• John Gregory

The Peony Rose and the Honey Bee

I grew up in South Auckland and had never heard of the Peony Rose until I met my wife who is from Christchurch in the South Island. She loves the Peony which doesn’t grow at all well in the upper North Island – but in the south it flourishes. We recently moved to a new home inland from Christchurch where the winter temperature overnight is regularly in the single digits (Celsius) and often at freezing point overnight. These are the perfect conditions for the Peony which ideally needs around 80 days of the year of very cool temperatures.

We inherited several Peonies at the new home and planted a few additional ones to add to the collection and in they started to sprout with great enthusiasm in October with the flowers unfolding in the last 2 weeks of November.

We found we had quite a range of colours from off white to pink to crimson blooming throughout the garden and with Spring in full flight there were a plenty of honeybees tending to the garden in search of nectar.

I have photographed a few bees over the years – not entirely difficult during spring and summer when they are numerous throughout the garden – but the 2nd most challenging part is getting as much of the bee as possible in focus – especially the eyes. The most challenging part of photographing a bee in my humble opinion if getting the right background to compliment the insect and provide a reasonable composition.

As the bees invaded the flowers on a calm and overcast Saturday afternoon, I hunted down my macro lens – the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L. It is a great lens – but I don’t use it too often – so this was a good excuse. It was a super bright sunny day, so uses the full opening at 2.8 I was able to get a relatively quick shutter speed necessary for capturing the bees. The shallow depth of field also helped to create a few artistic and abstract images.

The lens allows the photographer to get quite close to the subject and with an almost fully unfurled pink flower I was able to fill the frame while maintaining focus in the centre of the image of this image. I deliberately blurred the edges, so the eye is led to the centre of the photo.

Capturing abstracts of the individual flowers however was not really what I was after, so I started chasing the bees. Using a Canon 5D mark 4, I set the focus to a single point and put the shutter on high speed which allowed me to shoot up to 7 frames a second. I ended up firing off several hundred shots to get the final shot of the bee I was after. I simply can’t imagine doing this in the days of film. That would have got expensive.

Ultimately, I managed to grab a dozen or so images with the desired level of focus – and all I needed to do was work through them until I found one that offered of pleasant enough composition. Then it was a matter of cropping the image in a balanced way for the final image. I found the most difficult part for the final crop was to stop myself cropping in too far. I settled on the final crop hoping that the balance of the yellow bee versus the crimson flower works well. And although the bee is the subject, the shapes of the unfolding flower add a sympathetic compliment to the overall image.

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