to the lens and face straight ahead. That straight ahead light gives you reflections off glass (and red eye–another reflection problem). Our big SB-600 Speedlight is tall, well above the lens for less chance of reflection directly into the lens.

Another trick to photographing through glass is to hold the camera at an angle to the glass. This can help with ambient reflections as well as flash reflections. The flash bounces away from the lens. At macro distances in this observation hive, we were snugged to the glass; not a lot of wiggle room for angles.

A further issue is, reflections aside, flash is a harsh light. It can give shadows where you don’t want them. In macro photography we like an even light without strong shadows. A diffuser is the final piece to soften the light. I use an empty rubbing alcohol bottle. It makes a nice big bubble to even out the light, and it was free.

We took this photograph with Nikon D90, SB-600 Speedlight and our Micro-nikkor 60mm f2/8 AF, handheld; ISO 1600, f/7.1, 1/60 sec; cropped. Post-processed in Aperture auto-enhance plus some fiddling.