Whatever camera you use, after you have chilled your bumble bee, choose a clean, uncluttered background on which to place it for photography. Some people shoot the bee inside the vial or jar, but these can cause distortion, and make it hard to get very close, or shoot from multiple angles. A simple alternative is to use a sheet of white copy paper attached to a clipboard. This white surface reflects light onto all parts of the bee and reduces distracting backgrounds. Bring some rubber bands along to keep the paper from moving in the wind, or use a stiff white board -- a movable white wind-break can also be helpful. (NOTE: chilled bees are often wet with condensation and your paper/board can get wet – bring extra!)
After being properly chilled for a few minutes, a bumble bee will typically be motionless, and tightly curled up to stay warm. This can make them difficult to photograph properly, e.g. hiding key features. For that reason, one tip is to let your subjects warm up slightly (in anything except blazing hot sun). It is not a bad idea to snap a couple of photos of a chilled bee, just so you don't miss the opportunity to photograph the bee should it warm up and fly away quickly - you can later choose the best photos to submit. If the recovery seems slow (or if you have 20+ more bees to process!) you can speed things along by breathing lightly on your chilly bee. In a minute or so, it should start moving, and will normally strike a more natural standing pose, spending some time preening and stretching (in warm temps bees sometimes warm up quickly - especially if not completely chilled - so be careful to not let them get away before documenting them). This is a perfect time to take your photograph, rotating the paper/board to get a variety of angles: eg top, back, side and/or underside (esp. with Yellow-faced species) Get as close as your camera will allow! (NOTE: Remember, the Bumble Bee Watch data entry template only has room for 3 photos of each individual, so make them count.)
If it’s not too hot, photographing bees in full sun is best (when it’s available) or in bright shade. Either way, you may notice that the white background is “fooling” your light meter: the photos may look dark overall and the bee almost black and difficult to identify. (This is because the light meter default in your camera is trying to change that white background to an average gray.) To correct for this, you should set your camera to deliberately over-expose the picture, e.g. add light to it, so that the white is closer to white. That can be done several ways:
With a DSLR or other stand-alone cameras, there is typically an Exposure Compensation function built-in, either controlled by buttons on the camera body, or found somewhere in the Menu. Look for a +/- symbol. Once you have located it, you will want to change the setting from O to +1.0 to start; This will brighten all your pictures significantly. (If the effect is not enough, try +1.3 or +1.7). But remember: if you change this setting, you’ll need to change it back to default O setting before taking non-bumble bee photos or all of them will be washed out!!
If using a phone, this is more difficult. Most recent iPhones allow you to alter the exposure by dragging your finger up or down the image on the screen when in CAMERA. However, you will have to do this for every image since it doesn’t remember the setting, which is time-consuming and awkward!
Flash: Using flash is not generally recommended since when working close-up, the results tend be too bright and too contrasty.
Focus: When shooting in extreme close-up, the depth of focus can be very shallow, so the focus point can be critical. Be sure to focus on the critical part of the animal in each picture. If you are photographing from the rear, for example, make sure your camera is focusing on the abdomen, or similarly, if you are photographing from the front, be sure the focus point is on the head – not accidentally on the background. (NOTE: Be especially careful with camera phones. Newer iPhones and Android devices allow you to confirm focus point using by tapping the touch screen in the important subject area.)
Camera Shake: If your hands are unsteady or if your bee is moving, you’ll need a faster shutter speed to stop that motion (e.g faster than ca. 1/250 sec. ) If you don’t have enough light to get this shutter speed – try increasing your ISO. (Light sensitivity)
KEY PHOTOS TO INCLUDE
What makes a good bumble bee photo? Sometimes a good photo is not necessarily a useful photo when we are interested in identification. As such, a useful set of photos will include:
The hind leg for cuckoo bee/sex diagnosis.
The face including detail of the color patterns of the face, top of the head, and ideally cheek length.
The color pattern on the abdomen.
The color pattern on the top and side of the thorax, including color below the bases of the wings.
If the species has a yellow face, and a single yellow stripe on the abdomen, include the ventral side of the abdomen.